Flash Memory

NYTimes writes about the increasing use of flash memory:

Vast improvements in flash memory cards – small, thin, but decidedly unsexy products capable of storing hundreds of photographs – have made the significant growth in digital camera sales possible.

But now these devices, known by such names as CompactFlash, Memory Stick and SD Card are also becoming the storage media of choice for a range of other consumer products, including TV’s, cellphones, music players, personal digital assistants and camcorders. And as the notion of the connected home begins to resonate, ever-smaller versions of flash memory cards will routinely be found, offering consumers an easy way to transfer pictures, movies, music and data from one to another.

Yet like film before it, flash memory’s dominance will also be challenged by yet another storage format – mini hard drives, which are tiny, fast-spinning disks that can store multiple gigabytes of information.

Flash memory has some inherent advantages, though. Unlike hard drives, the devices have no moving parts and can be subjected to more rough handling without fear of erasing data. And low-capacity versions capable of storing several hundred pictures cost a quarter the price of the current crop of tiny hard drives.

A 256MB flash memory card is more than adequate to store hundreds of still photographs, but much more storage capacity is needed for long home movies or thousands of songs. As the industry develops flash memory cards capable of storing up to 4GB of data, the challenge will be producing them at a cost that is competitive with miniature hard drives of the same capacity.

Several mini hard drives, measuring as little as one cubic inch, are available for less than $100 wholesale from companies like Cornice, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies and RioSpring. Last month, Toshiba announced what are said to be the world’s smallest hard drives, 2GB and 4GB models that are less than an inch long.

While hard drive memory, per megabyte, is less expensive, individual flash cards, irrespective of capacity, will probably always be cheaper.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.