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Fujitsu touts makings of monster hard drive

The company is developing technology to read more data off the hard drive platters that store the data. How about a 170GB notebook hard drive?

Fujitsu has developed new hard drive technology that may help to stem the expected slowdown in the rate of growth for hard drive capacity.

Manufacturers have been able to double the capacity of hard drives over the past 4 to 5 years. But as the gigabytes stack up, analysts and industry insiders are expecting the overall growth rate to slow as technological limitations take hold. To prevent this, hard drive makers are working to test the boundaries of storage capacity. Fujitsu's hardware, the company says, incorporates "sensitive" technology that can read more data off hard drive platters inside the drive where data is stored.

The technology, called "current perpendicular to plane," improves on the current giant magneto resistive head technology. When the new hardware is combined with the platter, or media, advancements that Fujitsu announced last August, hard drive density is expected to reach 300 gigabits per square inch, according to the company.

This would translate to about 170GB of capacity on hard drives with 2.5-inch platters--commonly used in notebook PCs. Current hard drives have a density of about 49 gigabits per square inch, or 30GB per platter.

However, hard drives using these technologies are still two to four years out, Fujitsu said. Competitors, such as IBM with "pixie dust" technology and Read-Rite with hard drive head innovations, are working to create similar hard drive storage advancements.

"What we're seeing here is the next generation of hard drive technology," IDC analyst Dave Reinsel said. "Capacity growth will slow down, but what this does is keep us on a growth curve."

The rate of innovation has taken its toll on hard drive manufacturers, resulting in thin profit margins and in some cases, forcing companies to leave certain markets. Last year Fujitsu left the 3.5-inch, or desktop, hard drive business to focus on the more profitable and faster growing 2.5-inch, or notebook, hard drive business.

"We would like the (growth) rate to slow down...the longer we can ship a product, the more we can make off of it," said Chuck Nielsen, chief technologist with Fujitsu's storage product group. "But we are driven by the market."

Nielsen added that some drives hold more capacity than most people use--thus capacity is becoming less of an advantage when competing. What Fujitsu's new technology will do, he said, is encourage the adoption of hard drives with 2.5-inch platters.

Nielsen said that he expects the rate that hard drive capacity doubles in the market to slow from 12 months to 15 months--and eventually to 18 months.