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IBM dusts off new laptop hard drives

New hard drives for notebooks boost capacity to 80GB, thanks to the company's more liberal use of the element ruthenium, dubbed "pixie dust."

IBM is using an extra dash of pixie dust to add gigabytes of storage to its notebook hard drives.

New Travelstar hard drives for notebooks announced Wednesday boost maximum capacity from 60GB to 80GB, thanks to the company's more liberal use of the element ruthenium, dubbed "pixie dust" by IBM researchers.

Big Blue's pixie dust manufacturing technique, officially called antiferromagnetically coupled (AFC) media, adds a thin layer of ruthenium to the platters inside a drive. This layer enables more data to be packed onto each platter. The newest Travelstar drives add an extra layer of ruthenium to further boost data storage capacity. AFC was first announced in May 2001.

Hard drive makers have been roughly doubling capacity every year. The use of AFC allows them to follow that curve and keep up with the needs of consumers and businesses. Notebooks that now carry DVD burners increasingly are being used to create, edit and view movies and listen to music. Those video and audio files inherently require greater storage capacity.

"We want to help make people's notebooks equivalent to desktop PCs, or essentially unplugged desktops," said Rocky Laroia, senior marketing manager for IBM's mobile hard drive group.

IBM's hard drive group is in a state of transition as it combines with Hitachi's hard drive unit. A new hard drive company will be formed, with Hitachi owning 70 percent of the company and IBM owning 30 percent. Within three years, Hitachi will own all of the company.

Most of the demand for the drives is for notebooks, according to Laroia, but the drive is also being sold into consumer electronics and office equipment.

A hard drive platter essentially looks like a record. Drive makers work to boost the amount of data each platter holds and then stack them to build bigger drives. The platters in the new IBM drives have an areal density of 70 gigabits per square inch, allowing them to hold up to 40GB of data each. Desktop drive platters, which are larger, hold as much as 66GB each, resulting in capacities of up to 200GB.

IBM will release three Travelstar hard drive lines next year, featuring rotational speeds of 4,200 revolutions per minute (rpm), 5,400rpm and 7,200rpm. The speed at which a drive's platters rotate relates directly to its performance. Essentially, drives that spin faster can transfer data more quickly. Faster drives, however, can be more noisy, expensive and power hungry.

"These new drives aren't just about capacity doubling; performance is up and acoustics are down," Laroia said.

IBM lowered the acoustics of the drive by as much as four decibels and increased the cache on the 80GB model to 8MB.

IBM's 4,200rpm Travelstar 80GN will be its first 80GB notebook product and will be priced at $420 in the retail market. A 20GB version for $158 and a 40GB version for $224 will also be available and are scheduled to ship in January.

The Travelstar 5,400rpm and 7,200rpm drives will come later in the first quarter, IBM said. The 5,400rpm drives will be dubbed Travelstar 80GNX and will also ship in 20GB, 40GB and 80GB versions, the company said.

Meanwhile, IBM said its 7,200rpm Travelstar will curb some of the noise and power consumption issues that have held back 7,200rpm notebook drives in the past.

The new 7,200 rpm drives will likely show up in so-called mobile workstations, which are top-of-the-line notebooks designed for applications such as computer-aided design. IBM didn't provide any other details on the drive, but noted it's likely to be expensive relative to other mobile hard drives.

Several PC makers, IBM included, will likely offer the new 4,200rpm and 5,400rpm drives in their high-end notebook lines.

Other drive makers such as Toshiba are also expected to offer 80GB drives early next year.

In 2003, disk drive densities are expected to reach up to 100 gigabits per square inch, which will allow for capacities of 400GB for desktop drives, 200GB for notebooks and 6GB for IBM's one-inch Microdrive, the company has said.'s Richard Shim contributed to this report.