IBM announced Tuesday that it has tripled the storage capacity of its Type II Microdrive while reducing its physical size, the latest step by IBM to increase the storage capacity of handheld electronic devices.
Weighing less than an ounce, and no bigger than a ten pence piece, the IBM Microdrive is capable of packing one gigabyte of data storage, a threefold increase from its 340MB Microdrive released last year, the company said.
The new 1GB Microdrive will be able to offer high-capacity data storage to a range of handheld products, including digital cameras, handheld PCs, personal digital assistants (PDAs), portable Internet music players and video cameras, the company said in a statement.
"There is a tremendous potential for very small, high capacity ... affordable storage options for portable devices," said John Osterhout, worldwide marketing director for IBM's storage technology division.
Reducing the size of the storage drive will enable more flexibility in the design of portable devices, lead to an increase in applications for such devices, and effect a change in the way people experience consumer electronic devices, according to Osterhout.
"Technologically, it's an impressive product," said Danielle Levitas, research manager for storage at IDC, in Mountain View California. "And in terms of products in the market, the 1GB Microdrive is the smallest rotating storage drive in the world."
However, there are trade-offs between using a Microdrive and using a card based on CompactFlash technology.
One of the downsides to using the Microdrive is that it takes up quite a bit of power due to its rotating magnetic storage technology, Levitas said. CompactFlash cards, on the other hand, because of their solid-state semiconductor storage technology, take up less power than the Microdrives and therefore might be more attractive to the consumer, she added.
"Powerwise, (the Microdrive) is still a ways off from where CompactFlash is," Levitas said.
Another trade-off to using the Microdrive is that it is less rugged than CompactFlash cards, according to Levitas. "It is rather delicate relative to the CompactFlash," she said.
This might be an issue for consumers in terms of potential damage from handling. People who use portable devices outdoors might opt for the CompactFlash cards because it is less likely to lose information due to knocks or bumps along the road, Levitas said.
In terms of price, Microdrive, although affordable for its high-capacity storage, is not scalable.
"A person who spent £500 on a digital camera may not want to spend another £400 to £500 on a Microdrive," Levitas said. "He or she may just want to pay about £50 for a 16M byte flash card."
However in price-per-byte terms, the Microdrive scores better with under 60p per-megabyte compared to over £1.20 per-megabyte for the CompactFlash cards, Levitas said.
Opting for the Microdrive or the CompactFlash technology ultimately will depend on users' preferences and needs. A user with high-end needs and a higher budget, such as a professional photographer, may be better served by the Microdrive. On the other hand, a user toying around with a low-end camera may opt for longer battery life and lower priced storage – hence the CompactFlash cards, she said.
Weighing in all the available storage form standards in the market for portable devices, from SmartMedia to SecureDigital, from CompactFlash to the Microdrive, Levitas doesn't think that there will only be one type of portable storage prevailing in the marketplace.
"We will continue to see competing technologies in this area," said Levitas.