Seagate to offer hybrid hard drives for Vista notebooks

Scotts Valley (CA) - Seagate is accelerating the pace towards a perpendicular-only hard drive line-up. Within the next three quarters, the company will launch ten new hard drives ranging from pocket drives to high-end enterprise units. Among the announcements made today is also the firm's first hybrid hard drive, which combines flash memory with traditional hard drive storage technology.

It has almost become a tradition at Seagate to announce a flood of new hard drives once or twice a year. This time around, we were especially curious what the company plans for next six to nine months as perpendicular magnetic recording technology - short PMR - is shaking up the industry. Not too long ago, it was little more than science-fiction, but the technology has turned out to be a force that reignited the competition among the largest hard drive manufacturers. Late last year, Toshiba initiated the PMR age with a little impressive single-platter 40 GB 1.8" drive, followed by Seagate with a 160 GB 2.5" device that was recently countered by Hitachi with a 160 GB 2.5" version as well. Toshiba surpassed its rivals with a 200 GB 2.5" announcement earlier this week.

While Seagate did not announce a match for Toshiba's drive today, the company is talking about a total of ten new drives for most of the market segments the firm currently competes in:

The product line-up reveals several trends as well as a few interesting products in particular.

First, Seagate increases the maximum capacity of most of its 3.5" drives by 50% from 500 GB to 750 GB. Just like in the recently announced desktop drive Barracuda 7200.10, these consumer electronics and enterprise units use PMR to grow the storage space. However, while 750 GB may sound like a lot, in days of high-definition and Blu-ray media, 750 GB provides room for just about 15 Blu-ray discs. Marc Jourlait, Seagate's vice president of segment marketing, told TG Daily that PMR will be key to keep the storage capacity growing and to break the Terabyte barrier, but we may not see such a drive in this year, or at least as long as the competition has not caught up with Seagate. However, Jourlait believes that Terabyte hard drives "will be common place in a year or two."

Second, Seagate is competing with Samsung in the hybrid hard drive arena. Seagate has been very quiet about its hybrid plans over the past few months, but is apparently planning to come out in full force once Vista hits the market. The 2.5" Momentus 5400 PSD hybrid basically is an enhanced version of the existing 160 GB 5400rpm Momentus PMR drive.

The PSD will be available in two versions, with either 128 MB or 256 MB of flash memory. The small memory chip will store often accessed data and will be reducing boot and resume times by about 20%, according to Jourlait. At the same time, the technology can increase the battery running time of a notebook by "5 - 15%," which should translate into as much as 30 minutes in next-generation portable computers. And there is another benefit: Jourlait said that the durability of the drive increases as heads can be parked more often and the drive can even shut down completely at certain times.

On the downside, expect the PSD to carry a visible premium at its debut. Jourlait did not provide any pricing information, besides the confirmation that the PSD drive will be more expensive than a regular Momentus 5400.

Third, Seagate moves PMR technology into the 1.8" space with the ST18 model. It stays below the capacity of Toshiba's 1.8" PMR drive (80 GB). However, what is noteworthy is the fact that the ST18 stores 60 GB on one platter, while the Toshiba drive achieves only 40 GB capacity per platter. This circumstance provides Seagate with a clear cost advantage and consumer most likely with less power consumption. It does not take much to predict that Seagate will follow up with a 120 GB version of the ST18 in the not too distant future, as Seagate intends to defend its "capacity leadership," according to Jourlait.

The final product we pick from Seagate's announcement list is the Mirra Sync and Share Personal Server, which is also available in a 750 GB configuration. Home storage area networks get more interesting, as more digital content becomes available. Especially in households that begin to rely not only on digital photographs but also digital music as well as videos, such a central solution could make sense. Our concern that 750 GB is not enough to cope with high definition movies, is not really a concern for Seagate: Jourlait simply recommends users who run out of storage space to buy more hard drives and keep adding drives to that storage area network: In fact, Seagate envisions entertainment center storage solutions built with four or more 750 GB DB35 hard drives.

Seagate's 2.5" hybrid hard drive and the ST18 1.8" model are scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2007; the Mirra Sync and Share server will be available in Q3 of this year. Pricing for the drives has not been announced.

Click through our slide show to see all new Seagate hard drives and a product family overview with launch dates.

Related article:
Samsung to ship hybrid hard disk drive in January 2007