Hitachi Global Storage Technologies Inc. (HGST) has started shipping a higher capacity version of its Microdrive 1-inch hard-disk drive and has made improvements to its 1.8-inch Travelstar drives, the company said Friday.

The drives are commonly used in portable consumer electronics devices like digital music players (such as the iPod mini) and products featuring the drives with increased capacity could be available before the end of the year, HGST said.

The company's current highest-capacity Microdrive is a 6GB model and the new drives will be available in capacities of 6GB and 8GB.

In addition to the capacity boost the new drives are 20 per cent smaller and consume 40 per cent less power, the company said.

Product roadmap

The drives are already available in small quantities and mass production will begin in October. In December, additional versions of the drives will be available that incorporate a new shock-protection system and different interfaces for consumer electronics products.

The shock protection system, dubbed ESP or 'extra sensory protection' by HGST, is capable of detecting when the drive is in free fall and then moving the drive head away from the disk. The new system improves existing chard drive protection capabilities and can work from drops of as little as 4 inches, said Larry Swezey, deputy general manage of HGST's hard-disk drive business unit.

The system is particularly required on the new drives because consumer electronics devices are likely to be dropped more often than notebook computers, HGST said.

Travestar - thinner, lighter

The new 1.8-inch Travelstar drives also incorporate the improved shock-protection technology and have been made thinner through the use of a smaller read/write head and lower-profile motor. The new 30GB drive is 5 millimetres thick versus 7mm for the previous model, while the 60GB drive has been slimmed down from 9.5mm to 8mm. HGST will start shipping the former model this month and the latter model sometime in the first quarter of 2006.

"The overwhelming message from customers was that they want [the drives available in high volumes] in time for the major consumer shopping season. Another reason is cost. If you spend more money on technology you can achieve a higher capacity but one of the tough rules about consumer electronics is that it's all about cost," said Swezey.