Widning HDD market presents challenges

The disk drive industry faces a major challenge in delivering a wider portfolio of products requiring storage devices, from PDA (personal digital assistant) and mobile phones through audio/visual products to enterprise servers, according to Alan Armstrong, vice president of marketing at electronics supplier Marvell Semiconductor Inc.

Developers of hard disk drives (HDD) must now consider five different market segments whose end users have different priorities, Armstrong said during a presentation at Diskcon Asia here Wednesday. These include:

-- the forthcoming PDA and mobile phone storage markets. These will use one-inch (2.5-centimeter) or 1.8-inch (4.5-centimeter) drives. The priority for manufacturers will be to keep the cost, size and weight down.

-- notebook PCs, which will mainly use 2.5-inch (6.25-centimeter) drives. These need good performance with low power requirements in a thin package.

-- desktop PCs, using the 3.5-inch (8.75-centimeter) format. These must continue to deliver a good price/performance ratio.

-- enterprise servers, where the emphasis is on a large data buffer, and high data transfer rates of up to 1G bps (bits per second) -- the new breed of audio/visual devices equipped with hard drives, such as personal video recorders. These will need to be low-cost devices.

The challenge for manufacturers is to address this wide market while not ignoring the industry's core business of PCs, according to Armstrong.

"Hard disk drive manufacturers are traditionally resource-challenged with their traditional product lines," he said. "They need to address the new markets without impacting today's business."

One way forward is for manufacturers to cooperate on developing SOC (system-on-chip) electronics, to offset the high development costs.

"Large SOCs are required and they are expensive developments, perhaps US$2 (million) to $3 million per SOC," he said. "Tapeout expenses for state-of-the-art semiconductor processes are growing rapidly."

Development of chips to tapeout -- when all testing has been done and the chip design is released for manufacture -- has not been helped by the decision of companies such as Texas Instruments Inc. and Philips Electronics NV to get out of the business.

Vendors should develop industry-standard SOCs and use their resources elsewhere, Armstrong said.

"There are an increasing number of HDD markets and limited resources for multiple custom developments,"he said. "The use of HDDs in consumer markets is both an opportunity and a challenge to HDD manufacturers and suppliers."

Diskcon continues through Thursday.

More information about the conference can be found at http://www.idema.org.

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