Toshiba is close to commercialising a new data storage technology that could significantly increase the capacity of hard-disk drives. Apple iPod users are likely to be the first to benefit.
By the middle of next year, it will release two new 1.8-inch hard-disk drives with the technology, called perpendicular recording. Like current drives, the new method relies on storing data in magnetically charged bits. However, unlike current longitudinal recording in which the bits lie flat on the disk surface, in perpendicular recording they stand upright and thus take up less space.
This means there is room for more of them on the disk and so the storage capacity is higher. Longitudinal storage technology is running out of potential to increase disk capacity significantly.
The first two drives planned by Toshiba will have a recording density of 133 gigabits per square inch - 37 percent greater than current drives, said Junko Furuta, a spokeswoman for Toshiba in Tokyo. They will be 1.8in drives of the type used in portable consumer electronics products, such as digital music players - most famously Apple's iPod family.
The greater recording density could help Toshiba's customers produce thinner and lighter products. It should also mean a significantly lower cost-per-byte of stored data.
One of the drives will have a single disk platter and store 40GB of data. Toshiba's current 40GB drive requires two platters to achieve this capacity. The drop from a dual to a single platter means the overall drive falls in thickness from 8mm to 5mm. Toshiba's second drive will pack two platters and offer 80GB - the highest yet for a device of its size.
Other major specifications of the drives, including the weight, average seek time and rotational speed, remain similar to Toshiba's current 1.8-inch drives. Pricing isn't available. Toshiba said sample drives are available now and cost ¥120,000 (£594) for the 40GB model and ¥150,000 (£742) for the 80GB model.
In the future, it also wants to use the technology in its 0.85in drive. Employing perpendicular recording along with other new technologies will raise the capacity of these drives from between 2-4GB to 6-8GB, said Furuta.
It is expected that PR technology could eventually achieve a data density of 1Tbit/sq inch leading to a single platter 3.5in disk having a 1TB capacity. Such capacities will speed the adoption of disk-based backup products in preference to tape. We might expect related announcements from Hitachi GST, Maxtor, Seagate and Western Digital in the next three months or so.