Seagate is developing a perpendicular recording technology for hard disk drives and intends to be one of the first companies to use it in its products, the company said today.

The announcement makes Seagate the third major storage device vendor to announce plans to sell products using the technology, which is a storage method that promises to significantly boost the capacity of hard drives.

Drives store data in magnetically charged bits. In today's commercially available drives, the bits lay flat on the disk surface. With perpendicular drives, the bits stand upright. Because they take up less space, more room is available on the disk. Drives using the new technology should be about the same weight and able to record and access data at about the same speeds as conventional drives.

"We invest between 8 percent to 10 percent of our revenue each quarter into R & D, and we have invested in perpendicular technology for many years," said Randy Lee, Seagate's senior vice president of global sales, at a press conference. "We will be one of the first ... to introduce this to production."

Lee declined to specify the company's schedule, but his comments suggest that Seagate could be releasing drives as early as the middle of this year. That's because last December, Toshiba in Japan announced that it planned to begin selling its first hard drive using perpendicular technology in the April-to-June quarter.

We can assume that Seagate will be talking, and has been talking, to its OEM customers about the transition to perpendicular technology. For customers we can also assume that they don't care whether longitudinal or perpendicular recording technology is used, just so long as they can get a reliable drive at a capacity point and a satisfactory price.

Possibly the first use of PR technology will be to boost the capacity of small drives rather than produce terrabyte-plus capacity 3.5 inch drives. It may even be the case that the consumer market with its inexhaustible need for MP3 and video files on mobile devices will be the main user of PR drives rather than either desktop or server computers where I/O speed is at least as important as pure capacity.

In Toshiba's case, the recording density of the drives will be about 37 percent greater than that of the company's current drives, it said.

Earlier this month, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies said it is also testing samples of drives using perpendicular recording.

The largest-capacity external hard drive currently offered by Seagate is a 400GB model that uses a 3.5-in. disk.

That leaves Western Digital and Maxtor out of the main HDD vendors still to jump onto the perpendicular recording technology bandwagon.