iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Strategy and New 2.5” Drives from Hitachi GST in 2007

Up to 250 GB in a Mobile Drive with Flash Memory and AES Data Encryption

At the end of 2006, one of the key manufacturers of hard drives Hitachi Global Storage Technologies decided to tell us about its products plans for 2007. By the way, less than six months ago this company opened its own representative office in Moscow and celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the world HDD industry in September. These plans are quite impressive, so we shall not only describe them in this article, but we'll also interview some executive officers from the European HQ of Hitachi GST about the plans and products in general — existing and future.

According to IDC data, the annual growth of the 2.5" HDD market from 2005 to 2010 will be 22%. That is the market will double by 2010 (relative to 2006) - it will amount to over 224 million drives. Hitachi predicts even more aggressive growth of the market of 2.5" drives: 25% each year.

And the 40% annual growth of data density will last at least five more years, which will lead to 750 GB 2.5" drives in 2010 (this capacity is currently offered by top desktop models). You can see the distribution of this growth by application up to 2010 on the following slide.

The main share of 2.5-inch drives will still fall on notebooks. But the fastest growth rates will be demonstrated by segments of hard drives for consumer electronics, compact external storage devices, as well as small desktop PCs. The new segment of ATA servers is also interesting.

Travelstar drives are currently (for 15 years already, since the appearance of IBM Travelstar in 1991) the most popular 2.5-inch storage drives in the world. Hitachi is proud of the 36% growth in sales of this series for the last quarters:

  • 2Q ’06 — 7.1 million pieces
  • 3Q ’06 — 9.6 million pieces
  • 56% annual growth

The latest Travelstar 7K100 and 5K160 offer consumers not only high capacity and excellent performance, but also economic power consumption, which make them convenient for lots of applications from notebooks to consumer and automobile electronics. Striving to expand HDD applications, Hitachi launched Endurastar and CinemaStar series not long ago, which use modified 2.5-inch storage drives.

New plans of Hitachi for 2007 concerning 2.5-inch drives can be expressed in four words:

  • Capacity
  • Performance
  • Hybrid
  • Security

Hitachi pins its main hopes in 2007 on perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR): the company has already mastered it in Travelstar 5K160 products, and future series of 2.5-inch drives will use it to achieve the first two objectives — to increase capacity and performance. But that's not the only way the company intends to attract users. Its plans include another three technologies:

  • Hybrid storage drives that combine traditional magnetic platters and flash memory to work with frequently used data.
  • Hardware-level encryption of data for higher security.
  • Free-fall sensor for better shock-resistance of PC hard drives.

So, Hitachi GST plans on launching the following series of 2.5-inch hard drives in 2007.

Firstly, the company will launch 200 GB drives (7200 rpm) in the first half of 2007. They will replace the existing Travelstar 7K100 and will raise the performance bar for hard drives of this form factor. They will use perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR), of course. Unlike 7K100, the new series of mobile 7200 RPM products will support Serial ATA II (3 GB/s).

Secondly, in the second half of 2007, the company will launch the second generation of 2.5-inch 5400 rpm models with PMR, their maximum capacity being about 250 GB.

These drives will also offer better performance than Travelstar 5K160. They are designed not only for notebooks and gameboxes, but also for external storage devices and portable video players. By the end of 2007, Hitachi will switch to PMR in its mobile drives completely, that is all 2.5-inch drives will use PMR.

By the way, they are manufactured at the company's plant in Thailand. Hitachi's plant in Shenzhen, China, has recently celebrated the launch of the 50-millionth platter for hard drives, over 2 millions of them use PMR.

Thirdly, Hitachi plans on launching so-called hybrid hard drives. Along with traditional magnetic platters, they will be equipped with built-in flash memory of large capacity (exact figures are not available so far), in order to accelerate operations with frequently used data and to reduce the average power consumption of the drives.

Here are the key advantages of hybrid drives (frankly speaking, they are old news, especially in the light of Vista, but they are not very popular so far because of their high costs):

  • Longer battery life
  • Shorter startup times of operating systems and applications
  • Faster exit from the sleep mode
  • Higher reliability
  • Better performance

Hybrid drives will appear as options in both above-mentioned series (tentatively, 7K200 and 5K250).

And fourthly, Hitachi will launch hard drives equipped with bulk data encryption in 2007. It should allow users of notebooks and other mobile devices to better protect their data from intrusion and theft (for example, if one loses a notebook).

Hitachi unveils no details on the bulk data encryption. But it's stressed that unlike traditional software methods of data protection/encryption, it does not consume system resources and has no effect on HDD performance. The company will use Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) — the industry standard for data encryption. Hard drives with encryption will be optional in both mobile HDD series from Hitachi. Data encryption in hybrid drives will protect both magnetic and semiconductor memory.

* * *

And now let's proceed to our interview with Nicolas Frapard, Hitachi GST sales manager in EMEA region,

and Uwe Kemmer from the EMEA technical team.


If Travelstar 7K200 is planned for the first half of 2007, does it mean that Hitachi is not planning to launch Travelstar 7K160 earlier, carrying on the traditions of its first 5K160 PRM drives for 7200 rpm drives?

That's not the case. The company will switch from 100 GB right to 200 GB 7K2 drives in the first half of 2007. It will be done owing to the perpendicular magnetic recording.

