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Mini drive survives school of hard knocks

Miniature hard drives will be everywhere at CES. At least one will come with new features to cushion it from blows.

Finally, a miniature hard drive you can drop on the sidewalk.

Mini-drive specialist Cornice will unfurl a new 3-gigabyte, 1-inch-diameter hard drive at next month's Consumer Electronics Show that offers more shock resistance and uses less battery life than its predecessors. The drive is due out in 2005.

The company, which has landed its drives in Sony music players and a Samsung cell phone, will distinguish itself in an increasingly crowded field in 2005 by emphasizing price and durability rather than capacity.

At 3GB, the drive--which Cornice calls a "storage element"--will hold less data than high-end drives from competitors such as Hitachi. The drive, however, will come with a "crash guard" latch that physically locks the drive arm in place when not in use. Locking the arm is designed to cut down failures associated with dropping.

Even with the arm unlocked, an MP3 player containing the upcoming drive can be dropped from about 5 feet without damage--higher than in the past, noted David Feller, vice president of marketing.

"You want to make sure that it if falls off your belt and onto the concrete, it won't die," he said.

Batteries on some devices containing the company's drives will last 20 hours, he added.

Manufacturers will offer players with the 3GB drive for $159 to $199 next year. Players with 1-inch drives currently cost about $200 to $250. Price declines are related in part to cutting out additional parts from the drive.

Competition in the mini-drive market will likely increase next year as more competitors, such as Toshiba and Samsung, enter the market.

More music players are actually based around flash memory, but the percentage of players containing 1.8-inch or 1-inch drives is growing fast. Hard-drive players also generally sell for more than flash memory ones.

Toshiba and Hitachi are both set to make announcements at CES, which takes place Jan. 6 to 10 in Las Vegas.