San Jose, CA—Less than a year after unveiling the stunningly compact Microdrive, IBM engineers have announced that they are tripling its capacity to one Gbyte (see DN 3/6/00, p. 146). The enhanced version of the half-dollar-sized hard drive, a Design News Excellence in Design Grand Prize Winner, will also draw about 15% less power and operate 30% faster than the original, at the same cost.
Industry analysts expect the enhanced version to appeal to the same primary markets as the original. Digital cameras, audio players, and palmtop computers have been the main users of Microdrives to date.
To triple the Microdrive's capacity, IBM engineers say they merely adopted the same density schemes now used in their 2.5-inch notebook computer drives. By employing a density of 15.2 Gbytes per square inch, triple the old 5.04, they boosted the capacity of the drive to one Gbyte. And because data is more tightly packed, they were able to cut the disk's operating speed from 4,500 rpm to 3,600. That, in turn, resulted in a decrease in current draw, from 300 mA to 250 mA, and a 15% power reduction.
The new Microdrive costs $499—the same as the first version introduced in July 1999. The original 340 Mbyte drive has been reduced to $299.
Initially, industry analysts believe that the biggest demand for the new unit will come from the professional photography market. The reason: A 1 Gbyte Microdrive could store between 1,000 and 2,000 digital photos. In contrast, flash memory cards store as few as a dozen. The high price of the Microdrive, however, could prevent its use in low-end cameras. "There's no question that the Microdrive will dominate professional photography," notes Jim Porter, president of Disk/Trend, Inc. (Mountain View, CA.).
Ultimately, the biggest market for the Microdrive could lie in palmtops, Porter says. Today's palmtops lack the storage to run voice-recognition software, which many analysts consider critical to the success of the handheld computer market. Porter adds, "This technology could provide the missing element."