Hitachi’s ‘Monster’ of a Disk

Hitachi may be exiting its smallest hard drive disks but it’s got big plans for a gigantic 500 Gigabyte drive, which it plans to ship next month.

Along with that announcement, Asus, a key motherboard and laptop OEM manufacturer in Taiwan, said it would also release a high end (desktop replacement) laptop that would include this drive, and an upgraded unit that could optionally hold two drives for a total of 1 Terabyte of storage. (The Tera prefix comes from the Greek for ‘monster’.) The M50 will be available next month. The M70 is slated for release in March.

With the release of the big disk, Hitachi envisions a future where the laptop would be the personal center of entertainment for everyone — from a busy traveling executive to a student, or a mom’s kitchen.

To this end, this drive will hold over 1,000 full length uncompressed albums. Using mp3 compression, the numbers are staggering: over 100,000 songs typically. For video, over 150 full length DVD encoded movies with all features can be included. That would allow users to watch movies every waking minute for a full lunar mission, perhaps even longer.

Hitachi isn’t just concerned with packing in the bits. The company also made provisions for protection of that data. Due to vibration from some high-end subwoofers squeezed into laptops today, hard drives have a hard time tracking during moments of pounding base: low end vibrations can send heads into a frenzy, trying to stay in a lane as vibrations move the surface of disk up and down as well as side to side.

Like a van trying to stay in a lane with a strong cross wind, standard hard drives simply can’t take the abuse and simply retry the request for data until it is successful. Unfortunately, this reduces the life of the disk, and of course, the data as well.

Enter Hitachi’s Rotational Vibration Safeguard (RVS), not new to their disk drives but only recently available on notebook drives, where, frankly, it is needed more than a desktop.

RVS senses vibrations and automatically compensates by stabilizing the heads to allow for continuous data flow, allowing the deep bass from your digital music to continue vibrating the disk as well as your eardrums while your spreadsheet crunches.

It is clear that Hitachi is concerned about keeping your data safe. Along those lines, the 5K500 also features Bulk Data Encryption (BDE) on its slower 1.5 Gb/s SATA drives. Although the data is safely stored on the drive, without the encryption key, the data is almost useless. So retasking a laptop no longer has to involve complicated data-erase procedures; simply deleting the key renders the data inaccessible. So, a stolen laptop cannot be simply disassembled and the drive accessed from another computer. Without the encryption key, the data is safe.

Unfortunately, this disk isn’t coming to a standard laptop near you all that soon. This drive is 12.5mm high, beyond the current 9.5mm standard. That means only the bulkier, specially-designed desktop replacements, usually heavier units with large screens, can feature this drive. This is due to the fact that the drive has three internal disks instead of the usual two.

Perhaps with the thought in mind of dual-disk systems, these drives are also providing data while sipping at the battery, at only 1.9 watts during standard read/write performance, comparing to the 2.5 watts many of the older generation drives use, both Hitachi and other manufacturers that have only two platters. Many current and next generation drives operate below the 2 watt threshold.

With the release, Hitachi has created a secure, reliable and rugged drive that is light on power but large on size and heavy on the pocketbook, in quantity around $400. It’s targeted to users not looking at the price tag, only the performance. For now, it looks like students and moms will have to wait.

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