Tech Notes

Bigger Is Better—At Least for Data Storage

By J. Anthony Vittal

I remember my first personal computer—really a desk-sized word processor with a hard-wired operating system and word processing application that used 7-inch floppies for data storage. Then I got my first DOS-based PC about 20 years ago, which I equipped with two 10-megabyte hard drives—each the size of my paperback desktop codes volume. In the ensuing 20 years, things sure have changed, and not necessarily for the better. Applications bloat and file bloat have dictated the need for ever-larger storage devices, and the industry has come through for us in ways we couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago. The formerly ubiquitous floppy drives, taking a 1.2 megabyte floppy diskette, have all but disappeared from modern computers. Instead, we have a panoply of other portable data storage media allowing simple and easy transport of relatively large—indeed, comparatively gargantuan—amounts of data among various devices. Even hard drives now can be made portable, using a case and a USB or FireWire connection. Recent developments in data storage technology have increased the amount of portable data storage available to us. Some examples:

Flash Drives

Few devices can match the simplicity and sheer portability of USB flash drives. Generally the size of a miniature cigarette lighter, if not smaller, they plug into any USB port and immediately are recognized by modern operating systems as just another data storage drive. I carry two with me at all times. One (a 1.0-gigabyte Lexar JumpDrive) contains all of my transactional and litigation files for both of my companies and is only just over half full. I use the other (a 256-megabyte souvenir from the ABA TechShow) for synchronizing Outlook, and migrating other files, between my office desktop computer and my notebook computer.

Now, a number of manufacturers have announced 2-gigabyte flash drives—double the size available just a year ago. Think about it. A 2-gigabyte flash drive gives you the data storage capacity of about 1,700 1.2-megabyte floppy diskettes, but is small enough to hang on your key chain. Convenient capacity like this, however, comes at a price. Expect to pay between $175 and $250 for one of these, depending on what and where you buy.

Microdrives

Some years ago, IBM introduced the microdrive—a postage stamp-sized hard drive offering one gigabyte of storage capacity. IBM later sold its magnetic media operations to Hitachi, which has continued to improve on the technology. In early September, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies started shipping its newest microdrive offerings—in 6-gigabyte and 8-gigabyte formats, weighing in at 13 grams. These new microdrives are about 20 percent smaller and require about 40 percent less power than previous models. These drives also offer better shock protection of up to 400 Gs when operating and 2,000 Gs when not. The shock protection system, which Hitachi calls “extra sensory protection,” detects when the drive is in free fall and automatically moves the drive head away from the disk to avoid “head crash” on impact. This ESP system will operate from drops as small as four inches. Initial shipments of the drives are being made to consumer electronics manufacturers. Additional versions of the drives, with different interfaces (ostensibly CF+ Type II and PCMCIA suitable for use with PCs), will not be available until December or later.

Half-Terabyte Drives

In recent months, new technology has enabled a number of hard disk drive manufacturers to offer drives with significantly higher capacity. Instead of “parallel recording,” in which the magnetically charged particles on the media coating are laid out parallel to the substrate (the metal disc), these new drives use “perpendicular recording,” in which the particles are laid out perpendicular to the substrate – allowing many more particles to occupy the same amount of space. As a result, several manufacturers have introduced half-terabyte drives (that’s 500 megabytes), with full terabyte drives coming in the next few years. One example of these half-terabyte drives, which are in the customary 3½” form factor used in desktops and workstations, is the Hitachi Deskstar 7K500, available for as low as $357.00. (The same technology is available for notebooks, but the constraints of the 2½” notebook form factor limits the size of the drives. One such drive is the Hitachi Travelstar 7K100, at 100 megabytes. Next year, Seagate will have a 160GB notebook drive using this technology.) Maxtor also has announced a half-terabyte drive, to be available this month.

Combo Drives

If that weren’t enough, last month Hitachi unveiled a one-terabyte HDD/DVD combination drive, allowing one to simultaneously record two HDTV broadcasts—one to the HDD (actually two linked 500GB drives) and one to the DVD. Until there is greater demand here for HDTV recoding capabilities, don’t expect to see it at your local consumer electronics store. For now, the device is only available in Japan for about ¥230,000 (~$1,680.00).

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These new drives make large amounts of data storage available to each of us—whether in portable media or as resident data storage in a server or workstation environment—at affordable prices. They provide the ability to simply move to a paperless work environment, with all of its data storage requirements. Just think of all the other things you could do with them.

Anthony Vittal is general counsel of Credit.Com, Inc., and Identity Theft 911, LLC, and has offices in San Francisco, California. He is a frequent writer and speaker on technology topics for lawyers. The author has no relationship with any manufacturer referred to in this column, each of which is used solely for purposes of example.


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