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Portable hard drives get capacity boost

Seagate Technology, using a new approach to storage, has started shipping a notebook PC hard drive that dramatically increases storage capacity.

The new design aligns bits of data vertically rather than horizontally. This technique boosts the density of drives without increasing the risk of corrupting data.

Since the first hard drive was introduced 1956, bits have been arranged in a flat, horizontal fashion on the spinning platters. To boost capacity, engineers reduced the size of the particles whose magnetic state is what actually remembers data.

But with drives now topping out at 500GB, the miniaturization is nearly at its limit. Made any smaller, the particles can begin to interfere with the magnetism of their neighbors, corrupting data.

By storing bits in a vertical, or perpendicular, arrangement, Seagate was able to boost capacity by taking advantage of the real estate that is freed up.

Seagate’s new drive, the Momentus 5400.3, began shipping last week. The shift to perpendicular recording allows it to increase the maximum capacity of its notebook drive to 160GB from 120GB. The 2.5in drive costs $325, compared to about $240 for the 120GB model.

Seagate plans to extend the new recording technology to other notebook drives, as well its 1in drives used in handheld devices and 3.5in drives for desktop PCs. In the next three to five years, the new technology is expected to increase maximum drive capacities five fold.

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