Features

Crash protection

National

Issue: "Terror on trial," Oct. 18, 2003

IBM IS ADDING A VIRTUAL AIRBAG TO ITS LAPTOPS. The tech giant last week unveiled what it calls the world's first automatic hard driveÐprotection technology. A special microchip in some new ThinkPads will detect sudden movement and protect the hard drive of a user who drops his computer.

If the chip senses acceleration, it parks the hard drive's read/write head until movement stops. Once the system is stable, normal activity can resume (as long as nothing else is damaged). This increases the likelihood of preserving data. IBM is seeking a patent for this invention, which it calls the Active Protection System.

The new device shows the computer industry is coming to terms with two trends. First, laptops are increasingly prevalent as a person's main computer instead of just a traveling companion. Second, despite all the pleadings about backing up data, much important material stays on a user's hard drive until it is deleted or lost in an accident.

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"If you're rushing to finish a report in an airport and you accidentally drop your notebook, with any other machine you'd face a greater potential for losing all your data," said IBM's Peter Hortensius.

IBM's invention may also save the company from some warranty repairs. The company reports that about 11 percent of corporate laptops are damaged annually. The hard drive is one of the three parts most prone to damage, along with the keyboard and display.

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