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Hitachi toughens up its laptop drives

The company's new 40GB drive for notebook computers promises greater reliability and ruggedness at an increasingly popular size.

Shifting its focus from roominess to ruggedness, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies on Tuesday plans to announce a 40GB drive for notebook computers meant to withstand more wear and tear.

The company, which recently introduced massive 400GB and 300GB drives, hopes to build on its leadership in the fast-growing laptop drive market with the new 2.5-inch product, according to sources close to the company.

Hitachi is focusing on features such as greater shock tolerance and better durability when it comes to moving the read/write head on and off the disk media, the sources said. The new drive, which spins at 4,200 revolutions per minute, is designed to tolerate a shock of 300 "Gs" for 2 milliseconds while operating. That's 50 percent higher than the tolerance of Hitachi's previous-generation 40GB, 4,200 RPM drives. The new product also is built to handle 600,000 "load/unload cycles" without failure?-twice that of the previous-generation Hitachi drives.

Other drives in the market do not come close to Hitachi's new load/unload cycle specification, said John Donovan, analyst at research firm TrendFocus. The new drive's reliability features should make it attractive to laptop makers, he suggested. "This thing is just bulletproof, theoretically," he said.

Shipments of laptop drives are growing more quickly than those of desktop computers drives. The number of notebook computer drives shipped worldwide last year hit 44 million, up 33 percent from 2002, according to TrendFocus. In contrast, desktop drive shipments rose 13 percent to 114 million. Hitachi was the leader in the notebook drive arena in 2003, with 54 percent of the market, according to TrendFocus. Toshiba ranked second with 27 percent, Fujitsu was third with 15 percent, and Seagate ranked fourth with about 5 percent, according to TrendFocus.

Hitachi and other companies already make "mobile" hard drives that hold 60GB and 80GB. But "40GB is the sweet spot today," said a source close to Hitachi.

Donovan agreed. According to TrendFocus, 40GB drives accounted for 44 percent of the notebook drive market last year, and the number will jump to 60 percent this year, as shipments of less-capacious 20GB drives peter out.

Hitachi's new drive is expected to ship in volume quantities in April, according to the sources. The new 40GB drive is priced at $139, the same as the previous-generation 40GB Hitachi drive, the sources said.