Hitachi launches 160 GB perpendicular mobile hard drive

San Jose (CA) - Following Toshiba and Seagate, Hitachi today announced its first perpendicular magnetic recording technology (PMR) hard disk. The drive offers 160 GB in a 2.5" form factor and promises at least as much reliability as its predecessors with substantially less storage density.

Not too long ago, it appeared that the common hard drive finally had closed in on a barrier of a natural storage density limitation that would force manufacturers to transition to completely new technologies within a few years. Perpendicular has been a floating concept for quite a while, and was often described as a transitional technology from the traditional, three-decade old "Winchester" technology to a new generation of hard drives, which are predicted to use lasers make read and write processes more reliable.

But perpendicular may offer much more potential than to serve as transition: Manufacturers forecast that current drive capacities could increase by a factor of five - up to 500 Gb/inch2 and more - within a few years. While it is still a young technology, PMR drives already are penetrating the market. Toshiba began shipping the first drive in August 2005; Seagate followed in January of this year and recently announced a 750 GB PMR desktop drive. Hitachi is the third manufacturer to announce a perpendicular drive and solidifies the impression that PMR is not just a niche-market technology.

Hitachi's debut PMR hard drive is the Travelstar 5K160, a 5400 rpm 2.5" drive with a capacity of 160 GB. Aimed at notebook and mobile computing applications, Hitachi calls the drive a "super-pendicular drive," as it does not only increase storage capacity: According to the manufacturer, the device offers improved storage reliability as well. Despite the fact that the 5K160 is Hitachi's first commercial PMR drive, the company claims that the device uses the firm's second generation read/write head for PMR hard drives - which the firm claims have been in field testing since December of 2004.

The specific head used in the 5K160 carries a proprietary alloy combination, consisting of iridium, manganese and chromium (IrMnCr). According to Hitachi, the new material doubles the head's sensitivity and precision of the data-reading process. The new read sensor "ultimately translates to greater hard drive reliability due to its improved ability to read data even under mechanical and environmental stress factors, including extreme temperature variances, humidity and shock," Hitachi said. The 5K160 integrates two platters with a capacity of 80 GB each, resulting in a storage density of 131 Gb/inch2, which is slightly less than what Seagate claims for its 160 GB Momentus 5400.3 2.5" drive (133 Gb/inch2). Operating shock resistance is rated at 325 Gs; non-operating shock at 1000Gs.

Company officials told TG Daily that Hitachi will transition the majority of its hard drive products to PMR technology by 2008. As the competition, Hitachi intends to launch small form factor PMR hard drives first; for example, a 1.8" PMR drive with "terrific power and performance characteristics" is expected to launch later this year.

Of course, a PMR is only at the beginning of its life cycle and such high-capacity hard drives carry premium pricing. Hitachi said it will make the 5K160 available this summer in volume for $270. A Travelstar 5K160 upgrade kit for notebooks will also be available for $300. This makes the Hitachi drive slightly more expensive than the competing Seagate Momentus 5400.3, which currently sells for around $250.

In a conversation with TG Daily, Hitachi mentioned that the company is also working on Flash-supported hard drives, which will become essential building blocks of Windows Vista Premium and Intel's upcoming Santa Rosa/Robson notebook platform. Vista as well as the new Intel platform will take advantage of Flash memory to accelerate boot processes and decrease the power consumption of storage devices. After Samsung, Hitachi is the second hard drive manufacturer to confirm the development of such hard drives.

Related articles:
Toshiba ships first harddrive with perpendicular recording tech
Seagate announces 160 GB perpendicular notebook hard drive
Seagate introduces three-quarter terabyte Barracuda hard drive
Hitachi sees 5 TByte harddrives and 60 GByte microdrives

slide show: Perpendicular hard drives and PMR technology