Big Blue unveiled the Travelstar E, a portable hard drive in a durable case that plugs into the PC card slot in a notebook computer. The portable device allows users to get at information stored on their hard drives from any device with such a slot. Although not the first to offer such an option, IBM is by far the largest manufacturer to unveil this type of drive.
Computer users are demanding more storage capacity than ever, as software becomes more resource-intensive and people download more data from the Internet and other sources. Many older or less-expensive notebooks offer hard drives of less than 4GB of capacity.
The Travelstar E is available with 8 or 10GB of memory, priced at $449 or $549, respectively. The drive comes in a sturdy container, which theoretically is more resistant to wear and tear than a normal hard drive.
"Ruggedness is very important to users who travel a lot with their notebooks," David Uriu, director of IBM's mobile storage products, said in a statement. "This is a significant and strategic move for IBM."
Although notebook computers have drastically shrunk in size and weight over the last few years, executives and those who travel frequently still complain about the burden of hauling laptops with important information from place to place. Notebook theft is also a problem. This type of external hard drive could be a solution to those problems, analysts say.
"They're basically putting a hard drive in a cigar box with a lot of padding so it can take a beating," said Jim Porter of DiskTrend. "There are a lot of people who don't like to schlep notebook computers around. One hundred percent of [notebook users] hate the weight of their computers. This could be handy for these folks."
Porter noted that other smaller companies are offering similar products, although not with the marketing muscle of Big Blue.
"IBM didn't dream this up," he said. "But they're a much bigger name."
Earlier this week, IBM announced a 35.3GB hard drive, breaking its previous record for data storage.
IBM is planning to market the device as a convenient way to store large digital music files and is bundling Diamond's RioPort music management software with the drive. Although digital music is a hot area and the large files can be unwieldy to store on a traditional hard drive, IBM may have a hard time selling the pricey add-on to digital music fans, who are typically college or high school students, Porter said.
"Whenever you offer something new to it's hard to say for sure who the market is," he said. "It really depends on who [is listening to digital music]--if its just teenagers, they won't be buying the drive. But for serious collectors, it might work. But I think the biggest market would be someone who has a business reason to travel or move files around."
In other portable storage news this week, Iomega confirmed it is phasing out its external Clik drive product and will instead refocus on the PC card version of the portable drive for notebooks and digital cameras.
"Iomega is certainly cleaning up the shop as well they must, choosing to focus on products on which they can actually make money," JP Morgan analyst Daniel Kunstler said in a report this week.