By Jo Twist
BBC News website science and technology reporter
As hunger for storage grows unabated, hard drive makers are continuing to push storage capacity up, while keeping physical size down.
People want to have storage where they want, and when
This week Seagate announced a slew of hard drives which it says are for people who want a "terabyte lifestyle".
Among them is the first 2.5-inch 160GB hard drive which uses what is called perpendicular recording to fit much more data for every square inch.
It also said it was producing a specially "ruggedised" drive for cars.
Its 20GB and 40GB hard drives for cars have been designed to withstand temperatures from minus 30 to plus 80 degrees centigrade, as well as vibrations.
"Right now in the consumer electronics industry people can't get enough storage," Rob Pait, Seagate's director of consumer electronics marketing, told the BBC News website.
Bigger and bigger
Cars, digital video recorders, notebook computers, portable media players, mobile telephony, and gaming are all pushing at the storage capacity door.
The demand for hard drives in cars is one of the key areas which will continue to grow quickly, said Mr Pait.
The rising popularity and falling prices of in-car entertainment systems, as well as more sophisticated GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) and navigation applications, will push this demand.
Seagate also announced the biggest ever digital video recorder hard drive at 500GB, which will allow for more high-definition (HD) content storage.
About 80 hours of HD video can fit onto a drive that size. But it will mean people can archive a lot more standard definition programmes too.
Seagate also said its one-inch hard drives, a crucial size for portable media devices like digital music players, has gone up to 8GB.
Mr Pait thinks that although many people are already living an accumulative terabyte lifestyle, in about five years PCs will have five terabytes of storage on board.
One terabyte is the equivalent of 1,024GB, enough to hold more than 240,000 songs at the standard encoding rate for digital music files.
This will only be possible because of perpendicular recording methods, which Seagate, Hitachi, and others, have to exploit.
The car is going to be an even bigger technology hub soon
The storage industry currently makes hard drives using longitudinal recording, which is reaching its physical limit.
With this method, bits of data are arranged horizontally on the recording magnetic medium.
Perpendicular recording methods arrange bits vertically so more can fit on, and higher recording densities can be achieved without magnetic interference which can corrupt data.
This method should mean hard drive storage based on moving mechanical parts will be around for another 20 years or so, says Mr Pait.
Hitachi, one of Seagate's rivals, expects to ship its first perpendicular recording product in 2005 on a 2.5-inch hard drive, used in notebook computers and handheld devices.
People also want to have storage when and where they want it as devices increasingly let them take their digital media, like video and music, out and about with them.
"The geek in us says it is all about storage, but in the marketplace it is messier than that," said Mr Pait.
"People are looking for storage to enable them to be able to record video, to store photos, to play games. We are talking about applications here."
The rapid demand for the tiny one-inch drives which fit into portable devices has surprised Seagate; the demand has been four times that which they anticipated.
Just the beginning
But the storage industry is still at a very early stage.
Analysts predict that the number of hard drives in consumer electronics gadgets could grow from 17 million in 2003 to 55 million in 2006.
The ability for people to create their own digital entertainment, movies, pictures, and music and even podcasts, has people wanting more space to store it all too.
"My 16-year-old is a trumpet player. He has Sony Acid on his PC in the basement, mics, mixers, everything he needs in his bedroom to mix his own single," says Mr Pait.
Gaming will bring with it more demands for storage
"The tools are so easy to use now. Everything you do is so intuitive now you don't have to wait for a thing, you just make them happen. It's going to be huge."
But hard drive manufacturers are contending with people's desire for slimmer and smaller boxes that will be more discreet in living rooms too.
Microsoft's Xbox 360, for instance, comes with an external hard drive which has to look just as sleek as the box itself.
And in the next year, says Mr Pait, mini motherboards, therefore much smaller and compact PCs, will become a bigger area of demand, especially in Europe.