Hitachis Race for Higher

By Mark Hachman  |  Posted 2003-09-12 Print this article Print

Capacity"> Hitachi is under pressure to ship its 2GB and 4GB Microdrive models on time. Hitachis 4GB model is due to hit store shelves this November at a price of $499; the company has not released a price or delivery date for its 2GB model. Flash vendors, meanwhile, have begun shipping samples of their own 2GB and 4GB flash cards; SanDisks 2GB and 4GB models are priced at about $499 and $999, respectively. However, SanDisks 2GB and 4GB offerings were scheduled to ship in the summer, and have now been delayed until December, a spokesman said. SanDisks cards are designed for a thinner Type I form factor, while the Microdrive requires a Type II slot. In addition, the Microdrive requires the use of a FAT32-compliant camera; there are about 13 cameras already on the market that use the FAT32 file system, according to the enthusiast journal Digital Photography Review.
The pressure from flash capacity means that the timing is right to announce higher-capacity drives, John Osterhout, business manager for Microdrive products at Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, told an audience at DiskCON. Every drive will use a single disk platter, to minimize cost, Osterhout added. The drives will continue to be developed with as many common components as possible between IBMs 3.5-inch, 2.5-inch, and 1.8-inch drive families, Best said.
By necessity, the Microdrive also consumes more power to rotate the disk than flash memory. According to Hitachi, the 2GB and 4GB Microdrives will require 305 milliamps to write data, compared to the less than 35 milliamps needed to write to a CompactFlash card. "Youve already got enough components on a digital camera that consumer power: the display, the microprocessor, the CCD," said Mike Wong, a spokesman for SanDisk. "You dont want to add another." "We do not view [the Microdrive] as a competitive threat at all," Wong added. "It used to be that there were a couple things going for the Microdrive: capacity, then price, and access time and read speed. Flash memory pretty much addressed all of those issues… Dont get me wrong; the Microdrive is an incredible piece of technology, but it does have the problems of a rotating device: high power consumption—theres a lot of power needed for a physically rotating thing—as well as ongoing issues with durability and moving parts. Theres no real comparison with just a piece of silicon." Two other factors will affect the race between the Microdrive and flash memory, IDC analyst Reinsel said: video, and operating shock. As both camps push capacity higher and higher, digital still image cameras may provide a more robust capability to record video—a dead heat between both technologies, he said. "Each geography chooses to use peripherals in their own way," Reinsel said. "Honestly, in the U.S. I dont think it will that matter all that much. People in the U.S. havent integrated cell phones that much into their lives. … Overseas, however, peoples commutes are two hours long, and they want to do other stuff with their lives rather than sit and look at each other." But the Microdrive suffers the same vulnerability to non-operating shock that traditional drives do, meaning that the any product that can withstand being dropped, such as a cell phone, will almost certainly favor flash, he said. "Drop your cell, break your hard drive?" Reinsel asked. "Uh-uh. I dont think so."


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