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Monday, January 10, 2005
Hitachi drives get bigger--and smaller

Hitachi announced at the Consumer Electronics Show that it has reduced the size of its minidrives and its 1.8-inch drives through better packaging and shrinking the electronics.

"Mikey," the code name for the smaller minidrive, is roughly 20 percent smaller than current versions. It will also debut with around 8GB to 10GB of storage capacity, said Bill Healy, senior vice president of product strategy and marketing for the company.

"Slim," a drive using a platter with a 1.8-inch diameter, is about 10 percent smaller than its peers. It will hold 60GB to 80GB of data.

The size reductions were not accomplished by cutting the size of the platters. The platters in Mikey measure an inch in diameter, the same as in current minidrives. However, the motors and other electronic parts are smaller. The company also removed a compact flash connector. As a result, Mikey drives can't be used as memory cards--they have to be embedded into a device.

The increases in density (current Hitachi minidrives max out at 4GB) do not come through adding platters. Instead, engineers found ways to store more data on the same surface. The drive industry in recent years has doubled, or nearly doubled, capacity annually.

While Hitachi minidrives are mostly now featured in small music players like the iPod mini, the smaller size means that Mikey drives will start to penetrate the phone market. With video and commerce becoming more common on cell phones, handhelds will need for storage capacity.

"People are even talking about building in projector capacity," he said, so that pictures taken on cell phones can be beamed onto flat surfaces for easier viewing. Slim drives are found in larger music players like the original iPods.

Devices containing Mikey and Slim drives will come out in time for the 2005 holiday season, he added.

IBM invented the minidrive in the 90s but didn't sell many. Part of it was IBM's historical focus on business users, according to Healy, a former IBM executive.

"IBM didn't see the consumer. Hitachi is the GE of Japan. They make rice cookers, refrigerators, nuclear power plants," he said. The Hitachi storage group, so far this fiscal year, is profitable in the always difficult drive market.

At the other end of the spectrum, Hitachi will come out with a 3.5-inch diameter drive (the size usually found in desktops) with 500GB of storage. According to Hitachi, it is the largest-capacity 3.5-inch drive yet. Competitors have released 400GB drives.

"We're starting to push this for set-top boxes," Healy said.

The 500GB drive comes out in February and will sell for about $520 at retail.

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