Toshiba Readies Truly Tiny Hard Drive

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LAS VEGAS -- Toshiba has unveiled a prototype hard drive that's smaller than any currently on the market. The drive could start appearing in devices such as cellular telephones and digital music players before the end of this year.

The drive is the same length and width as an SD memory card and is 1 millimeter thicker, says Maciek Brzeski, vice president of marketing at Toshiba's U.S. storage media division.

A prototype on display at the Consumer Electronics Show here this week has a data storage capacity of 2GB. Toshiba is also planning to produce a sample drive with 4GB capacity around the middle of this year, Brzeski says.

Mini Version

The device itself is a miniaturized version of the kind of drive found inside a personal computer. It features a recording platter, the media part of the hard drive on which data is stored, that measures 0.85 inches in diameter.

Most current desktop computers use drives with a 3.5-inch-diameter platter, while notebook computers usually use 2.5-inch drives. Even smaller drives are used in digital music players--Apple Computer's IPod and IPod mini use 1.8-inch and 1.0-inch drives, respectively--but until now no company has unveiled a smaller device.

Getting 2GB of data onto a recording platter this small did not require any special data storage technology. The recording density of the drive is 80 gigabits per square inch--the same as that used in Toshiba's 40GB 2.5-inch hard drives aimed at notebook computer use, according to Brzeski.

As the company makes advances in this technology, it should enable higher-capacity versions of both the 2.5-inch and 0.85-inch drives, Brzeski says. The company anticipates a 10GB version of the 0.85-inch drive by the end of 2005.

It has a total weight of less than 0.4 ounces and external dimensions of 0.1 inches by 0.9 inches by 1.3 inches.

On the Inside

Despite its similarity in size to an SD memory card, Toshiba says the device has been developed to be embedded into electronics devices, rather than be packaged as removable media.

It is expected to be used in small handheld portable devices such as cellular telephones, digital audio players, PDAs, digital still cameras, and camcorders, Brzeski says. Serious talks with manufacturers of some of these devices have already begun, he says.

Toshiba expects to begin sample production in the middle of this year and begin commercial production in late 2004.

Before sample production begins, the company has to decide what interface will be fitted on the drive.

"Because of its size, it cannot support a full-blown ATAPI, FireWire, or Serial ATA interface, but we are evaluating two or three industry-standard interfaces," says Brzeski.

Still to Come

He says other tasks that remain include tuning the firmware to provide the best balance between performance and low power consumption. The company wouldn't disclose prices, but did provide one hint.

"We haven't finalized pricing, but the intent is by the end of the year for production to be between 200,000 to 300,000 [units] per month, so it's obviously not going to be $500," he says. "We are aiming to get it into mass-market consumer electronics such as high-end phones, GPS receivers, and MP3 players."

With the development of the 0.85-inch drive, Toshiba is also unlikely to work on development of 1-inch hard drives, Brzeski says.

"If you look at where consumer electronics is going, the trend is that everything is getting smaller and thinner," he says.

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