Seagate has announced a new type of security system for laptop hard disks that integrates encryption into the hardware of the drive itself.

The new 2.5 inch Momentus 5400 FDE (full disc encryption) drive is one version of a family of products that were recently launched to increase the capacity of laptop drives to as much as 160GB using the new perpendicular recording method.

The industry tends to focus on capacity above all other issues, but the FDE’s encryption system could turn out to be almost as significant in the long run.

Unlike conventional hard disk encryption systems, the FDE design encrypts the whole drive and not just partitions or specific files, using a software key stored on an inaccessible part of the disk. Laptops using the drive will require users to enter an ID and password to access data, but otherwise the encryption will happen transparently, requiring no intervention.

By implementing the technology in the drive in a way that is independent of the operating system, the company claimed that it could avoid the overhead normally associated with such technology, executing data reads and writes with no performance lag.

To help with end-of-life data protection, the FDE comes with a disk erase feature that lets IT departments quickly and securely wipe drives of sensitive data. Seagate claims this can happen in seconds regardless of the drive’s capacity because there is no software initialisation required.

It is not clear what price premium the drives will be sold at – there is certain to be one - but the design is clearly aimed at the corporate laptop sector, where concerns over data security of mobile devices has grown. Assuming Seagate is correct in saying there will be no performance penalty, then it looks as if integrated disk encryption of this kind could eventually become standard on many if not all business-oriented laptops.