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Hitachi plans hybrids, encryption for notebook drives

The Japanese electronics giant will sell hybrid hard drives that cut battery consumption for notebooks in 2007.

Notebook drives are going to get spiffed in 2007.

Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, the hard-drive division of the Japanese electronics giant, will sell hybrid hard drives that cut battery consumption for notebooks in 2007, as well as include a function that encrypts data automatically, said Larry Swezey, director of mobile hard-drive product strategy and marketing at Hitachi.

Capacity on notebook drives will increase as well. In the first half, the company will release a 2.5-inch-diameter 200GB drive that spins at 7,200 revolutions per minute, and follow it up in the second half with a 2.5-inch-diameter notebook drive that will spin at 5,400 rpm and hold about 250GB. Hitachi's largest 7,200-rpm notebook disk now holds 100GB, while the 5,400-rpm model tops out at 160GB.

In desktops, Hitachi will come out with a drive that holds a terabyte in 2007.

Rivals like Seagate Technology and Samsung will come out with similar products. The actions of these companies, though, collectively underscore how drive makers are trying to woo customers through added features, rather than just capacity size. Notebooks, of course, are one of the fastest growing segments for drives. About 118 million 2.5-inch drives (the standard in notebooks) will ship in 2006 and that figure will likely rise to 224 million by 2010. By then, 2.5-inch drives will hold around 750GB due to technologies such as patterned media.

Besides notebooks, 2.5-inch drives go into game consoles and set-top boxes, Swezey said.

The push into encryption follows on the heels of several well-publicized incidents of laptop theft that have compromised the privacy of consumers. Encryption and decryption will occur automatically as data is written and retrieved. The feature will be included on all 2.5-inch drives; however, whether a customer can use the feature will depend on how the manufacturer configures the notebook and the individual user's specific settings.

"We've had a huge amount of push from systems manufacturers on this," Swezey said.

Inserting flash memory into a so-called hybrid hard drive, meanwhile, cuts down on battery consumption. In a hybrid, data first gets written to flash. The drive wakes up and spins only when the flash chips get full.

Hybrid drives will also let a Vista PC come out of a hibernation state fairly rapidly. "A hybrid only works in a system with Vista," he said. "For people running XP, there is no value in hybrid drives."

Intel is promoting a similar, but different, technology called Robson where the flash chip is outside the drive. It's a pitched battle. Intel is working with Taiwanese contract manufacturers to promote Robson. Bill Watkins, CEO of Seagate, however, said in a recent interview with CNET that computer makers are leaning toward hybrids.

"They don't want to be hooked to that, they don't want to use other motherboards or use AMD," Watkins said recently in a separate instance. Watkins, however, added that Robson and hybrids are effectively equal technologically.

For his part, Swezey said that PC makers are looking at both Robson and hybrid drives, but the additional motherboard space required by Robson is not something PC makers are fond of.

Hitachi further added that it will ship 4 million perpendicular drives this year. Perpendicular recording effectively lets disks store more data on a surface than in the past.