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August 17, 2005

Toshiba Ships 'Perpendicular' Disk Drive

Courtesy of EE Times

San Jose, Calif. — Toshiba Corp. announced Tuesday (Aug. 16) it has started shipping production quantities of a 1.8-inch hard disk drive using perpendicular recording to pack 40-Gbytes of memory storage on a single platter, about 10-Gbytes per platter more than on its existing drives.

The higher capacity gives Toshiba an edge as it seeks design wins against lower-capacity but smaller one-inch sized drives in MP3 players and higher capacity 2.5-inch drives in notebook computers. Toshiba’s previous product put 30-Gbytes on a 1.8-inch platter using conventional longitudinal recording.

The announcement marks the beginning of the end of a 20-year quest to commercialize perpendicular recording to boost drive capacity. Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and Seagate Technology are expected to ship 2.5- and 3.5-inch drives using perpendicular recording later this year.

In April Hitachi GST said it has had a handful of notebooks with 2.5-inch drives using perpendicular recording in the field since December. The drives are 100-Gbyte, dual-platter devices with media rotating at 4,200 revolutions per minute. Drive makers believe they must shift from storing magnetic charges longitudinally on a disk’s surface to storing the charges vertically to bolster aerial density. Benefits stem from the fact it’s difficult to push horizontal charges close together while vertical charges will naturally couple, opening the door to smaller recording tracks or more bits stored per track area.

Toshiba provided few specifics about how it has implemented perpendicular recording in its new MK4007GAL drive except to say it is using both new media and new current-perpendicular-to-plane recording heads. Western Digital has said it would try to move to perpendicular media using existing longitudinal read/write heads in its first generation. Seagate has been exploring the use of tunneling magneto-resistive heads to extend the life of longitudinal media and provide a bridge to perpendicular recording.

Toshiba said its new drive has an aerial density of 133-Gbits per square inch. That’s significantly lower than prototype perpendicular drives Seagate showed in 2003 at 170-Gbits per square inch and Hitachi showed earlier this year at 230-Gbits per square inch.

Toshiba will begin production shipments of a two-platter 1.8-inch drive sporting 80Gbytes storage later this quarter. The company would not comment on price of the drives.

Next year, Toshiba will apply the perpendicular recording techniques to both its 2.5-inch drives and its diminutive 0.85-inch drives launched late last year. Today Toshiba is shipping 0.85-inch drives with 2-Gbytes capacity based on using just one side of the platter in a 3.3-mm tall device. A dual-sided drive with 4-Gbytes capacity and a 5-mm height is in qualification. With the perpendicular technology, the drives, targeted at cellphones and other consumer systems, will hit capacities of 4-Gbytes to 8-Gbytes in 2006.

In the short term, Toshiba hopes its 40- and 80-Gbyte 1.8-inch drives help it compete in thin-and-light notebooks against higher capacity 2.5-inch drives where Hitachi GST is the current market leader. Thin notebooks are considering a transition to 1.8-inch drives as they shave down their size, said Tom McGoldrick, a director of technical operations in Toshiba drive group.

Toshiba is also using the new drive in its own line of MP3 players. The company would not comment on whether Apple Computer would adopt the new drive for its iPod. Apple used Toshiba’s 1.8-inch drives in its first-generation iPod.

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