Hitachi is planning to at least double the capacity of its 1-inch Microdrive hard drives within a year, the company said, ahead of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The small drives are currently finding favour in a growing number of portable consumer electronics devices, such as digital music players, and the greater capacity coupled with a reduction in the space the drives take up should help device makers keep portable multimedia devices small and feature-rich.

 border=0 /><BR></div>
</p>
<p>
At present Hitachi

In addition to offering more storage space, the drives will also occupy about 20 per cent less volume than current models, said Healy. One of the biggest space savings will come from replacing the Compact Flash interface with a ZIF (zero insertion force) connector of the type favoured by consumer electronics makers.

Beyond offering more storage capacity in new generations of the products in which they are now used, the drives could also end up in other types of devices. At present, any device that has to have more than about 5GB of storage requires a larger 1.8-inch drive.

The benefits of being able to use a smaller drive are obvious if you consider Apple's iPod and iPod Mini. The former uses a 1.8-inch drive, while the latter uses a 1-inch drive.

In the same market segment, one of Hitachi's competitors, Cornice, is using CES to announce plans for a 3GB version of its 1-inch drive. That product is due in the early part of this year.

Hitachi will also employ similar space-saving techniques to its 1.8-inch drive family, said Healy.

New versions of 1.8-inch drives, also expected in the second half of this year, will feature ZIF connectors and weigh 49g. A drive with one platter will offer between 30GB and 40GB of capacity, and one with a double platter will have between 60GB and 80GB of capacity, said Healy. Additionally, the drives will offer better shock resistance.

The company also announced a 3.5-inch drive that it says offers a greater storage capacity than any drive from its competitors. The 500GB drive is designed for products such as digital video recorders and will be available to recorder makers during the first quarter of this year, said Healy.

The company will also offer two additional 3.5-inch drives aimed at the same market. One has an 80GB capacity and the other offers 250GB of storage space.