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Hitachi puts new twist on small drives

A planned version of its 1-inch drive would not be removable but offers the potential to design consumer electronics devices that are smaller and cheaper.

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies is putting a new spin on its tiny hard drives.

Hitachi said this week that it is developing a version of its 1-inch "Microdrive" designed to be built directly into the guts of devices such as digital music players. So far, the hard drive maker has sold a Microdrive that can be removed from devices similar to the way flash memory cards can slip into and out of digital cameras.

"We're working on a version of the Microdrive that will be fully embedded; nonremovable," said Bill Healy, Hitachi's senior vice president for consumer and commercial hard drives.

The Microdrive, which would be similar to a drive start-up firm Cornice offers, could let manufacturers create smaller consumer electronics products, Healy said. There is also the potential for lower costs, he added.

Hard drives have been taking on a greater role in consumer electronics devices such as digital video recorders, which record live programming and allow viewers to pause broadcasts temporarily. Small-size drives have been a particular hit as the storage component of digital music players.

Hitachi's 4GB Microdrive, for example, is being used in Apple Computer's new iPod Mini, according to sources close to Hitachi. Although the Microdrive is designed to be removable, the new iPod does not take advantage of that feature.

An embedded drive would offer manufacturers more flexibility, Healy said. In particular, the connection between drive and device could be smaller, which would translate into more compact designs. Also, not having to put a prominent label on the drive would trim costs, Healy suggested.

Cornice makes 1.5GB and 2GB embedded drives. Cornice drives are built into consumer electronics products from companies such as Digital Networks North America and Thomson, according to the company.

GS Magicstor and Toshiba also are making small drives.