IBM has tiny disk drive with big-time capacity Microdrive unveiling slated today

commercial availability is year away



International Business Machines Corp. plans to announce today that it has developed an ultra-small, 1-inch disk drive aimed at the explosively growing market for hand-held computers and consumer appliances such as digital cameras and digital cellular telephones.

The drive, which will not be available commercially until mid-1999, is particularly striking because it is intended to fit into the same flash memory chip slots that are now standard in digital cameras and other consumer devices.

The new drive will store about 5 billion bits of information a square inch, weigh about half as much as a golf ball and store as much as 340 megabytes of information -- the equivalent of about 300 hefty novels.

Analysts said the IBM disk advance offered further evidence that the disk drive industry was now moving at a technological rate of change in excess of the Moore's Law constant, which has marked progress in the chip industry for more than two decades.

Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on a silicon chip doubles every 18 months. In recent years, the disk drive industry has matched this rate of progress, increasing storage density at the rate of about 60 percent annually. The current advance is particularly striking because chip-makers have been boasting that their tiny chips will ultimately displace rotating memory systems that were once as large as washing machines.

IBM, however, has now succeeded in forming an alliance with compact flash manufacturers to create a standard that will permit users to choose either flash memory chips or the new 1-inch disk drive interchangeably.

The new system, which IBM calls the Microdrive, fits into a new industry standard called a CompactFlash Type II slot that is already in use by some digital camera makers such as Canon Inc.

The Microdrive can also be used with a standard PC card adapter if a device does not have the new slot. IBM said that Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi and Minolta were evaluating the new technology.

Analysts said the issue was whether the market for consumer devices beyond high-end digital cameras would emerge quickly enough to justify the new small disk. The new drives are unlikely to be used in existing laptops or even the newest generation of so-called subnotebook laptops, which are using another type of small disk drive that measures 2.5 inches and is coming in increasingly thinner versions.

IBM, which now controls 40 percent of that market, recently began shipping a drive that is 9.5 millimeters thick, compared with the current standard of 12.5 millimeters.

Pub Date: 9/09/98

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