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Toshiba does DVD for portables

The market leader in notebooks ships DVD-ROM drives now and slates DVD-RAM for next month. The moves come amid market uncertainty over competing storage technologies.

Toshiba has released a slim DVD-ROM drive for notebooks, and next month will begin to ship samples of a recordable DVD-RAM drive.

While the releases will make Toshiba the first company to come out with commercial versions of either product, the announcements come amid uncertainty and turmoil in the DVD arena. Earlier this month, a group of vendors led by Sony abandoned the DVD-RAM effort, stating that they would attempt to develop a different high-density recording/storage technology to compete with DVD-RAM. Meanwhile, NEC revealed it was working on a third high-density storage technology.

A DVD-ROM drive, which resembles a CD-ROM drive, allows playback of CD-ROM and DVD titles only, while DVD-RAM technology will allow both playback and recording.

Toshiba's SD-C2002 is the first DVD-ROM drive for portables to be released commercially. Measuring a slight 17 mm in height, the 380-gram drive supports DVD-ROM, DVD-video, and most CD formats. The drive costs $500.

While currently available, volume production will not begin until next month. The company will follow this release with a 12.7-mm thick DVD-ROM laptop drive.

Toshiba also expects to release a notebook with the drive in November in time for the Comdex trade show.

Although innovative, notebook DVD drives can be seen as technology for technology's sake, said Dan Lavin, senior industry analyst at Dataquest. Currently, DVD technology is primarily marketed as a high-storage method for home theater systems and PCs. With DVD, users can view movies off of their computers. Viable reasons to put DVD on notebook have yet to materialize, he said.

"It [the Toshiba drive] is too early to be a harbinger of anything," he said. "There are some specific demonstration and presentation applications you could use it for."

In September, Toshiba will also release samples of the SD-W1001, a DVD-RAM unit that can store 2.6GB on a single side of a disk. Toshiba's first recordable DVD-RAM will be compatible with the SCSI interface and will cost $750. In November, Toshiba will follow with a second DVD-RAM compatible with the ATAPI standard.

Yet Lavin, among others, believes the splintering within the high storage arena could delay the proliferation of high density recording technology.

"It's a nightmare. It probably pushes DVD-RAM back another year," he said.