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Hitachi GST spots oyster, seeks HDD pearls

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Areal density

Hitachi's engineers seem able to keep on getting more out of current technology. The latest 500 gig mobile drive has a 375Gbit/sq in areal density using TMR (Tunnelling Magneto-Resistive) heads and perpendicular recording technology. The company's engineers have demonstrated a 610Gbit/sq in areal density products with the same head technology. This means it wouldn't need to move to the next head technology, CPP-GMR (Current Perpendicular to the Plane - Giant Magneto-Resistive), until it needed to progress beyond that level.

Kyriacou said: "Developing existing technology tends to be a lower-risk option [than introducing new technology]." He thinks that areal density growth has been up to 60 per cent a year and that this may continue.

Once CPP-GMR heads are used then perpendicular recording may run out of steam and either bit-patterned media (BPM) or thermally-assisted recording introduced. His feeling is that bit-patterning will be used: "A year ago there was a diversity of opinion about BPM and thermally-assisted recording. Now there is a consensus that patterned media will come first."

Intuition says that adding a heating laser function to a read head is going to be more difficult than introducing and developing CPP-GMR heads on their own.

Kyriacou says Hitachi GST has more patents in the HDD space than any other supplier and is very confident that Hitachi can keep up if not lead in areal density technology developments.

External drive market

It is notable that Hitachi GST does not sell external storage drives for use as home and small office/home office (SOHO) backup devices or media players like Seagate's Free Agents or its Maxtor One Touches or, indeed, Western Digital's Passport line. Asked about this Kyriacou said: "It's an area we don't play in. The disadvantage is we don't have access to a fast-growing market. An advantage is that we don't compete with our customers." La Cie, for example, is a Hitachi GST customer.

Developments in this area are ongoing with storage servers developing to backup up connected hosts, to provide media serving to TVs, network access to files, and remote access to their content over the web.

Kyriacou then said: "But it's such a big part of the market I would be very surprised if we were not assessing being in that space."

Well, well. This is not a company on the ropes. This is a supplier quite determined to extend its product line where feasible and quite confident it can hold its own in the HDD technology stakes. By the end of next year, we might expect Hitachi GST's hard drives to have 40-60 per cent more capacity than they do now, meaning a 750GB 2.5-inch drive for example, a Hitachi enterprise flash drive to be a possibility, and for Hitachi to have signalled its external drive intentions more clearly. These are the three pearls we might find in Hitachi's oyster. ®

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