The current generation of notebook computers has hard-drive capacities that rival those of early desktop computers, making them extremely potent portables. But this selling point could also turn out to be a major weakness. One serious bump in transit may be enough to damage the hard disk drive and destroy months of valuable work if backup files aren't available.

The solution, according to Alps Electric Co., one of Japan's largest suppliers of electronic parts, is to make the hard disk a little bit "floppier." The company recently showed a prototype of a "fixed flexible disk" drive, which stores data on a flexible medium, much like a floppy disk, rather than the rigid platters used in conventional hard drives. Alps also drastically reduced the size of the contact point between the disk and the recording head, which can damage the surface of the platter. The new disk drive can hold about 10 megabytes of information on a 2.5-inch-diameter platter. That's approximately seven times as much as conventional floppy disks hold, but still way short of what most desktop hard disk drives can store. But, the company predicts, consumers will ultimately make allowances for any system that guarantees the safety of their data.

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