Small drives get larger and faster

Do you remember HGST? Hint: they just announced two new disk drives for laptops. Still doesn't ring a bell? Those 2.5 inches drives, part of the Travelstar line, are the 60GB 7K60, which is the first device in that segment to spin at 7200 rpm, and the 5K80, which rotates at a more quiet 5400 rpm but offers a plump 80GB capacity.

Still trying to remember who/what HGST is? Here's the answer: HGST stands for Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, a new company that Hitachi and IBM formed in coincidence with New Year's Eve 2002, de facto merging their disk drives manufacturing and sales under the new umbrella. You may have heard of HGST in a past column.

Back to the new drives, the fast spinning 7K60 could be what placates road warriors' impatience with slow-paced laptops. In fact, the new drive rivals desktop models in performance, offering a 15 percent faster transfer rate and 20 percent less rotational latency than 5400-rpm models.

According to HGST, reducing the size of 7K60's slider (that part inside the drive that supports the read/write heads) to one square millimeter has resulted in faster performance and other improvements, including better shock resistance and increased recording area.

Moreover, to attain that faster rotation speed, the 7K60, actually draws 11 percent less battery juice than slower spinning models, HGST says.

What about the other drive? Although its faster brother will probably make more heads turn, the 5K80 claims the largest capacity (80GB max, with 20, 40 and 60GB options available) and the fastest performance among 5400-rpm mobile drives.

Both drives should begin shipping now, but to see the first 7K60 in action, wait until later this winter, when IBM will begin offering it on top-of-the-line Thinkpad laptops.

Other manufacturers are likely to follow. The larger capacity and speed of the new models makes laptops more appealing and even more competitive with PCs in environments where desk space is precious. Moreover, these new drives could replace larger 3.5-inch units in array applications where contained size and power consumption are more important than top-notch performance or humongous capacity.

It's easy to predict (you've probably heard this before), that the next big milestone for enterprise disk drives will be moving to the smaller 2.5-inch form factor. Obviously, we are not there yet, but the technological improvements of the Travelstar line are an indication that we are getting closer.

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