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Race to super-slim Ultrabooks: More ultra-thin hybrid drives on way

Chunky hybrid HDDs are so yesterday – WD and Seagate

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WD is developing thin and ultra-thin hybrid hard disk drives for the Ultrabooks market with a likely transition to energy-assisted recording in 2015 – enabling 1TB 2.5-inch disk drive platters.

This was revealed through analyst briefings by WD CEO John Coyne and CFO Wolfgang Nickl, and we have Stifel Nicolaus' Aaron Rakers to thank for the skinny. Here it is.

Current Ultrabooks are 21mm and 18mm thick. Intel wants to put the svelte laptops on a slimming diet and have them reach 15mm and then 12mm thickness. All-flash Ultrabooks are expensive and have limited capacity compared to disk drive-using notebooks. Disk drive Ultrabooks have cheaper capacity but are slow. Hybrid disk drives, ones with a flash cache, can service 90 per cent of reads from the flash and offer a near instant-on performance like flash. Only Seagate ships hybrid drives at the moment.

We know from commentary by LSI CEO Abhi Talwalkar that both Seagate and WD are working on 5mm thin hybrid drives and the WD investment analyst briefing round confirms the WD side of this.

WD sees a 7mm hybrid single platter 2.5-inch HDD drive coming in late 2012/2013 and this will be suitable for 15mm Ultrabooks.

An Ultrabooks 5mm hybrid product could come in mid-2013 or the second half of the year and that would be suited to 12mm Ultrabooks. We're talking 500GB/platter with a terabyte platter coming possibly in 2015. It would use energy-assisted or heat-assisted magnetic recording, which technology could arrive in late 2014 or 2015.

WD thinks the rate of areal density increase is slowing to 15 to 20 per cent a year and the arrival of HAMR could boost it up into the 40 per cent a year range. ®

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