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Hitachi vs Seagate vs Western Digital: Hard drive makers talk up new storage tech

Flash, optical hard drives get a huge boost in capacity

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In a reflection of the hard-fought battle among hard drive makers to get ahead of rivals, Hitachi, Seagate and Western Digital this week talked up storage innovations, including a Hitachi drive that combines an optical platter with Micron's densest NAND flash memory and advanced hard drives from Western Digital and Seagate that hold up to 3TB of data.

Hitachi-LG Data Storage (HLDS) on Tuesday unveiled what it says is the world's highest density hybrid optical drive with onboard storage.

Hitachi combined its optical drive with Micron's 25-nanometer (nm) NAND flash memory, creating a mass storage and removable media device for PCs, DVD players and Blu-ray consumer products. "By creating a truly hybrid storage and optical drive solution, the Hybrid Drive also provides approximately a 50% to 70% performance improvement when compared to a standalone [hard drives]," YK Park, chief marketing officer of HLDS, said in a statement.

In August, Micron and Intel announced the 25nm flash, in what is arguably the industry's most dense NAND flash memory. With that technology, Intel was able to double the maximum capacity of its X25-M consumer solid-state drives (SSDs) to 600GB.

In the hybrid drive, Micron's 25nm technology delivers 8GB of capacity in a single chip. The initial portfolio of HLDS Hybrid Drives will be offered in a range of embedded flash memory capacities, including 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. Higher NAND capacities of the Hybrid Drive will be available later on.

The hybrid drive is targeted at thin and light notebooks with space for just one drive, and is ideal for client applications, where a hard drive or SSD would be used for long-term storage. In that scenario, the Hybrid Drive would be used for caching and launching applications, boosting system performance and boot times.

HLDS said the Hybrid Drive would be available in May 2011. It did not release pricing.

Hitachi releases highest density internal drives

Another arm of Hitachi, its Global Storage Technologies (HGST) division, announced its new 375GB/platter, 5,400rpm and 7,200rpm, 2.5-inch hard drives - the Travelstar 5K750 and Travelstar 7K750.

The drives offer the industry's highest capacities in a standard 9.5mm two-disk design, HGST stated in its announcement. The Travelstar 5K750 and 7K750 drive families are the first Hitachi GST hard drives that feature Advanced Format, which increases the physical sector size on hard drives from 512 bytes to 4096 bytes, or 4KB -- eight times larger. Hitachi's previous generation drive was the Travelstar 7K500, which had maximum areal density of 370 Gbits/sq. in. The new platters have an areal density of 472 Gbit/sq. in.

Hitachis' 5,400rpm Travelstar 5K750 drives come with an 8MB buffer for caching and a Serial ATA (SATA) 3Gbit/sec interface for fast data transfer rates. The drive consumes 0.5 watts while idle and 1.4 watts power during read/write operations, which HGTS said contributes to longer battery life in notebooks and other unplugged applications.

Hitachi's 7,200rpm Travelstar 7K750 drive has a 16MB buffer, which allows quicker access to data and faster system performance, especially for multi-tasking and other high-performance office and home applications. It uses 0.5 watts idle and 1.8 watts during read/write operations.

The Travelstar 7K750 is a self-encrypting drive using Hitachi's Bulk Data Encryption (BDE) specification, which encrypts data using protected keys in real time. It also speeds and simplifies the drive re-deployment process. By deleting the encryption key, the data on the drive is rendered unreadable, thereby eliminating the need for time-consuming data-overwrite.

Both of the new Travelstar hard drive families come in capacities of 500GB, 640GB and 750GB. Travelstar 5K750 Retail Hard Drive Kits will be available next month with a suggested retail price of $129.99. The drive will be shipping to system manufacturers for qualification by the end of the year. The 7,200 RPM Travelstar 7K750 family will be available in Q1 2011. Pricing for that drive was not made available by Hitachi.

Western Digital's 3TB external drives

Also, Western Digital introduced its highest capacity line of external portable hard drives with up to 3TB of capacity and a USB 3.0 interface. The USB 3.0 interface, also known as USB SuperSpeed, has a theoretical throughput of 4.8Gbit/sec.

Western Digital said it's already shipping the My Passport Essential portable hard drive; My Passport Essential SE portable hard drives; and the My Book Essential external hard drive.

The USB 3.0 specification offers up to 10 times the bandwidth of USB 2.0, and is backward compatible. However, few desktops and laptops have USB 3.0 ports. Equipment manufacturers are expected to begin shipping USB 3.0-enabled systems later this year.

With USB 3.0, the drives are capable of realistic data transfer speeds up to 150MB/sec., or about three times faster than USB 2.0-enabled drives can deliver. At that speed, a two-hour HD video could be transferred in as little as three minutes. The same two-hour video would take approximately 13 minutes to transfer on a USB 2.0 port, Western Digital said in a statement.

All three drive families come in a variety of capacities, the highest being the My Book Essential, a desktop external hard drive with up to 3TB capacity. The drive also comes in 1TB and 2 TB capacities.

Western Digital is not the first company to release a 3TB external hard drive. In June, Seagate announced the 3.5-inch 3TB FreeAgent GoFlex Desktop drive, which also offers USB 3.0 connectivity.

Western Digital's My Passport Essential portable hard drive is a 500GB capacity drive. The My Passport Essential SE portable hard drive is available in 750GB and 1TB capacities.

All three drive families come with WD SmartWare visual backup software for automatic, continuous backup.

The My Passport Essential is still WD's smallest portable drive, and comes in a variety of colors. The pocket-sized drives are powered directly through the USB cable; no separate power supply is needed.

"With more and more devices like the iPod touch, iPhone 4 and other smartphones adding video-capable cameras, digital video is becoming ubiquitous," Dale Pistilli, vice president of marketing for WD's branded products group, said in a statement. "Most homes already have thousands of photos and music files, increasing the need for storage around the house. Having the extra capacity to store these files and move them around quickly is becoming a big issue for many consumers around the world."

The drives come pre-formatted in NTFS for Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7. They require reformatting for Mac OS X Leopard or Snow Leopard.

Western Digital said the suggested retail price for the drives begin at $99 for the My Passport Essential portable drive. The My Passport Essential SE drives range from $129.99 to $169.99 and the My Book Essential drives range from $129.99 to $249.99.

Seagate adds 3TB internal drives to NAS

Seagate also began populating its BlackArmor network attached storage array with 3TB internal drives, allowing it to scale to 12TB.

Seagate announced it would begin shipping its 3TB, 3.5-in Constellation ES hard disk drive back in May, but it cautioned it would only be useable with PC and server makers who have upgraded their products to handle drives with capacities greater than 2.1TB.

The 2.1TB ceiling was set about 30 years ago when a decision was made to limit the logical block address (LBA) range on a hard drive. The LBA specifies where blocks of data are stored on a hard drive.

The addition of a 3TB option for the BlackArmor NAS box makes it the highest capacity 4-bay and 2-bay desktop NAS array to date.

The BlackArmorR NAS 440 network storage server and BlackArmorR NAS 220 network storage server now scale from 1TB to 12TB. Initially, both boxes will come pre-populated with 3TB drives in each bay and will be offered exclusively for 30 days through Seagate.com, NewEgg and CDW for a suggested retail price of $1,899.99 for 12TB and $649.99 for 6TB.


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