The IBM 1Gb Microdrive has arrived, and for those who might enjoy a Doctor Who reference, it is most definitely the Tardis of the hard drive world.
The drive has been designed specifically as a high-capacity storage solution for portable devices such as digital stills cameras, MP3 players and handheld PCs or personal digital assistants.
For the digital photographer with a suitable camera, this means the ability to take more shots at far lower compression settings, before having to connect up to a PC to clear space for more.
For the music fan, there is the means to carry around a 'jukebox' of more than 25 albums of MP3 tracks in one unit. With these space-hungry applications taken care of, the mobile business user's storage options become impressively capacious.
The Microdrive is packed into a 1.7 x 1.4 x 0.2in unit that is CompactFlash-compatible and weighs just 16g. Crammed inside the casing is a single platter and associated head assembly. Even with so much in a small space, the drive still appeared to be as durable as a standard solid-state CompactFlash card, accepting all reasonable levels of rough treatment.
The drive mechanism spins the disk at an impressive 3600rpm and is able to deliver a maximum sustained data rate of 4Mb per second, with an average seek time of just 12ms. These figures might not be up to A/V drive standards, but do mean that the drive is capable of performing relatively speedy file operations, such as playing MP3, Mpeg1 or Windows Media files.
On the down side, IBM's CompactFlash killer can not be used with Type I CF slots, requiring instead the wider CF+ Type II slot. Sadly, this means that the drive is incompatible with a fair number of devices and would-be buyers are advised to visit IBM's website to check compatibility before making a purchase.
However, if your camera or Pocket PC does sport the required CompactFlash socket, installation of the unit is a breeze, with the supplied drivers rarely required. Just simply connect the Microdrive to a laptop or desktop via PC Card (PCMCIA) or USB adapter, and Windows 98/2000 recognises the unit as a standard IDE hard-disk - complete with full file management and transfer facilities.
Getting so much into such a small form factor requires cutting-edge technology and the Microdrive comes with a significant price tag to reflect the effort.
Looking at it on a 'pence-per-Mb' basis however, the Microdrive offers a far more cost-effective solution than the CompactFlash alternative. The drive offers all-round better value for money than the older 340Mb model, with the new 1Gb drive not only 30 per cent faster but also consuming 30 per cent less power - a significant consideration for mobile users.
Earlier models of this unique IBM wonder have already had a significant effect on the handheld market sector, with compatible devices holding a definite advantage in the marketplace.
With all things considered, £415 is a large chunk of money to spend on such a small product, but if you're up for it, this innovative piece of kit will breathe new life and functionality into any suitable handheld device.
Contact IBM 01475 898125