Western Digital

Western Digital Corporation (abbreviated WDC, commonly known as simply Western Digital and WD) is an American computer hard disk drive manufacturer and data storage company. It designs, manufactures and sells data technology products, including storage devices, data center systems and cloud storage services.

Western Digital Corporation
Traded asNASDAQ: WDC
NASDAQ-100 Component
S&P 500 Component
IndustryComputer storage
FoundedApril 23, 1970 (1970-04-23) (as General Digital)
FounderAlvin B. Phillips
Area served
Key people
Stephen D. Milligan (CEO)
Revenue US$ 20.65 billion (2018)
US$3.617 billion (2018)
US$675 million (2018)
Total assets US$29.235 billion (2018)
Total equity US$11.531 billion (2018)
Number of employees
72,000 (2018)[1]

Western Digital has a long history in the electronics industry as an integrated circuit maker and a storage products company. It is also one of the larger computer hard disk drive manufacturers, along with its primary competitor Seagate Technology.[2]



Western Digital was founded on April 23, 1970, by Alvin B. Phillips, a Motorola employee, as General Digital, initially (and briefly) a manufacturer of MOS test equipment. It rapidly became a speciality semiconductor maker, with start-up capital provided by several individual investors and industrial giant Emerson Electric. Around July 1971, it adopted its current name and soon introduced its first product, the WD1402A UART.

The company was financed by Emerson Electric Company and investors, to sell calculator chips through the early years of the 1970s, and by 1975, Western Digital was the largest independent calculator chip maker in the world. The oil crisis of the mid-1970s and the bankruptcy of its biggest calculator customer, Bowmar Instrument,[3] changed its fortunes, however, and in 1976 Western Digital declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After this, Emerson Electric withdrew their support of the company.

Western Digital introduced several products during the late 1970s, including the MCP-1600 multi-chip, microcoded CPU. The MCP-1600 was used to implement DEC's LSI-11 system and their own Pascal MicroEngine microcomputer which ran the UCSD p-System Version III and UCSD Pascal. However, the WD integrated circuit that arguably drove Western's forward integration was the FD1771.[4], one of the first single-chip floppy disk drive formatter/controllers, which could replace significant amounts of TTL logic.


The FD1771 and its kin were Western Digital's first entry into the data storage industry; by the early 1980s, they were making hard disk drive controllers, and in 1983, they won the contract to provide IBM with controllers for the PC/AT. That controller, the WD1003, became the basis of the ATA interface (which Western Digital developed along with Compaq and Control Data Corporation's MPI division, now owned by Seagate Technology), starting in 1986. Throughout most of the 1980s, the family of controllers based on the WD1003 provided the bulk of Western Digital's revenues and profits, and for a time generated enormous corporate growth.

Much of the mid-to-late 1980s saw an effort by Western Digital to use the profits from their ATA storage controllers to become a general-purpose OEM hardware supplier for the PC industry. As a result, Western Digital purchased a number of hardware companies. These included graphics cards (through its Paradise subsidiary, purchased 1986, which became Western Digital Imaging), core logic chipsets (by purchasing Faraday Electronics Inc. in 1987), SCSI controller chips for disk and tape devices (by purchasing ADSI in 1986), networking (WD8003, WD8013 Ethernet and WD8003S StarLAN). They did well (especially Paradise, which produced one of the best VGA cards of the era), but storage-related chips and disk controllers were their biggest money makers. In 1986, they introduced the WD33C93 single-chip SCSI interface, which was used in the first 16-bit bus mastering SCSI host adapter, the WD7000 "FASST"; in 1987 they introduced the WD37C65, a single-chip implementation of the PC/AT's floppy disk controller circuitry, and the grandfather of modern super I/O chips; in 1988 they introduced the WD42C22 "Vanilla", the first single-chip ATA hard disk controller.

1988 also brought what would be the biggest change in Western Digital's history. That year, Western Digital bought the hard drive production assets of PC hardware maker Tandon; the first products of that union under Western Digital's own name were the "Centaur" series of ATA and XT attachment drives.


By 1991, things were starting to slow down, as the PC industry moved from ST-506 and ESDI drives to ATA and SCSI, and thus were buying fewer hard disk controller boards. That year saw the rise of Western Digital's Caviar drives, brand new designs that used the latest in embedded servo and computerized diagnostic systems.

Eventually, the successful sales of the Caviar drives resulted in Western Digital starting to sell some of its divisions. Paradise was sold to Philips, and since disappeared. Its networking and floppy drive controller divisions went to SMC Networks and its SCSI chip business went to Future Domain, which was later bought out by market leader Adaptec. Around 1995, the technological lead that the Caviar drives had enjoyed was eclipsed by newer offerings from other companies, especially Quantum Corp., and Western Digital fell into a slump.

Products and ideas of this time did not go far. The Portfolio drive (a 3-inch (76 mm) form factor model, developed with JT Storage) was a flop, as was the SDX hard disk to CD-ROM interface. Western Digital's drives started to slip further behind competing products, and quality began to suffer; system builders and PC enthusiasts who used to recommend Western Digital above all else, were going to the competition, particularly Maxtor, whose products had improved significantly by the late 1990s.

