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IBM accelerates hard drives

Big Blue pushes the storage envelope, releasing several new faster and bigger hard drives for video and server applications.

IBM pushed the storage envelope today by releasing several new faster and bigger hard drives for video and server applications.

Among the new offerings are a huge 36.4GB drive, the Ultrastar 36XP, and speedy 9.1GB or 18.2GB drives that spin at 10,020 rpm, the Ultrastar 18ZX and 9LXZ.

IBM is a bit late to market with the fast drives--Seagate has been offering 10,000-rpm models for a the last six months--but IBM's new models are competitive and "not too late to miss the market entirely," said Crawford DelPrete, an analyst with International Data Corporation.

Seagate also beat IBM on the capacity front with a 47GB drive. However, that model is 5.25 inches wide, bigger than IBM's 3.5-inch-wide 36GB model, and noisier as well. However, Seagate plans to start shipping a 50GB drive 3.5 inches wide in early 1999, DelPrete added.

Although IBM hasn't always won all the hard disk races, the company has become more competitive by being smarter in turning its research and development expertise into shipping products, DelPrete said.

"What we've seen in the last two years is that IBM has figured out how to be a smart student and a profitable business," he said.

For example, IBM sells drives in profitable areas such as servers and portable computers where customers are more willing to pay for faster, newer technology. IBM also sells hard disk heads to other companies, including Western Digital, a company that competes in the cutthroat low-priced drive market.

The 10,020-rpm drives, which have memory caches of up to 4MB to speed them further, are designed to be able to keep up with the heavy demands of servers and video streaming applications like editing movies.

The 36XP and its less expensive sibling, the 18ES, both spin at 7,200 rpm.

All the new drives use IBM's giant magnetoresistive (GMR) head technology, which allows more data to be packed into a given surface area on a hard disk platter.

The drives, now shipping in limited quantities, are available with several different interfaces to connect the drives to computers. Among the choices are the high-speed but relatively common Ultra2 SCSI Fast/Wide, and Fibre Channel, an even higher-speed condender that's increasingly popular for servers using arrays of several disks.

Data General's Clariion storage division will use the new IBM drives in its disk array products, said Chuck Hafemann, product line manager for SCSI arrays and disk drives at Clariion. The company currently is testing the drives to make sure they work with older IBM drives--"probably the most solid drives we've seen as far as field reliability and performance," he said.

In the area of the high-speed Fibre Channel interface, IBM is catching up with Seagate, the current top choice in Fibre Channel and Clariion's other disk drive supplier.

The new IBM drives all ship with IBM's Drive Temperature Indicator Processor, which lets users monitor and adjust the disk drive temperature.

IBM estimated the list price of $1,575 for the 36XT, $1,350 for the 18ZX, $850 for the 9LZX, and $915 for the 18ES.