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Last Updated: Friday, 2 February 2007, 17:00 GMT
Storage growth sets a fast pace
Ian Hardy
By Ian Hardy
Click's North America technology correspondent

One terabyte hard drive
The Deskstar K1000 has 1,000 gigabytes of storage space

A decade ago a 500 megabyte (MB) photo collection was something to boast about. Nowadays it is more likely be a collection measured in the gigabytes.

But as our appetite for storage continues to grow thankfully so does the capacity of our hard drives.

Hitachi has unveiled a drive which has reached the new heights of one terabyte (TB). Its drive looks like any other, but uses perpendicular magnetic recording to make space for all that data.

"The previous generation of recording technology was called longitudinal and it basically recorded the bits laying down, now we're recording the bits standing up," said Kelly O'Sullivan from Hitachi.

"So if you think of it that way, you're stacking a lot more data in a shorter area, therefore you get a terabyte."

With so much data being written to the hard drive, wear and tear is inevitably a concern. So the Hybrid Storage Alliance is promoting a new laptop unit with a built in flash chip that stores all the data you are currently calling on.

That reduces disk spinning time, increases longevity and has other benefits.

"A hybrid solution will extend your battery life. If you're on a plane for two or three hours and you don't want to stop working on a project you want to keep going - so battery is really important in a laptop PC," said Joni Clark, chair of the Hybrid Storage Alliance.

Flash memory

Some storage firms, such as SanDisk, are doing away with the mechanical hard drive completely and are opting for an all flash solution. Its flash drive is due out in Spring.

Using flash memory has many advantages. A modified laptop using only flash memory can start up faster than an ordinary one; is less of a drain on battery power and is far less likely to suffer data loss when dropped.

However, the biggest it can currently get is 32GB which says something about its target market.

Floppy disc
The need for greater storage led to the demise of the floppy disk

"If you look at my kid, he will never use it as he is downloading movies every day," said Amos Marom, general manager of SanDisk Corporation's Computer Solutions Division.

"But if you look at myself I am a road warrior, I work in airports, in aeroplanes, on trains and in hotel rooms. I am consuming about 20GB today, that's all.

Another advantage of this little device is that it helps alleviate burnt knee syndrome in laptops. Flash hard drives stay cool.

Gadget friendly SD flash memory cards are also advancing in leaps and bounds. They come in high-capacity varieties up to a staggering 8GB hence SDHC - as in Higher Capacity.

Those planning to use them should be aware that they run at a variety of speeds and can only be used in compatible SDHC hardware.

For reliability and endurance, optical storage is considered one of the best options. Holographic disks start at 300GB capacity and store data all the way through the disk rather than just on the surface.

Data is written using a split laser beam which creates holograms in the light sensitive material of the disk at the point of intersection.

That's quite a bit of money, but on a cost per gigabyte perspective it's very, very attractive.
Elizabeth Murphy, InPhase Technologies

But even if you wanted to buy a holographic burning kit you cannot - at least not in the shops.

"The reason that it's not entering the consumer market initially is because of fairly high pricing," said Elizabeth Murphy of holographic storage maker InPhase Technologies.

"The drive will be $18,000 (9,135) list price, so that's a little bit outside the average consumer's price range. And then the media will be $180 for one disk.

"That's quite a bit of money, but on a cost per gigabyte perspective it's very, very attractive."

Still the cheapest is the traditional hard drive, which now comes in a new form - this is an external Serial ATA drive - the same kind that sits inside your PC.

This is an improvement because it does not use the slower types of connections your computer supports

"USB really was made for keyboards and mice and it's not really made for storage, neither was Firewire," said Conrad Maxwell, chairman of the SATA-IO Marketing Work Group.

"They both require protocol translations to make them work and the drives come out with SATA, so direct SATA is faster and you get six times faster performance."

While hard drive advances are impressive, losing 1TB of data is not likely to be much fun in the future. That is why devices built around a technology known by the fearsome name of Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) are becoming more popular. One such is Seagate's 1.5TB device that is actually made up of two 750GB drives.

A continuous backup is created by the same data being written to both drives simultaneously - though this does mean that half the drive space is occupied by the backup data. It might well save your life. Well, your digital one.

SEE ALSO
PC World says farewell to floppy
30 Jan 07 |  Technology
Making storage a virtual reality
25 Oct 06 |  Technology
Hard drives for 'terabyte lives'
11 Jun 05 |  Technology

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