Fujitsu will launch its first 1.8-inch hard-disk drive in the middle of next year, a company engineer said at the Computex trade show Tuesday.

The Japanese company already makes 3.5-inch drives for desktop computers and servers and 2.5-inch drives for laptops and is getting into the market for smaller drives because it anticipates strong growth over the next few years.

In January Fujitsu said that it expected worldwide demand for 2.5-inch mobile PC drives to rise from 81 million in 2005 to 210 million units in 2010, and for 1.8-inch drives to rise from 16 million units to 90 million units over the same period.

The sector is expected to see strong growth because 1.8-inch drives are small enough to be used in portable consumer electronic devices. Notable uses of such drives at present include Apple's iPod music players.

Fujitsu's first drive will likely be launched in June or July 2007, said Kenji Nakajima, a senior marketing engineer with Fujitsu's hard-disk business division. The drive will have a capacity of around 60G bytes per platter and a prototype will be available to customers in the April to June period, he said.

That's right in line with the April to September launch date Fujitsu predicted earlier this year when it disclosed its 1.8-inch drive development.

Fujitsu already has a prototype 1.8-inch drive, which Nakajima carefully removed from a box in his pocket to show a reporter. The prototype has a 30G byte capacity and uses a controller chip from a 2.5-inch drive. Development of a smaller chip for the new drive is one of the tasks still in front of the engineering team.

The prototype shown Tuesday has a parallel ATA interface but Fujitsu's first two commercial drives will come with Serial ATA and CE-ATA, the latter for the consumer electronics industry.