The move to 3TB hard drives may have been thrown off track by problems with the PC's festering legacy, but Seagate has managed to patch enough of the issues to knock out the world's first 3TB hard drive.
Given the issues involved (opens in new tab) in booting from a drive larger than 2.2TB, Seagate has chosen to introduce its 3TB drive via its external FreeAgent GoFlex series, rather than the standard 3.5-inch internal brick.
That's not to say that there haven't been problems that needed to be overcome, though. In theory, you need a GUID partition table (GPT) in the hard drive's master boot record in order to go beyond the 2.2TB barrier. This is fine in new 64-bit operating systems such as Windows Vista and Windows 7, but it causes problems with older 32-bit systems, including Windows XP.
However, PC World (opens in new tab) reports that Seagate has circumvented the partition table issue by using 4KB sectors (the smallest amount of addressable space), rather than the usual 512-byte sectors. In effect, this means the drive requires fewer addresses than a standard drive.
The company's SmartAlign (opens in new tab) technology then tricks the master boot record into thinking it's using a standard drive with 512-byte sectors to ensure compatibility, and then realigns the partitions without the need for extra software. Seagate claims that it can do this without any notable drop in performance.
By shifting over to larger sectors, Seagate has effectively been able to move beyond the 2.2TB barrier, but it hasn't massively increased the areal density. As such, the drive spreads the 3TB capacity over a large stack of five 600GB platters, rather than the usual four found in top-end hard drives.
The drive comes with a USB 2 interface as standard, but you can plug in an extra module to give you a USB 3 or FireWire interface as well.
Seagate says that the high capacity is needed to help, "meet the explosive worldwide demand for digital content storage in both the home and the office." The company says the 3TB could be used to store up to 120 HD movies, 1,500 video games or "countless" hours of digital music.
There's no word on UK pricing or availability yet, but we're promised more information imminently. As a point of reference, the drive has an RRP of $250 in the US, which works out at £166 over here. We'll update you as soon as we get any further details.