Don't bury the hard drive just yet

There's a reason drive-makers such as Seagate and Maxtor sell 500 gigabyte drives, and why they'll soon be selling 800 gigabyte drives.

With all the ruckus about the rise of NAND flash as a storage medium in recent days, you'd think the good old hard drive was as cooked as a Thanksgiving turkey. But not so fast, says Komag Inc. CEO Thian Hoo Tan, who I spoke with today. He'd asked his press staffers to set up the interview, so he could vent his frustration. “Everything that your readers have been hearing about the demise of the hard disc drive should be qualified. All that's happening is that the 1-inch and the 1.8-inch hard drives are facing some competition.”

Komag makes the thin-film discs inside hard drives, so Tan has a definite bias. But he makes an excellent case. Sure, flash has reached capacities that make it the right choice for some small gizmos, such as Apple's iPod nano. But what about the vast explosion of data in our lives--the ever-rising tide of e-mail, digital pictures and song downloads? And then there's a video--particularly high-definition video. There's a reason drive-makers such as Seagate and Maxtor sell 500 gigabyte drives, and why they'll soon be selling 800 gigabyte drives, he says. That's nearly a terabyte, in a single drive!

Of course, nobody is suggesting flash will ever displace the disc drive in your PC, PVR or high-definition TV. But even small devices won't be drive-less, especially if they're designed for capturing high-def programming. Also, hard drives take less time to access data than flash, making them better for storing fast-moving computer games or for storing streamed video--say, a movie-on-demand.

Which brings up another possibility: hybrid-devices, that have both flash and a 1-inch hard drive. A year from now, maybe we'll be buying devices that have, say, six gig of flash memory for storing our music collection and such files, along with a 10-plus gigabyte hard-drive for games, movies and the like.

By the way, Tan's message isn't exactly going unheard these days. While we in the press may be fixated on flash, Komag's stock rose almost 7% today to $33.35, and is up 33% since Oct. 27.

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