Here comes the terabyte hard drive

With a terabyte drive, consumers can store 250,000 MP3 songs, enough for two solid years of listening without a single repeat. Photos: Hitachi's terabyte drive

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
Last year, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies predicted hard-drive companies would announce 1 terabyte drives by the end of 2006. Hitachi was only off by a few days.

The company said on Thursday that it will come out with a 3.5-inch-diameter 1 terabyte drive for desktops in the first quarter, then follow up in the second quarter with 3.5-inch terabyte drives for digital video recorders, bundled with software called Audio-Visual Storage Manager for easier retrieval of data, and corporate storage systems.

Hitachi terabyte drives

The Deskstar 7K1000 will cost $399 when it comes out. That comes to about 40 cents a gigabyte. Hitachi will also come out with a similar 750GB drive. Rival Seagate Technology will come out with a 1 terabyte drive in the first half of 2007.

The two companies, along with others, will tout their new drives at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and will show off hybrid hard drives, as well.

A terabyte is a trillion bytes, or a million megabytes, or 1,000 gigabytes, as measured by the hard-drive industry. (There are actually two conventions for calculating megabytes, but this is how the drive industry counts it.) As a reference, the print collection in the Library of Congress comes to about 10 terabytes of information, according to the How Much Information study from U.C. Berkeley. The report also found that 400,000 terabytes of e-mail get produced per year. About 50,000 trees would be necessary to create enough paper to hold a terabyte of information, according to the report.

Who needs this sort of storage capacity? You will, eventually, said Doug Pickford, director of market and product strategy at Hitachi. Demand for data storage capacity at corporations continues to grow, and it shows no sign of abating. A single terabyte drive takes up less space than four 250GB drives, which lets IT managers conserve on computing room real estate. The drive can hold about 330,000 3MB photos or 250,000 MP3s, according to Hitachi's math.

Consumers, meanwhile, are gobbling up more drive capacity because of content like video. An hour of standard video takes up about 1GB, while an hour of high-definition video sucks up 4GB, Pickford said.

Consumers, though, tend to be skeptical of ever needing more storage capacity.

"We heard that when we brought out 1 gigabyte drives," Pickford said.

The boost in capacity for desktop drives comes in part through the introduction of perpendicular recording technology to 3.5-inch-diameter drives. In perpendicular drives, data can be stored in vertical columns, rather than on a single plane. Drive makers have already released notebook drives, which sport smaller 2.5-inch-diameter drives, with perpendicular recording. The 1 terabyte drives will be Hitachi's first 3.5-inch drives with perpendicular recording.

Currently, Hitachi sells 3.5-inch drives that hold 500GB of data, while Seagate has come out with a 750GB data drive.

Drive makers convert to perpendicular recording when the need for areal density, the measure of how much data can be crammed into a square inch, passes 125 gigabits. The terabyte drive (and the 750GB drive) can hold 148 gigabits per square inch, or 148 billion bits. Hitachi's previous 3.5-inch drives maxed out at 115 gigabits per square inch.

The hard drive turned 50 last year, and over the past five decades data capacity has increased at a fairly regular and rapid pace. The first drive, which came with the RAMAC computer, weighed about a ton and held 5MB of data.

Hard-drive scientists say that increases in capacity will continue because of technologies like heat-assisted recording and patterned media.