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Big Blue touts 73GB hard drive

The largest hard disk ever, containing a whopping 73 gigabytes of data storage space, will be announced by IBM tomorrow.

The largest hard disk ever, containing a whopping 73 gigabytes of data storage space, will be announced by IBM tomorrow.

The disk, the UltraStar 72ZX, is aimed at high-end computing markets where space is at a premium. It's the latest arrival in an industry bent on outdoing itself by a factor of two every year.

But, although IBM will announce the 73GB drive tomorrow, the disk will actually arrive in 2000, which is at least three months late, according to Disk Trends analyst Jim Porter.

"It's an excellent drive for the next century, when it will ship," he said. The schedule was to have the disk ready now, so arriving in 2000 is "a little bit of a slippage," he said.

The disk will steal away the capacity crown from rival Seagate, which has been selling a 50GB drive since last fall, Porter said. IBM and Seagate are tied for first place in the high-end disk drive market, which currently is growing at the healthy pace of about 17.4 percent per year, he said.

The 73gGB drive set a record for the fastest response time to search out new data, Porter said. The heads--the part of the drive that actually read the data within the drive--can move to a new position in 4.9 milliseconds. "I don't think anybody's better than that," he said.

Arriving this year, though, will be new 36GB drives. The drives are based on the same innards as the 73GB model, but will be only 1 inch thick. Current 36GB drives aren't as thin.

These 36GB models are the drives that will be most popular initially, Porter said. Indeed, an IBM competitor will announce its own 36GB model soon.

The 36GB drives, with fewer platters inside and therefore lower manufacturing costs, are attractive because they provide more gigabytes of storage per dollar than their more capacious cousins.

Though the hard disk industry overall is doing well, with unit shipment growth of 16 percent a year right now, it hasn't been kind to everyone. Western Digital, in particular, has had trouble keeping up, Porter said. "Western Digital has got a big bundle of problems," he said.

Western Digital this month announced a 400,000-drive recall on top of a warning of worse-than expected financial losses. Because of the difficulty in keeping up with the competition, Western Digital had to license disk drive technology from IBM on terms favorable to Big Blue.

Patent cross-licensing is common in the hard disk industry, Porter said. Yesterday, drive makers Quantum and Fujitsu announced that they had signed a cross-licensing deal. "It's a good way to get money out of the hands of lawyers and into the hands of shareholders," Porter said.

Seagate also announced layoffs of 8,000 employees this month, but that wasn't an indication of bad news, Porter said. "They did it because they were able to operate more efficiently, not because they were in trouble," he said.

The new 73GB drive has the ability to store 7 billion "bits" of data in a square inch, IBM said. Each bit is a patch of magnetized material that records either a zero or a one.