Seagate, Hitachi Announce 6GB, 1-Inch Drives; Competition to Escalate

The battle of the mini drive continues with announcements by Seagate Technology LLC and Hitachi Global Storage Technologies Inc. that they have begun shipping a 1-inch hard disk drive with a 6 gigabyte (GB) capacity that will be mainly used by manufacturers of portable, digital music devices.

Seagateis new 6GB ST1 Series hard drive range can hold up to 150 hours of high-quality music files, equating to some 3,000 tracks, encoded at a bit rate of 128 kilobits per second, the company said Wednesday. The drive incorporates RunOn technology to ensure consistent music playback while in a high-motion environment, such as jogging, and has Seagateis G-Force Protection system to protect the drive against shock from mishandling.

In addition to the 6GB model, Seagate offers 1-inch drives with capacities of 5GB and 2.5GB.

Since they were introduced in June 2004, Seagateis ST1 Series hard drives have been used in handheld devices from firms including Creative Technology Ltd., Olympus Corp., Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd., Virgin Electronics LLC and others.

Sources close to Apple Computer have informed The Mac Observer that Apple is using the 6GB drive in the new, second-generation iPod mini, announced Wednesday.

The Hitachi Microdrive 3K6 has a 30% performance improvement over its predecessor, the company said Wednesday. The drive can store 1500 to 3000 songs, 6,000 pictures at 1 megabyte each or 8 hours of MPEG-4 video and is available in CompactFlash Type II and embedded versions.

For Hitachi, the new 6GB drive has increased platter density to store 78G bits per square inch versus 56.5G bits per square inch in the 4GB model, which was introduced last year.

Hitachiis new 6GB Microdrive weighes just 0.56 ounces.

Hitachi announced the new 6GB drive will be 60% less in price, with each drive retailing for US$299. The 4 GB version of the Microdrive 3K6 will be offered at $199, representing a 60-percent decrease.

Mini drive wars heating up

The announcements by Seagate and Hitachi are proof positive that smaller, high capacity drives are quickly becoming the storage device of choice, according to one analyst.

"As portable music players and digital cameras become more popular, youire going to find these 1-inch drives in more of these devices," Mike Paxton, senior analyst at In-Stat/MDR, told The Mac Observer. "As demand escalates, prices of these drives will fall and that price reduction will be passed on to consumers by companies like Creative, Apple and Toshiba."

Mr. Paxton also said handheld video players and other personal media players will increasingly incorporate the 1-inch hard drive as storage and opt away from flash-based solutions.

Another positive sign: More Asian-based component makers are entering or considering entering the miniature hard drive market. At present, Seagate, Hitachi and Toshiba are among the biggest players. Fujitsu Ltd. has announced it too is considering its options in entering the 1-inch drive market. As more competition enters the fray, prices will fall, Mr. Paxton said.

IDC reported in December that 12 million 1-inch drives were sold in 2004 . The analysis company estimates the market will surge to 35 million units sold by 2009.

At Januaryis, HGST announced plans to have an even higher capacity Microdrive out in the second half of this year. That drive will offer a capacity of between 8GB and 10GB and will also drop the Compact Flash interface for a ZIF () connector of the type favored by consumer electronics makers.

Hitachi is planning to develop a ibaby Microdrivei later this year, named Mikey. In January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Hitachi announced it will introduce later this year one-inch hard drives with capacities of 8GB and 10GB. The drives will be 20% smaller by switching to a zero insertion force connector instead of a Compact Flash interface.

Mr. Paxton believes as manufacturers find more efficient ways to store more data, 1-inch drives will quickly become the norm.

"Itis only a matter of time before these drives become standard equipment on more and more electronic products," Mr. Paxton commented. "I think it will be sooner rather than later."