Showa Denko eyes big jump in HDD capacity

Showa Denko KK, a Japanese manufacturer of disks for hard-disk drives, will build a new research and development center as part of an attempt to realize a coin-sized drive that can hold 40GB of data, it said Monday.

The company, which produces disks for drive makers such as Toshiba Corp., will spend ¥3 billion (US$26.5 million) on the center, which is scheduled for completion in April next year, it said. The facility will be built in Ichihawa City in Chiba, east of Tokyo.

The storage needs of computer and digital consumer electronics users are growing rapidly, and drive makers are racing to produce drives that are both smaller and offer higher capacity. The key to doing this is the ability to cram data bits closer together on the disk.

A big step forward was taken earlier this year with the realization of the first commercial drives employing a new system called perpendicular recording. In this technology the magnetic field that is used to store data runs perpendicular to the disk surface and so requires less space. This means more bits can be stored on each disk and leads to an overall increase in capacity.

Showa Denko is making the disks for the first perpendicular recording drives, which are available from Toshiba, said Yoshiyuki Kusanagi, a company spokesman in Tokyo. They are capable of storing about 133Gb (gigabits) in each square inch of disk space. That’s roughly the same as drives using existing longitudinal recording technology but whereas longitudinal is hitting its limits, the perpendicular method is only in its infancy.

Showa Denko hopes the new research center will help it realize its goal of a capacity of 1,000Gb per square inch by 2010. At such a capacity a 0.85-inch hard-disk drive would be able to store 40GB of data, it said.

Although not as well known as disk-drive makers, companies such as Showa Denko are vital to the hard-disk drive industry. The company’s maximum disk production capacity is 10.7 million disks per month, and it is currently in the process of expanding this so that it will be able to make 13.75 million disks per month by March 2006.

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