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Western Digital Driving Hard to Speed CD-ROMs

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new technology recently introduced by Western Digital Corp. could give hard drives a much more important role in the computer world. The technology, dubbed SDX for storage data acceleration, is designed to improve the performance of CD-ROM drives by using the computer’s hard disk as a sort of loading dock for information.

Any time a CD-ROM is loaded into the computer, its data would be temporarily stored on a designated portion of the computer’s hard drive called a cache. So when the computer needs to get information from the CD-ROM, it can pluck it from the hard drive instead.

The key advantage is that computers are able to scoop up data from a hard drive about 10 times faster than they can from a CD-ROM. That would make it far quicker for computer users to look up entries in CD-ROM encyclopedias, or run almost any other CD-ROM software.

Industry analysts said the development could give Western Digital, which controls about 25% of the hard drive market, an advantage over rival manufacturers such as Quantum and Seagate. “I think this could be a big deal,” said David Kerdell, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. in New York. “About 80% of the computers being made today have CD-ROM drives, and if you need CD-ROM capability, you’re going to want this technology.”

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Marcus Kellerman, applications engineer at Western Digital, said the company has been working on the technology for about three years, and that it will be a standard feature on all of the hard drives the company ships starting in April.

He added that the company, not wanting to set off a Beta-versus-VHS-style standards war, is sharing information with other manufacturers free of charge.

Still, Western Digital has at least a six-month head start before rivals will be able to begin manufacturing disks with similar capabilities.

Kellerman said the technology will require that at least 150 megabytes of disk space be set aside as a cache. “But our first product that will have this will be a four-gigabyte drive, so dedicating a couple hundred megabytes isn’t too big a deal,” he said.

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The only cloud on the horizon is the question of how many other CD-ROM and hard-drive manufacturers will embrace this technology, said Phil Devin, an analyst at Dataquest in San Jose. “It’s truly a positive step for the end user,” he said. But computer manufacturers will be reluctant to commit to the technology unless there are numerous suppliers.

Kellerman said that initially the technology will be available only from Western Digital and Sanyo, a manufacturer of CD-ROM drives. But other companies including Toshiba and Panasonic have also said they will support SDX.

Greg Miller covers high technology for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-7830 and at greg.miller@latimes.com.


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