IBM Packs 1GB Into Stamp-Size Drive

SAN FRANCISCO (06/21/2000) - Imagine stuffing 1000 novels onto a stamp-size hard disk. It's not a dream with IBM Corp.'s updated Microdrive, which triples its capacity to 1GB.

The 1GB platter measures 0.2 inches by 1.4 inches by 1.7 inches, and weighs about half an ounce. In September, a travel kit including the Microdrive, PC Card adapter, and field case will be available priced at US$499. IBM also offers a 512MB drive for $399 and a 340MB drive for $299 (down from $499 at its introduction in 1998).

Its high capacity, small size, and improved shock resistance rate suit the drive well for use in portable devices, say IBM representatives, who note the company is working with manufacturers on digital cameras, handheld devices, portable music players, and other portable devices.

"There is a tremendous potential for very small, high capacity ... affordable storage options for portable devices," says John Osterhout, worldwide marketing director for IBM's storage technology division.

Reducing the size of the storage drive will give manufacturers more flexibility in designing portable devices, and will boost applications for such devices, Osterhout says.

"Technologically, it's an impressive product," says Danielle Levitas, research manager for storage at IDC. "And in terms of products in the market, the 1GB Microdrive is the smallest rotating storage drive in the world."

Tiny Trade-Offs

There are trade-offs between using a Microdrive and using a card based on CompactFlash technology, also often used in small devices.

The Microdrive takes up quite a bit of power due to its rotating magnetic storage technology, Levitas says. CompactFlash cards, because of their solid-state semiconductor storage technology, require less power than Microdrives and might be more attractive to consumers, she adds.

"Powerwise, (the Microdrive) is still a ways off from where CompactFlash is," Levitas says. Also, the Microdrive is less rugged than CompactFlash cards. "It is rather delicate relative to the CompactFlash," she says. IBM says the unit resists shocks of up to 1500G when turned off.

Casio will support Microdrive with some of its digital cameras, while other companies will offer it as an option, Osterhout says. In the handheld PC market, Palm has not yet committed to support the Microdrive, but Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, and IBM are selling compatible handheld devices.

Because the 1GB Microdrive can turn an MP3 player into a jukebox capable of storing 15 or more CDs, IBM considers MP3 a young but promising area for the hard disk.

The 1GB Microdrive will be available in limited quantities from manufacturers, including Kodak, Acer, and i2GO, in late July. IBM is also selling the Microdrive over its Web site, ShopIBM.

Kelvin Goh of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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