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"Drivezilla" breathes fire at 200GB

Drive maker Western Digital begins shipping a new drive with up to 200GB of capacity--a whopping 80GB more than found in most high-end consumer PCs.

Western Digital's 200GB "Drivezilla" is about to stomp its way into desktop PCs.

The company began shipping the hard drive--part of its new family of Caviar drives ranging from 120GB to 200GB--in small numbers over the past week. The new machine, which spins at 7,200 revolutions per minute, will soon begin appearing at retail stores and online, and will be available in some new desktop PCs later this quarter.

The drive, which the company nicknamed Drivezilla, will give high-end consumer PCs a whopping 80GB more storage than most now have. The majority of top-of-the-line PCs come with 120GB drives, though most manufacturers offer desktop PCs that can fit two 120GB hard drives in order to offer more data storage capacity.

Western Digital expects that people who use their PCs to edit and store video and photos, or to perform other multimedia tasks, will want the new drive for its extra capacity. Storing large amounts of video, for example, quickly adds up on a hard drive. Compressed video takes up about 13GB of disk space per hour. Meanwhile, the new drive can also be used by workstations, which are heavy-duty desktops used for tasks such as creating mechanical designs.

Western Digital created Drivezilla by increasing the areal density, or the amount of data its drives can store per square inch. Drivezilla can stuff 66.7GB of data on each platter. A platter, which resembles a record or CD, is used to store data in a hard drive. Manufacturers stack the platters inside the drives in order to reach different capacities.

Drivezilla uses three platters to reach 200GB; the new 120GB drive uses two.

Most other hard drive makers, such as Seagate, have surpassed the previous mark of 40GB per platter and have reached 60GB per platter. But they have not yet offered drive capacities higher than 160GB.

Drivezilla's closest competitor is Maxtor's DiamondMax D540X hard drive. It is available at up to 160GB, but at a slower rotational speed of 5,400rpm.

Drivezilla's 7,200rpm allows it to transfer data more quickly.

Still, the drive's capacity and performance will come at a price. It will sell at retail for $399, a bit more than other high-end drives when they were first released.

"We're loading the various channels, " Richard Rutledge, vice president of marketing for Western Digital, said referring to the different ways the drive will be sold. Not all PC retailers or PC makers have it yet, he said. Retailers will get it first, he added, and PC makers "will start shipping by the end of the quarter."

Meanwhile, Drivezilla is breaking through other barriers as well.

Because of its larger size it will likely be one of the first hard drives widely available to consumers that will take advantage of a new interface between drives and PCs. The updated interface surpasses the previous barrier to hard drive capacity, which had been 137GB.

Technical Committee T13, a group that maintains the ATA standard for connecting drives to PCs, overcame the capacity limitation. Last year, the committee released an updated standard that uses greater number of bits--48 bits versus 28 bits--to allow the drive to handle more data.

The new interface can deal with up to 144 petabytes of data. A 144 petabyte drive--if one were available--would offer about 120,000 times more capacity than a 137GB drive.

Because it may take some time for the new interface to work its way into the PC market, Western Digital is taking measures to ensure that its new drives will work with PCs.

Only Windows XP's Service Pack 1--an update due out next month for the Microsoft operating system--will offer built-in support for the new interface.

To allow its drive to work on PCs that don't have the updated version of Windows XP, Western Digital will include a special controller card and software. The card will be included with the new drive when it is sold at retail. Buyers will have to install the new card and software.

Drive makers will surely need the new interface, as developments push areal densities to 100GB per platter. Such density could allow desktop drives to reach 400GB of storage by the end of next year.