Beginning early next year, Seagate Technology will begin shipping its first widely available hard drives with built-in encryption.

The Momentus 5400 FDE.2 (Full Disk Encryption 2) will include a special encryption chip that will make it impossible for anyone to read data off the disk – or even boot up a PC – without some form of authentication. Designed for notebook computers, the 2.5in, 5,400rpm drive will come with a storage capacity of 80GB, 120GB or 160GB.

Users could give a password to gain access to the drive, but Seagate expects notebook vendors to also develop other authentication systems such as fingerprint and smart-card readers.

Although PC makers have not yet publicly announced support for the technology, which Seagate is calling DriveTrust, Scott Shimomura, senior product marketing manager at the disk maker, said he expects "many" PC makers to ship systems with the disk.

Seagate is also working with software vendors to develop things such as enterprise password management systems that work with the drives, he said.

This kind of widespread adoption would distinguish the FDE.2 from Seagate's first attempt at full drive encryption, the Momentus 5400 FDE, announced in June of last year.

Unlike the FDE, the FDE.2 will ship with better-performing 128bit AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption and faster Sata (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) interface.

Seagate's drives will be available to notebook manufacturers around January, which means they should ship in notebooks shortly thereafter, Shimomura said.

Seagate also expects to expand DriveTrust to its desktop and storage array platforms at some point, Shimomura said. "There's nothing to say that this couldn't eventually make its way into the smaller form factor drives as well," he added.

A recent survey by security vendor Vontu and the Ponemon Institute found that 81 per cent of respondents reported that their companies had lost laptops containing sensitive information in the previous year. In 2006, lost or stolen laptops have been blamed for possible data breaches at Ernst & Young, Ahold USA and, most famously, the US Department of Veterans Affairs.