Another American Giant – Western Digital
Western Digital Corporation (often abbreviated as WDC or WD) has a long history in the electronics industry as an integrated circuit and calculator maker as well as a storage products company.
The company, was founded in 1970 by Alvin B. Phillips, a Motorola employee, as General Digital and briefly got involved in production of MOS test equipment, finally becoming a speciality semiconductor maker. In 1971 it adopted its current name and with start-up capital provided by several individual investors, including industrial giant Emerson Electric Company and introduced their first product, the WD1402A UART. UART stands for universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter, a piece of computer hardware that translates data between parallel and serial forms.
Prior to establishing a hard disk drive production operation the company nearly vanished when they filled for bancrupcy in 1976.What drove WD forward was their 1771 integrated circuit, the first disk drive formatter/controller. Despite a price far higher than average CMOS chips of the time, it was very successful and extremely profitable.
In the early 1980s, WDC were making hard disk drive controllers. Their controller, the WD1003, later became the basis of the ATA interface. This controller helped the company to win the contract with IBM for their PC/AT. WDC developed this contoller along with Compaq and Control Data Corporation’s MPI division, now owned by Seagate Technology. Throughout most of the 1980s, the family of WD1003 controllers generated enormous corporate growth.
During this time WDC purchased a number of hardware companies. These companies included graphics cards manufacturers (Paradise), core logic chipsets producers (Faraday Electronics Inc.), SCSI controller chips for disk and tape devices (ADSI) and networking companies. These acquisitions turned out to be very profitable especially Paradise, which produced one of the best VGA cards of the era. However, their disk controllers and storage-related chips were their biggest money makers.
They introduced the WD33C93 single-chip SCSI interface, WD37C65, a single-chip implementation of the PC/AT’s floppy disk controller circuitry, and finally the “grandfather” of modern super I/O chips – Vanilla, was the first single-chip ATA hard disk controller. Acquisition of the hard drive production assets of PC hardware maker Tandon led to WDC becoming a hard disk drive maker.
By the early 90s, the PC industry moved from ESDI drives to ATA and SCSI. These were the days when WDC started to produce their Caviar drives, a brand new design that used the latest in embedded servo and drives diagnostic systems. In a short period of time their Caviars were selling so well that WDC decided to sell off Paradise to Philips, their networking and floppy drive controller divisions went to SMC Networks and their SCSI chip business went to Future Domain, which was later bought out by Adaptec.
Being a victim of their own success, WDs products and ideas started to slip further behind products of other makers, and quality began to suffer. In an attempt to make some changes, WD went for the help of IBM. The agreement they made gave WD the rights to use IBM technologies, like giant magneto-resistive (GMR) heads, and gave them access to IBM production facilities. The Expert line of drives was born, introduced in early 1999.
The idea worked, and WD regained respect. In the following years WD was back on track constantly increasing their drive capacity and performance. In 2003, WD acquired most of the assets of bankrupt, one-time market leading, magnetic hard drive read-write head developer, Read-Rite Corporation. At this time, WDC broke ties with IBM, after which they decided to leave the hard disk drive industry selling their assets to Hitachi forming Hitachi Global Storage Technologies.
In 2007, WD acquired magnetic media maker Komag and adopted perpendicular recording technology in their line of notebook and desktop drives. This allowed them to produce notebook and desktop drives in the largest class of the time. Western Digital also started to produce energy efficient ‘Green Power’ drives, notable for their very low power consumption and heat dissipation. Green Power had relatively good performance.
WD entered the solid-state drive market with the acquisition of Siliconsystems, Inc. Three years later, in 2012, Western Digital completed the acquisition of Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and became the largest traditional hard drive manufacturer in the world! Again, the accusition of HGST made possible for WD to accuire another new technology, helium-filled hard disk drives. This new line of hard disk drives claims a 49% of reduction in power usage per terabyte of storage when compared to air-filled ones. Just about a month ago, Western Digital acquired Skyera, a flash-based storage development company, which is now part of their HGST division.
After the acquisition of HGST, Western Digital had to comply with the requirements of regulatory agencies and divested to Toshiba assets to manufacture and sell 3.5-inch hard drives for desktop and consumer electronics markets. This brought a third hard disk drive manufacturer into the light, Toshiba is now making hard disk drives for desktop computers.
Read more about the consolidation of hard disk drive maker from the Land of the Rising Sun in our next article.