5400 rpm drives planned for the second half of 2007 - 250 GB maximum (that is the series will be named Travelstar 5K250) or a tad smaller — say, 240 GB?

It should be something about 250 GB.

Will the new drives be fully compatible with eSATA (external SATA) to be used in external data storage devices? What about eSATA support in 5K160 and 7K100 drives?

All modern products from Hitachi are compatible with eSATA. Future products will carry on this compatibility tradition.

Will data density grow in 7K200 and 5K250 (tentative names) owing to increased track density along the platter radius (TPI) or to increased linear density along the tracks (BPI)?

7200 rpm drives will have double data density, it'll be 1.5 as high in 5400 rpm models. But our interviewee did not go into details of TPI/BPI growth in these drives.

Capacity of solid-state memory in hybrid drives from Hitachi. The effect of flash memory on HDD prices.

There is currently no such information. The fact that hybrid drives will be sold as options is a proof that they will be popular in the segment of expensive solutions.

Differences between Hitachi drives with encryption and existing similar models from Seagate, ExcelStor, etc. Will the encryption hardware in the new Hitachi drives use the approaches used in ExcelStor (manufacturing partner of Hitachi) prototypes?

Seagate has recently announced its Encryption technology. But these products are not yet available. Unfortunately, our interviewee was not informed about ExcelStor projects in this sphere.

Since the first announcement of hard drives with encryption (Seagate Momentus 5400 FDE etc), it has become clear that end users are not very interested in such models, because they do not quite understand what to do with them. How does Hitachi plan to attract users to such products. What about end users of personal computers (home and small-corporate).

Interest to such products is real. Notebook manufacturers, in particular, are looking forward to such drives!

The market has been offering 2.5-inch 10K rpm drives (from Seagate and Fujitsu) for a long time already. Tests demonstrate that only these 2.5-inch models can compete on a par with 3.5-inch hard drives for personal computers in performance. Does Hitachi plan to launch 10K rpm models in the light of the new 2.5-inch strategy? When can we expect them? Will they be equipped with SAS only, or they will also support SATA to be used in notebooks and other consumer products?

First of all, the interviewee recommended to try 2.5-inch drives with the spindle rotational speed of 7200 rpm (Travelstar 7K100). They already demonstrate performance similar to many 3.5-inch 7200-rpm drives. Hitachi's leadership in this HDD segment (2.5" 7200 rpm) fortifies its positions on the market of 2.5" hard drives. In Q3 2006 the company possessed 29.5% of the market, according to IDC data (being the first in the segment for 60 quarters!) Secondly, 2.5" SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) drives with the spindle rotational speed of 10 000 rpm are intended for the server market, for blade servers in particular. Hitachi will offer such models very soon, in the beginning of 2007.

Our Travelstar 5K160 tests (the results were published in August) demonstrated a significant performance gain versus 5K100 and the best performance in this class of hard drives. But our tests showed that firmware algorithms in 5K160 were modified (compared to 5K100) — not always for the better. In particular, 5K160's multithreaded write performance dropped versus 5K100. We can also see dropped 5K160 performance versus 5K100 in some server patterns, large file write, small file copy. 5K160 performance practically didn't change versus 5K100 for large file copy. That is there are evidently some negative changes in optimizations of caching algorithms in 5K160 firmware versus 5K100. Does Hitachi plan on somehow improving this situation with the new 5K160 firmware? Will the situation be improved in 7K200 and 5K250? Are these changes made deliberately to improve operating reliability at the cost of performance?

Indeed, the company made some changes in caching algorithms, which result in optimizations in so-called real world benchmarks (i.e. tests like PCMark05) at the cost of artificial loads in Iometer File Server and Workstation.

Our Travelstar 5K160 tests demonstrated that these PMR drives were much more capricious towards even small vibrations. Performance of these drives drops considerably (especially in write operations) in case of insignificant vibrations, while their predecessors were not affected at all. Is this the effect of PMR or anything else? Does Hitachi plan on fixing these drawbacks by using acceleration sensors in 5K160 controllers, like in some 3.5" Hitachi drives and a number of 2.5" drives from competitors?

Our interviewee was not in the know about the problems with vibrations in 5K160 drives. The company has sold over a million of such drives with perpendicular magnetic recording since October 2006. And it plans on selling over four millions of such drives in the last quarter of 2006, that is over one third of all Hitachi 2.5" drives. But Uwe Kemmer heard such comments for the first time. From the technical point of view, as data and track density grows, HDD behavior always differs during vibrations, especially in write operations. So this effect came much earlier than PMR. The problem of keeping a head on thinner tracks can be solved by using an improved servo system, additional servo sectors (to report track positions to a head more often). There should be no problems with the new drives within the vibration limits published in specifications.

What new technologies (relative to 5K160 and 7K100) will Hitachi use in 7K200 and 5K250 drives (along with PMR)?

5K160 drives already use PMR. The next 7200 rpm drives will be the first 7K2 models to use PMR. The hybrid (built-in flash memory) and encryption technologies will be available as options in both series. Users may also be interested in Thermal Fly-height Control (TFC) and a free-fall sensor, which increase shock resistance of PC hard drives.

Thank you for your answers!

* * *

Unfortunately, answers to our questions about future products were not very detailed. So we are looking forward to new products from Hitachi GST to clear up our issues.

Alex Karabuto (lx@ixbt.com)
January 24, 2007

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