Technically called antiferromagnetically coupled (AFC) media, the hard drive technology is informally referred to as pixie dust. The innovation introduces a thin layer of the element ruthenium onto the disks inside hard drives, where data is stored. AFC allows more data to be packed onto a disk. Rival hard drive manufacturers are using similar technologies to achieve higher disk capacities.
Disk densities are expected to reach as high as 100 gigabits per square inch by 2003, which translates to hard drive capacities of 400GB for desktop drives, 200GB for notebooks and 6GB for IBM's one-inch Microdrive.
The use of AFC is another distinguishing feature of IBM's hard drives that will allow the technology titan to differentiate itself from its competitors and win over customers in a business notorious for its thin profit margins. Other features include shock protection and noise-dampening technology.
"While the rest of the market struggles, our premium technology affords us a different view," said Bill Healy, vice president of marketing for IBM's storage division.
Healy said IBM can focus on segments of the hard drive business where margins and capacity are only parts of the issue, such as drivers for high-end desktop PCs, notebooks and dense "bladed" server designs.
"Miniaturization of servers is an emerging market," Healy said. Bladed servers are not that popular now, he said, "but strategically this is more significant...It shows that we're going after new market opportunities, and by being at the forefront of a new market we can capture more opportunities."
The 3.5-inch desktop drives, called the Deskstar 120GXP, top out at a capacity of 120GB for $349 and will be available this month. The Deskstar drives also come in capacities of 80GB for $269 and 40GB for $169.
IBM will announce two versions of its Travelstar notebook drives, the 60GH and the 40GN. The Travelstar 60GH drive can store up to 60GB of data and costs $429. The Travelstar 40GN drive stores up to 40GB and costs $225. Other capacities for the GN drive include 30GB for $199, 20GB for $139 and 10GB for $109. The Travelstar drives are available now, according to IBM.
The drives for blade servers will begin shipping in December at a price to be determined.