The race to ship a 500 GB mobile hard disk drive unit was heated last year. Hitachi was first to announce a fat 12.5 mm drive in January, but Samsung and Western Digital fought a pitched battle through the second half of the year to produce serious volume in a the slim 9.5 mm 2-platter form factor. 320 GB and 500 GB became common in the first half of 2009, with vendors adding a baby-step 400 GB size as well.
Until this month, all four major disk vendors have remained silent on the step past the half-terabyte barrier, however. Certainly any could have slapped together a 640 GB, 750 GB, or even 1 TB 4-platter semi-mobile disk drive using existing technology, as Hitachi did last year, but no such announcement came. But the break just came: Seagate has quietly added a 640 GB model to their 2.5 inch FreeAgent Go portable disk drive line. There was no press release, but this is a major step forward.
The rest of the Seagate FreeAgent Go line uses the modern 2-platter Momentus 5400.6 disk mechanism, so we can assume that a new member of that family will also be introduced shortly. The line today consists of two platter densities:
- The 160 GB ST9160314AS uses a single two-sided 160 GB platter
- The 120 GB, 250 GB, 320 GB, and 500 GB drives all use a 250 GB platter. The smaller units (named ST9xxx315AS) use a single platter, while the larger ones (ST9xxx325AS) use two.
Seagate could produce a 640 GB drive with three 250 GB platters, but it is difficult to cram three platters into a 9.5 mm case. Therefore, it is likely that Seagate will be introducing a new 320 GB 2.5 inch platter. If this is true, we can guess that the new drive will be named ST9640326AS. An inexpensive single-platter 320 GB ST9320316AS might soon be introduced as well, effectively ending the reign of the 250 GB drive as the budget portable capacity king.
With Seagate first off the dime, expect similar introductions by Western Digital, Hitachi, and Samsung in the next few months. 2.5 inch hard disk prices have fallen slowly for the last six months, but the second half of the year should see each capacity level replace the one below it at the same price.
Stephen, I agree that Seagate’s unannounced 2.5 inch FreeAgent Go HDD would suggest that a 320 GB/P Momentus is on the way to notebooks in your area soon. However, with desktop and notebooks lagging, and only netbooks showing signs of growth reminiscent of pre-recession days, one might argue that even 250GB got ahead of the game a bit. By all accounts (IDC, Gratner Datquest, TrendFocus, and iSuppli, the 160GB, single platter 2.5 inch mobile drive is the most popular capacity in netbook offerings today, and is in such demand that there are suggestions from the channel that the capacity point is on allocation. No doubt many of us would love to have a 320 GB, low cost, drive in our laptops (though I have frequent seconds thoughts about a 7200 rpm model). My 120GB capacity looks pretty limp right now, but I am determined to hold on until Windows 7 is here, succesfully navigating around Vista altogether. The answer of course, lies in external storage. I have three, and soon four. One is exclusively for back up, another is exclusively for backing up the backup, another is exclusively for media files, and after this afternoon, it will be joined by another to backup the media files. I may not be a normal user but I have an appreciation for backup, and I am guessing that I am not too far off the mean. I think Seagate did exactly the right thing here. The Freeagent Go line is exactly where I would have chosen to initially position the new areal density platform. I expect that other makers will be joining them soon as well. Now if we could just hurry along USB 3.0 life would be very good.
You are so right, Gary! Even the latest systems are shipping with 160 GB (or even 120 GB) internal drives, barely a step up from last year. The external storage market is very hot, though, but low margins and cutthroat competitive discounting are no doubt an issue there. I’ve noted before that one can often buy at retail a full external drive and enclosure cheaper than the bare drive contained inside! I personally did this when I went to 320 GB in my MacBook Pro, though I found a killer deal on a 7200 rpm 320 GB for my new Mac Mini server!
One major issue of the platter race is performance. A 320 GB single-platter drive is unlikely to perform as well as any current 2-platter unit. I found this in spades with the Mac Mini, which used a single-platter 120 GB drive that performed abysmally! Stepping up to two made a noticeable difference in my MacBook Pro, too.
Perhaps we are entering a new world where smaller 2-platter internal drives are complemented by high-density single- or two-platter external drives with lower performance. Now if only we had decent storage management for laptops and desktops!
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