Makers of computer hard-disk drives know what it's like to be trapped in the middle. On one side, personal-computer buyers are demanding more storage capacity. On the other, PC price wars are creating pressure to cut manufacturing costs. Meanwhile, advances in optical recording techniques threaten to push aside magnetic storage, today's top technology.
On Mar. 22, Sony Corp. announced what it sees as the solution: rethink the precepts of magnetic-disk drives. The company unveiled a unique 2.5-inch drive that stores 200 million bytes (about 190 megabytes) of data and can be manufactured far more cheaply than conventional drives. The secret comes from applying the lessons learned from stamping audio CDs. Instead of a conventional hard disk, which is flat and smooth, Sony created an uneven surface, with special grooves cut through the tracks to help guide the magnetic recording head. This eliminates a laborious manufacturing step and also enables Sony to pack the tracks more closely together. Managing Director Senri Miyaoka says the company has applied for more than 100 patents on the new approach. The first disk drives could roll out as early as 1995, for less than $350.