Hitachi to introduce tiny drive

With an eye on handheld consumer appliances, Hitachi is expected to announce that it has created the smallest drive on the market.

In the race to make ever-smaller disk drives for hand-held consumer appliances, Hitachi is expected to announce Friday that it has matched Seagate Technologies with what it says is the smallest drive on the market, a one-inch-diameter hard drive that holds eight gigabytes of data.

But Hitachi says its own version will be distinguished by a new technology that senses when the hard drive is being dropped, a feature that could be attractive in often-dropped cell phones.

Hitachi is also introducing the lightest 1.8-inch-diameter hard drive, which weighs less than half an ounce and is only 5 millimeters high, or about two-tenths of an inch.

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Prices of the new devices were not disclosed. But the price for storage has been dropping so steadily that it is now measured in pennies a megabyte--the equivalent of about 1 million characters. (A gigabyte is 1,000 times that.)

Hitachi, based in Tokyo, said its Global Storage Technologies unit intends to start shipping the one-inch drives in October and the larger ones this month. While Hitachi dominates the market for the small drives--it supplied the drives for the original Apple Computer iPod--Seagate, based in Scotts Valley, Calif., was the first company to announce it was shipping the highest-capacity miniature drive.

Seagate says that it began shipping the 8GB devices in July and that it has "a number of customers," for the device, though it refused to disclose which companies are installing it in devices.

Hitachi will likewise not disclose the customers for its new drives, but it is hoping that its drives will prove popular with cell phone makers, a new category for makers of hard drives.

Sexy drives

"We are seeing the evolution of the consumer electronics device into a fashion statement," says Larry Swezey, deputy general manager for Hitachi's mobile hard drive business. "It's a brand new world for the disk drive."

The mini-drives are already used in music players, digital cameras and some video cameras. Now cell phone makers are creating multifunction handsets that will act as tiny PCs, music players and more fully functioning cameras.

To make its drives more attractive to cell phone makers, Hitachi said it rigged them with a three-axis accelerometer. The drop-sensor technology is activated during a drop of as little as four inches. Once warned, the drive parks the read-write head away from the surface of the disk.

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