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Thinner Hard Disk Drives with Rapidly Growing Shipments to Present New Opportunities

02 July 2013

Newly released thinner hard disk drives (HDD) sized 5.0 and 7.0 millimeters have the potential to gain back some HDD market share lost to solid-state drives (SSD), especially if the new hard drives find their way into future ultrathin PCs and PC tablets, according to a Storage Space brief from information and analytics provider IHS.  

Lighter in weight and thinner in breadth, the 5.0- and 7.0-mm models will form a new class of ultraslim HDDs that are forecast to eventually displace the much thicker 9.5-mm drives that currently rule the industry. The combined shipments of 5.0- and 7.0-mm HDDs will reach 133 million units by 2017, up from just 5 million last year. Meanwhile, shipments of 9.5-mm HDDs will deteriorate over time, to 79 million in 2017, down from 245 million units in 2012.

Both the 5.0- and 7.0-mm HDD products will see increasing adoption starting this year, along with another form of storage device known as the hybrid HDD, in which a NAND flash component or so-called cache SSD is joined with the hard drive within one storage enclosure. Use of these new products will proliferate because they are smaller in size and have the capability to improve overall storage performance-important variables in an age that emphasizes smaller form factors as well as optimal speed at affordable prices. 

Both the thinner HDDs along with hybrid HDDs could even start making inroads into ultrathin PCs and tablet PCs- two markets that mostly use solid-state drives as their storage element. Hard disks have lost market share to SSDs since the latter, offering better performance, can be more easily used to achieve a thinner and lighter form factor crucial to tablets and ultrathin PCs.

This year, for instance, global SSD shipments will climb nearly 90 percent to 64.6 million units, while HDD shipments will decline 5 percent to 545.8 million units. However, the new and thinner HDDs could stem losses of the hard disk space, especially if their costs can fall to 10-15 percent of a tablet or to 10-20 percent of an ultrathin PC, IHS believes.

These thresholds are important because they could be instrumental in persuading tablet and ultrathin PC brands to consider 5.0- and 7.0-mm. hard disks as possible alternatives to the SSDs now used as the predominant storage element. Solid-state drives are relatively expensive at present compared to other storage types and cut into the overall margins of computer and tablet makers, so the use of more economical storage alternatives that boost the bottom line of makers would make a persuasive argument to undertake a switch.

HDD manufacturers all jump into the fray

All three manufacturers of hard disk drives-U.S.-based Western Digital Corp. and Seagate Technology, as well as Toshiba of Japan-will have their own product offerings for the new and thinner HDDs.

Western Digital fired the opening salvo in April, announcing it had started shipping the 5.0-mm WD Blue ultraslim HDD and the Black SSHD-a solid-state hybrid drive with a hard drive component alongside the cache SSD-to select industry distributors as well as original equipment manufacturer customers. Western Digital claims that the 500-gigabyte capacities of the two models will reduce weight by as much as 30 percent compared to a 9.5-mm HDD, with a circuit board utilizing cellphone miniaturization technology able to maximize the mechanical sway space in the hard drive to ensure shock resistance. 

Western Digital then announced in June shipments of the world's currently thinnest 1-terabyte drive-the 7.0-mm. WD Blue-with both Acer and Asus likely to use the product in their upcoming ultrathin PCs.

For its part, Western Digital archrival Seagate announced also in June it had shipped 5.0-mm. HDDs to Asus, Dell and Lenovo for their ultrathin PCs for the second half of 2013. Seagate says its 500-gigabyte hard drive occupies 25 percent less space than the company's 7.0-mm HDD.

Reacting to the developments from Western Digital and Seagate, Toshiba said it would ship a 7.0-mm. solid-state hybrid drive (SSHD) in 320- and 500-gigabyte configurations, likewise by the end of June. Previously, Toshiba only had a 9.5-mm. SSHD of up to 750 gigabytes.

Read more >> 5mm Drives Create Opportunities for HDD Industry



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