Singapore aims to spur industry with 5mm hybrid HDD

Singapore aims to spur industry with 5mm hybrid HDD

Summary: Government agency A*Star expects its innovation, called A-Drive, to open up opportunities for related industries in the country and sustain job creation.

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SINGAPORE--Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) has unveiled a 5mm hybrid hard disk drive (HDD) in a 2.5-inch form factor, one of the world's thinnest available, as part of a project aimed at extending the shelf life of the country's existing tech industries.

Called the A-drive, it potentially could be fitted into tablets and other handheld devices to allow storage capacities of up to 1 terabyte (TB) or around 250,000 songs, and extend battery life by 30 percent, said Pantelis Alexopoulos, executive director of A*Star's Data Storage Institute (DSI).

Measuring the 5mm hybrid hard disk drive (Credit: DSI)

The drive can also be utilized for enterprise storage applications, reducing power consumption by up to 50 percent, and to produce slimmer ultrabooks and laptops, Alexopoulos told ZDNet Asia in an interview.

"Although there have been technological improvements such as in capacity and connectivity, scalability of the battery has not caught up and there are also scalability limitations of Flash," he explained.

He pointed out smaller hybrid drives would be the future for devices, since it combined the advantages of a faster, but more expensive SSD, with the capacity scalability of a HDD.

Birth of hybrid idea
According to Alexopoulos, the DSI started development work on the device last year and was the first in the world to come out publicly to talk about the concept.

He said the idea struck him when he was taking apart an Apple iPad when the tablet first hit the market. It then became the first project he proposed at DSI, when he joined nearly three years ago.

"When I pitched the idea to International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association (IDEMA) in Japan, they thought I was crazy," he said.

One of the challenges in shrinking the hybrid drive from the then-existing standard of 7mm was the need to reduce the thickness of its spindle motor without compromising performance.

"It had to pass the 'wife check'--cheap enough for a guy not have to ask for his wife's permission to buy it."

"We also had to make sure it was not too expensive to make. It had to pass the 'wife check'--cheap enough for a guy not have to ask for his wife's permission to buy it," Alexopoulos quipped, adding it cost around US$60 to manufacture the device.

Sustaining Singapore's industries
Other industry players appear to have caught onto the same concept. Western Digital (WD), for instance, last month launched its own version of a 5mm hybrid HDD.

Alexopoulos said A*Star's product was not designed to compete with the industry, but to support Singapore's technology sectors by pushing for the 5mm hybrid form-factor and allowing them to stay relevant in the supply chain.

The government agency hopes this would lead to a trickle-down effect, with every job created usually indirectly creating another eight jobs, he said.

He added DSI was open to sharing details about the A-drive with the industry and had done so with WD at an earlier stage of the project, sharing design concepts and details over a presentation.

The difference between both versions is the motor used in DSI's offering is thinner, he said, adding it was A*Star's commitment to the concept which propelled the industry toward the direction for a 5mm drive.

"If it was for personal glory, I would have kept everything to myself," Alexopoulos said. "My goal is to extend the shelf life and relevance of existing tech industries in Singapore."

He noted WD opened a R&D center in Singapore last year, which was a big testament to the government agency's efforts.

Areas of potential
Other areas of research DSI is banking on are green data center technologies, non-volatile memory, and transmission of information.

It already has plans to improve the current design by shrinking the A-Drive's actuator--motor to control a mechanism--which could help make the hybrid HDD lighter by 30 percent and smaller by 20 percent. It currently weighs about 84 grams.

Associated patents will be handled by A*Star's strategic marketing and commercialization arm, Exploit Technologies, which might explore potential spinoffs and licensing.

Topics: Storage, Emerging Tech, Hardware, Singapore, IT Employment

About

Loves caption contests, leisurely strolls along supermarket aisles and watching How It's Made. Ryan has covered finance, politics, tech and sports for TV, radio and print. He is also co-author of best seller "Profit from the Panic". Ryan is an editor at ZDNet's Asia/Singapore office.

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6 comments
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  • So much false info

    1. If the drive is workable now, it definitely won't be able to reach 1TB
    2. In the comment shown here http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-09-27/pantelis-alexopouloss-push-for-slimmer-disk-drives , it stated that Alexopoulos didn't come up with the concept first.
    3. Since WD has got its own 5mm ready and Seagate is about to roll out theirs in about 6 months, what's the point DSI makes its own 5mm since it is very unlikely the two big players would buy from DSI?
    GreenTom
    • what are you talking about?

      1) why not?
      2) you are basing a comment from someone on the internet as fact? Intel cited A*star for the innovation earlier, why not WD? Can you prove WD started work earlier? http://www.xbitlabs.com/news/storage/display/20120412224713_Intel_Calls_for_Ultra_Slim_Hard_Drives_Optical_Drives.html
      3) If you read the article, you would know DSI's main priority is not about selling anything or making money
      Jamie_Lee
      • You should read it again

        1. Do you have any idea about the capacity of a 7mm 1.5inch drive on the market?
        2. In this article you give me http://www.xbitlabs.com/news/storage/display/20120412224713_Intel_Calls_for_Ultra_Slim_Hard_Drives_Optical_Drives.html , it is clearly shown that DSI has come up with a axial motor design, while the 5mm drive photo is courtesy of WD, whick looks almost the same as the one WD finally released. You really should read it again.
        3. In the article published in yahoo news (http://sg.news.yahoo.com/s%E2%80%99pore-research-centre-launches-next-gen-hybrid-hard-drive-.html), it clearly says "DSI is currently in talks with partners to market the A-drive in Singapore. Alexopoulus estimated that it would take them about six to eight months from the time a partnership deal is confirmed to manufacture the product." So if DSI is not selling or making money, what are you doing?
        GreenTom
        • typo

          1. Do you have any idea about the capacity of a 7mm 2.5inch drive on the market?
          GreenTom
  • Working Drive?

    I have serious doubt that the drive shown is a working drive. Somebody should ask for a real demonstration of the so-called A-Drive on the data writing and reading, and shows the real density or whatever new techs that these guys want to prove.
    Talking about innovation, we should really look at what innovation (not only the patent no etc) they have really put into the drive. Can AStar provide more information rather than a la-la land show in the big gala dinner, and forget about this totally after that? We don't want this tech again becomes a white elephant again. I understand that from friends in AStar that million of dollars has been burnt on this, and don't see how the industry player and Singapore can benefit from this.
    John_Sport
    • Totally agree

      A demo is better than a million words. Show it, and people will know the truth. As for the video shown at the end of this article (http://sg.news.yahoo.com/s%E2%80%99pore-research-centre-launches-next-gen-hybrid-hard-drive-.html), although the title is called "Demonstration of how A-drive works", why the externally connected drive look like a commercial 2.5inch drive? Are you showing A-Drive or A-Server?
      GreenTom