In an attempt to turn the tide in 1998, Western Digital recruited the help of IBM. This agreement gave Western Digital the rights to use certain IBM technologies, including giant magneto-resistive (GMR) heads and access to IBM production facilities. The result was the Expert line of drives, introduced in early 1999. The idea worked, and Western Digital regained respect in the press and among users, even despite a recall in 2000 (which was due to bad motor driver chips). Western Digital later broke ties to IBM.


In 2001, Western Digital became the first manufacturer to offer mainstream ATA hard disk drives with 8 MiB of disk buffer. At that time, most desktop hard disk drives had 2 MB of buffer. Western Digital labeled these 8 MB models as "Special Edition" and distinguished them with the JB code (the 2 MB models had the BB code). The first 8 MB cache drive was the 100 GB WD1000JB, followed by other models starting with 40 GB capacity. Western Digital advertised the JB models for cost-effective file servers. In October 2001, Western Digital restated its prior year results to reflect the adoption of SEC Staff Accounting Bulletin No.101 and the reclassification of Connex and SANavigator results as discontinued operations.[5]

In 2003, Western Digital acquired most of the assets of bankrupt one-time market leading magnetic hard drive read-write head developer Read-Rite Corporation. In the same year, Western Digital offered the first 10,000 rpm Serial ATA HDD, the WD360GD "Raptor", with a capacity of 36 GB and an average access time of less than six milliseconds. Soon, the 74 GB WD740GD followed, which was also much quieter. In 2004, Western Digital redesigned its logo for the first time since 1997, with the design of new logo focusing on the company's initials ("WD").[6] In 2005, Western Digital released the 150 GB version, the WD1500, which was also available in a special version with a transparent window enabling the user to see the drive's heads move over the platters while the drive read and wrote data. As of 2004, the Western Digital Raptor drives have a five-year warranty, making them a more attractive choice for inexpensive storage servers, where a large number of drives in constant use increases the likelihood of a drive failure.

In 2006, Western Digital introduced its My Book line of mass market external hard drives that feature a compact book-like design. On October 7, 2007, Western Digital released several editions of a single 1 TB hard drive, the largest in its My Book line.

In 2007, Western Digital acquired magnetic media maker Komag. Also in the same year, Western Digital adopted perpendicular recording technology in its line of notebook and desktop drives. This allowed it to produce notebook and desktop drives in the largest classes of the time. Western Digital also started to produce the energy efficient GP (Green Power) range of drives.

In 2007, Western Digital announced the WD GP drive touting rotational speed "between 7200 and 5400 rpm", which is technically correct while also being misleading; the drive spins at 5405 rpm, and the Green Power spin speed is not variable.[7] WD GP drives are programmed to unload the heads whenever idle for a very short period of time.[8] Many Linux installations write to the file system a few times a minute in the background.[9] As a result, there may be 100 or more load cycles per hour, and the 300,000 load cycles rating of a WD GP drive may be exceeded in less than a year.[10]

On April 21, 2008, Western Digital announced the next generation of its 10,000 rpm SATA WD Raptor series of hard drives. The new drives, called WD VelociRaptor, featured 300 GB capacity and 2.5-inch (64 mm) platters enclosed in the IcePack, a 3.5-inch (89 mm) mounting frame with a built-in heat sink. Western Digital said that the new drives are 35 percent faster than the previous generation. On September 12, 2008, Western Digital shipped a 500 GB 2.5-inch (64 mm) notebook hard drive which is part of their Scorpio Blue series of notebook hard drives.

On January 27, 2009, Western Digital shipped the first 2 TB internal hard disk drive.[11] On March 30, 2009, they entered the solid-state drive market with the acquisition of Siliconsystems, Inc. On July 27, 2009, Western Digital announced the first 1 TB mobile hard disk drive, which shipped as both a Passport series portable USB drive as well as a Scorpio Blue series notebook drive.[12]

In October 2009, Western Digital announced the shipment of first 3 TB internal hard disk drive, which has 750 GB-per-platter density with SATA interface.[13]


In March 2011, Western Digital agreed to acquire the storage unit of Hitachi, HGST, for about $4.3 billion of which $3.5 billion was paid in cash and the rest with 25 million shares of Western Digital.[14]

In March 2012, Western Digital completed the acquisition of HGST and became the largest traditional hard drive manufacturer in the world; to address the requirements of regulatory agencies, in May 2012 Western Digital divested assets to manufacture and sell certain 3.5-inch hard drives for the desktop and consumer electronics markets to Toshiba, in exchange for one of its 2.5-inch hard drive factories in Thailand.[15]

In February 2014, Western Digital announced a new "Purple" line of hard disk drives for use in video surveillance systems, with capacities from 1 to 4 TB. They feature internal optimizations for applications that involve near-constant disk writing, and "AllFrame" technology which is designed to reduce write errors.[16]

