Samsung Electronics is the first hard drive manufacturer to ship a 500GB 2.5-inch drive. Samsung announced its drive was shipping in volume to OEMs and PC makers Wednesday.

The 500GB drive marks a significant milestone in portable storage: On notebooks that support dual-hard drive configurations, a 500GB drive means you can have a whopping 1TB of storage in a laptop computer.

Competition to Market

Hitachi was the first company to announce a 500GB 2.5-inch hard drive, before the start of the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show. Samsung was the second to announce, also at the show; Fujitsu also recently announced its intention to offer a 500GB drive.

However, both Hitachi and Fujitsu are taking a different approach to 500GB than Samsung. All three drive makers use three disk platters, but Hitachi and Fujitsu reach 500GB by expanding the height of the drive from 9.5mm--the common standard for most notebooks--to 12.5mm, a height that's increasingly accommodated on larger, desktop-replacement laptop designs, but not necessarily on more general-use laptops.

Samsung's Spinpoint M6 drive spins at 5,400 rpm (revolutions per minute). Hitachi's drive carries the same rating, but Fujitsu slowed its drive to 4200 rpm.

Hitachi's drive was supposed to ship in February, but is now expected to ship later this month. Fujitsu says its drive will ship in May.

1TB in a Laptop

Since the Spinpoint M6 fits into the chassis of commercial and multimedia notebooks, said Andy Higginbotham, director of hard drive sales at Samsung Semiconductor. Two drives can be combined for 1TB of storage, he said.

Priced at US$299, the hard drive is shipping now to OEMs and PC makers, and will be in retail stores later this month. A company spokeswoman declined to comment on which PC makers will be using the drive; nor would a spokeswoman say when we might see a notebook using the drive.

At the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, Asus announced the M70S laptop, which combined two 500GB drives from Hitachi.

Samsung also announced the Spinpoint MP2 hard drive, a 2.5-inch drive with 250GB of storage. Aimed at desktop replacement notebooks, workstations and blade servers, it provides quicker read and write speeds than the M6. The hard drive spins at 7,200 rpm.

With the MP2, the company also provides an optional chip that protects a hard drive from vibrations caused by other hardware components.

The Spinpoint MP2 is priced at $299 and will be available through retailers. An 80GB version of the hard drive is also available, according to the company.

Both drives come with a free-fall sensor that OEMs can opt for; the sensor can park the head and turns the hard drive off in the event of a fall, protecting the data on it.