What's in Store for 2004--and Beyond

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A Drive to Succeed

In the future your hard drive may not pack a whole lot more data. But it will be faster and easier to use, thanks to Serial ATA drive interfaces that began appearing in systems last year. SATA drives are easier to install, have thinner cables, and boast data-transfer rates up to 50 percent faster than those of the fastest drives built on the parallel ATA standard that has been in use for more than a decade.

SATA drives will make up about 30 percent of desktop drives shipped in 2004 and about 70 percent in 2005, says Dave Reinsel, IDC storage research manager. "For the average PC user, Serial ATA means simplified cabling, a cooler-running PC, and no more worries about bandwidth bottlenecks," he says.

But while the drive technology is new, capacities won't change much right away. Typical desktop PCs will continue to ship with 60GB to 80GB drives next year--plenty for most users.

Drive Bay Packers

Though most consumers aren't clamoring for more storage, manufacturers continue to seek ways to build bigger drives.

"The two most promising technologies in the labs today are perpendicular recording and heat-assisted magnetic recording," says longtime storage analyst Jim Porter, principal at Disk/Trend.

Maxtor recently used perpendicular recording to store up to 175GB per hard-disk platter, surpassing today's maximum of 100GB. Instead of storing data by magnetically orienting the particles on the platter's surface longitudinally along a circular track (like laying bar magnets flat--some oriented north-south, others south-north--in a circle), this scheme magnetically orients the particles perpendicular to the drive's surface (like a circle of bar magnets standing on end). Perpendicular recording can pack data more densely, and could spawn drives of 700GB, or roughly double the current maximum, in two to three years.

Heat-assisted magnetic recording uses a more magnetically stable disk surface, allowing denser packing and increasing data stability. Normally this requires a stronger write head to orient the particles of the disk's surface. But HAMR drives use a laser to heat the spot being written to in order to make it easier to orient magnetically. Seagate has demonstrated HAMR technology that it claims could ultimately store 50 terabytes per square inch.

However, warns Porter, such technology could be five to ten years away. Data density is still growing at about 50 percent per year using less-costly, conventional techniques.

"The most important spec on any drive is price," says Porter. "None of this [new] technology will turn into products as long as manufacturers can produce conventional drives for less."

Windows: Longhorn

What OS will future PCs run? for a preview of Microsoft's Longhorn, click here.

Big Storage for Small Spaces

Iomega's DCT removable disc (left) and drive mechanism.
Iomega's DCT removable disc (left) and drive mechanism.
With handheld devices like digital cameras and music players proliferating, you can expect to see continued efforts to cram more data into smaller spaces. In mid 2004, for example, Iomega will introduce its DCT removable 1.8-inch drives. The drive mechanism is small enough to fit into a notebook PC Card; the individual discs, premiering at 1.5GB, will cost only about $10. Iomega expects the drives to appear in PC Card adapters, USB key chain (thumb) drives, MP3 players, and digital still and video cameras.

While those Iomega drives spin up, flash-memory competitors will not be standing still. SD cards, now at 1GB, will hit 2GB by the middle of 2004. You could shoot a day's worth of high-resolution digital photos without changing cards on your ultrasmall camera. And some companies are substituting SD for comparatively gargantuan MiniDV tapes to build camcorders about the size of an IPod, such as the Panasonic SV-AV100 D-snap.

Seán Captain

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