Storage demands fuel hard drive, flash memory industries |

Storage demands fuel hard drive, flash memory industries

SAN JOSE (AP) – Bill Healy held the future in his pocket.

The senior vice president of Hitachi Global Storage Technologies Inc. whipped out a tiny hard drive about the size of a Wheat Thin. The drive’s label claimed a capacity of 1,000 gigabytes – more than 100 times greater than today’s models that can hold 8,000 photos or 2,000 songs.

It wasn’t real. But at the rate storage technology is now moving, it’s only a matter of time before Healy’s mock 1-terabyte disk drive becomes a reality.

With pioneering products like TiVo Inc.’s digital video recorders and Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod music players, the unsung storage components of hard disk drives and flash memory are taking on more visible roles. These are the keepers of precious personal cargo – from photos and household finances to music collections and favorite TV shows.

“You’re letting us into your heart now, not just your home,” said Bill Watkins, chief executive of Seagate Technology LLC, the world’s largest maker of hard drives.

The opportunity hasn’t been lost on storage purveyors.

Top suppliers – like Seagate, Western Digital Inc. and Hitachi for hard drives, and Samsung Electronics Co. and Toshiba Corp. for both flash memory and hard drives – are consistently pushing the technological envelope to feed device makers with ever beefier and more reliable technology.

Consider Apple’s original iPod, which started in 2001 with a 5-gigabyte hard drive. Today, Apple has models ranging from the pencil-thin iPod Nano that holds up to 4 gigabytes using flash memory, to a video-capable iPod holding up to 60 gigabytes on a hard drive.

Flash memory makers have been doubling capacities about every nine months, says Celeste Crystal, an analyst at market researcher IDC. They’re squeezing more bits of data onto cells in their silicon chips as well as developing new ways to stack layers of cells in the same amount of space.

Continued advances will mean portable gadgets will be able to carry 32 gigabytes of data on fingernail-sized flash memory cards within five years, predicts Eli Harari, chief executive of SanDisk Corp., the world’s largest supplier of flash memory storage cards.

Because the industry has continually reduced prices, Hitachi’s Healy promises consumers won’t have to break the bank to satisfy their storage needs.

“This is the vision of the future,” Healy said, holding the mock 1-inch, 1-terabyte hard drive. It might take 20 years to get there, he said, “but it won’t cost you anymore than it would today.”

That would roughly mean a retail price of $150, but instead of getting 8 gigabytes of storage, you would get 1,000.

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