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Appeared on: Monday, December 13, 2004
Hitachi One-Inch Hard Drive Turns Five

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its wildly popular one-inch hard drive by opening up the production spigot

With more experience in producing one-inch hard drives than any other company, Hitachi is now able to bring the Microdrive's unparalleled benefits of high-capacity, diminutive size, value and reliability to a greater number of customers. In this quarter, Hitachi will begin to produce several million units per quarter as projected earlier this year.

On its fifth birthday, the Microdrive is finding strong acceptance among consumer devices where ultra-small designs and big storage capacity are highly desirable, such as in digital video cameras and portable music/video players. With this trend on the upswing, Hitachi expects demand for the Microdrive product line in 2005 to significantly surpass the 5,000,000 cumulative Microdrive units shipped since its 1999 inception.

"Widespread adoption of the Microdrive in digital music devices this year became the watershed moment for one-inch hard drives; since then, we've been working at a feverish pace to keep up with demand," said Bill Healy, senior vice president, marketing and strategy, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies. "We believe the additional supply will accelerate even more the use of the Microdrive in handheld consumer electronic devices across a variety of applications."

Hitachi will be showcasing some of these new applications in its digital home display at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show, January 6-9 (Las Vegas Convention Center, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies exhibit #25342, South Hall, first floor).

Ahead of Its Time

The Microdrive was a revolutionary product and marvel of miniaturization at the time of its invention 1999. The seeds of the Microdrive project actually germinated in 1991 with research aimed at using Micro Electro Mechanical Systems -- or MEMS -- to improve hard drive products. Researcher Tim Reiley, who spearheaded the work that led to the Microdrive's invention, projected that a small disk drive would be a good test bed for micromechanical research.

As the project evolved, Reiley's team was able to create very small, functional drives, but most of the components of the drives were miniaturizations of existing concepts, rather than inventions of micromechanical ones. But it was more than raw technical talent that saw the product to fruition.

"I was willing to do anything I couldn't get anyone else to do on this project, and that's not the inventive part, that's the tenacity part," Reiley reminisces. "The key thing is that it takes a certain amount of maturity and discipline to carry an idea through development to completion. It took us ten years of being in this business to see enough of the components to understand the direction that technology is going."

That bull-headed tenacity kept the Microdrive alive for the next four years before widespread adoption would take hold.

Broad Industry Adoption

The Microdrive first found popularity with the digital still camera industry where Reiley and his team focused, believing that the high cost of flash memory was slowing down the evolution of digital photography.

Since then, the one-inch hard drive segment has grown to find overwhelming acceptance in digital music players, digital video cameras and personal digital assistants among others.

"One of the interesting things about the Microdrive as a product is that the market opportunities expand with each higher-capacity generation," says Reiley.

While the MP3 segment dominates Microdrive usage today, the digital camera segment remains a mainstay. For example, the mid-range, multiple-pixel camera category has propelled the demand for high storage capacities in the Compact Flash form factor, which the Microdrive supports.

More recently, the growing digital video camera segment has begun to replace tape storage with hard drive storage, due in part to the high capacities and ease of use enabled on the Microdrive media. Earlier this year, JVC announced availability of its Everio digital video camera, which supports the 4 GB Microdrive.

"I can't say exactly what lies in store for the Microdrive, but I can say that miniature portable computing and image and data transfer are certainly reasonable things to expect more of in the future," Reily projects. "And, particularly as the volumes increase, the allowable price reduction will open the huge market associated with evolved cell phones."

Near term, Hitachi is pursuing Microdrive application for mobile phones and miniature external storage devices. Beyond that, Reiley believes imagination and tenacity are the only limits for achieving, perhaps, the 50 millionth Microdrive.

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