In October 2015, after being required to operate the company autonomously from WD, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued a decision allowing the company to begin integrating HGST into its main business, but under the condition that it maintain the HGST brand and sales team for at least two more years.[17]

In May 2016, Western Digital acquired SanDisk for US$19 billion.[18][19] In the summer of 2017, Western Digital licensed the Fusion-io/SanDisk ION Accelerator software to One Stop Systems.[20] In August 2017, Western Digital acquired cloud storage provider Upthere, with the intention to continue building out the service.[21] In September 2017, Western Digital acquired Tegile Systems, maker of flash memory storage arrays.[22]

In April 2017, Western Digital moved its headquarters from Irvine, California to San Jose, California.[23] In December 2017, Western Digital reached an agreement with Toshiba about the sale of the jointly owned NAND production facility in Japan.[24] In May 2018, Toshiba reached an agreement with the Bain consortium about the sale of that chip unit.[25]

In July 2018, Western Digital announced their plan to close their hard disk production facility in Kuala Lumpur.[26] The company ranked 158th on the 2018 Fortune 500 of the largest United States corporations by revenue.[27]

In June 2019, Kioxia experienced a power cut at one of its factories in Yokkaichi, Japan, resulting in the loss of at least 6 exabytes of flash memory, with some sources estimating the loss as high as 15 exabytes. Western Digital used (and still uses) Kioxia's facilities for making its own flash memory chips.[28][29][30][31]


Hard drives

Self-encrypting Western Digital hard drives have been reported to have severe faults and to be easy to decrypt.[32]

Western Digital was the last manufacturer of parallel ATA hard disk drives for laptops (2.5-inch form factor) and desktop PCs (3.5-inch form factor), producing them until December 2013.[33] Furthermore, they were the only manufacturer that have 250 GB and 320 GB in 2.5-inch form factor.

Western Digital Purple hard drives are designed for write-heavy workloads; for instance, security applications (ex: recording video). These drives feature AllFrame technology, which attempts to reduce video frame loss, time limited error recovery, and support for the ATA streaming command set.[34]

Western Digital sells data center software and system solutions.[35] Including an enterprise-class Ultrastar product line.[36] In October 2017, Western Digital shipped the world’s first 14 TB HDD, the helium-filled HGST Ultrastar Hs14.[37][38]

Consumer products

Western Digital sells consumer storage products under the WD brand, with product families called My Passport, My Book, WD TV, and My Cloud. While traditionally these products have used HDDs, Western Digital has started to offer SSD versions, such as the My Passport SSD, its first portable SSD.[39] In September 2015, Western Digital released My Cloud OS 3, a platform that enables connected HDDs to sync between PCs and mobile devices.[40][41]

Western Digital also sells consumer data technology products under the SanDisk and G-Technology product brands, as well as cloud storage services under the Upthere brand. Through Western Digital’s acquisition of Upthere, the company offers personal cloud storage through the Upthere Home app and UpOS operating system.[42][43]

Under the SanDisk brand, Western Digital offers mobile storage products, cards and readers, USB flash drives, SSDs and MP3 players. Most of Western Digital’s consumer flash memory products are offered through SanDisk. The SanDisk iXpand product family, including the iXpand Flash Drive and iXpand Base, is made specifically for use with the Apple iPhone and iPad.[44][45][46] The 400GB SanDisk Ultra microSDXC UHS-I card was designed primarily for use in Android smartphones that include an expansion slot.[47][48]

Under the G-Technology brand, Western Digital offers HDD, SSD, platforms and systems products designed specifically for creative professionals.[49][50][49]

Corporate affairs

Western Digital Capital is Western Digital's investment arm.[51][52] It has contributed funding for data technology companies such as Elastifile and Avere Systems.[53][54][55]


Lawsuits have been filed against various manufacturers including Western Digital,[56] related to the claimed capacity of their drives. The drives are labelled using the convention of 103 (1,000) bytes to the kilobyte, resulting in a perceived capacity shortfall when reported by most operating systems, which tend to use 210 (1,024) bytes to the kilobyte.[57]

While Western Digital maintained that they used "the indisputably correct industry standard for measuring and describing storage capacity", and that they "cannot be expected to reform the software industry", they agreed to settle in March 2006,[58] with a $30 refund to affected customers in the form of backup and recovery software of the same value.[57]


Acquisition date Company Product types Price Refs
March 8, 2012 HGST HDD, SSD $3.9×10^9 [59]
January 22, 2013 Arkeia Software Backup Software
September 12, 2013 sTec SSD $340,000,000 [60][61]
October 17, 2013 Virident SSD, system and software $685,000,000 [62][63]
March 16, 2015 Amplidata Software   [64]
May 12, 2016 SanDisk SSD, system and software, NAND flash, embedded $1.9×10^10 [65]
August 28, 2017 Upthere Flash, persistent, cloud services   [66]
September 2017 Tegile Flash, persistent, cloud services   [67][68]


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