WD’s 1 TB Laptop Drive? Not Quite!

Western Digital WD logoWestern Digital announced this morning the world’s first “1 TB mobile hard drive!” But although the news is great for storage-hungry folks looking for a portable external drive, it doesn’t quite mark a sea change in the storage industry since this drive cannot be used in (most) laptops.

Not For Laptops

As we’ve discussed before, modern laptops require thin 9.5 mm  drives, which usually translates into two-platter units. This new WD Scorpio Blue is a three-platter, 12.5 mm design. So although this drive will certainly see lots of use in the hot mobile external drive market, we will not likely start seeing 1 TB laptops quite yet.

Note that Seagate rolled out a 640 GB FreeAgent Go USB drive last month. Although the company still hasn’t officially revealed the drive mechanism inside this mobile drive, we have surmised that it uses the 9.5 mm laptop-friendly two-platter design with 333 GB per platter. The new WD unit uses the same platter size and density, taking more wind out of Western Digital’s sails.

Shaking Up External Storage

But since both the initial WD and Seagate drives are aimed at the portable USB unit market rather than landing inside laptops, WD’s announcement of both 1 TB and 750 GB sizes should give it a nice differentiator on the shelves of retail stores.

Seagate has relied on 9.5 mm drives for quite a while, so it is unlikely to be able to match WD’s capacity for quite some time. We expect Hitachi GST and Samsung to quickly match WD’s capacity point with 3-platter 12.5 mm units, as they have done in the past, enabling OEMs like Iomega and LaCie to meet WD’s challenge. It remains to be seen if Seagate and Toshiba will ship 3-platter drive units to compete or wait until they can reach 1 TB with two-platter drives.

Enterprise Implications?

All of this talk of increased capacity inevitably leads to the question of whether these units will find their way into data centers and enterprise storage systems. At this point, Western Digital has not been very successful in the enterprise space, so this particular drive is unlikely to play there, either. But a potential 1 TB Hitachi GST response could indeed be used in enterprise storage.

More interesting is the impact that these 333 GB platters will have. Even if 1 TB drives don’t arrive in enterprise storage units today, this new areal density mark is likely to trickle up to this market. With HP announcing that they would shift to the 2.5 inch form factor for all of their enterprise storage products over the next few years, derivative high-capacity drives from other manufacturers could be the first real entry in the enterprise space.


So although this announcement will not shake the laptop or enterprise markets, it does promise to inject new energy into the portable external drive segment, likely reducing prices for existing products as well. After all, with a 1 TB drive sitting on the shelf, who would want to buy a 250 GB drive even at half the price?

© sfoskett for Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat, 2009. |
WD’s 1 TB Laptop Drive? Not Quite!

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About the author

Stephen Foskett

Stephen Foskett is an active participant in the world of enterprise information technology, currently focusing on enterprise storage, server virtualization, networking, and cloud computing. He organizes the popular Tech Field Day event series for Gestalt IT and runs Foskett Services. A long-time voice in the storage industry, Stephen has authored numerous articles for industry publications, and is a popular presenter at industry events. He can be found online at,, and on Twitter at @SFoskett.

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