Flash Memory: On Its Way Down

0 comments

Posted on 3rd July 2014 by admin in Tech

, ,

fbFor buyers, prices are falling and supply is plentiful. Flash chips that were on allocation in 2013 are now readily available. For suppliers, demand will be strong as more electronics equipment makers use flash and the amount of flash memory in portable electronic equipment grows.

Suppliers may bemoan the fact that demand dropped off in first quarter 2014 and prices fell about 30%-50% from fourth quarter 2000. However, the $10-billion flash market is still expected to grow 19% to $12.6 billion in 2001, says market researcher IC Insights. That may pale compared to the 130% growth in 2013 over 2012, but the overall semiconductor market is expected to fall 9% in 2001, according to market researcher IC Insights. Nineteen percent growth means there will be solid annual demand for flash despite the overall semiconductor industry slowdown.

Flash memory manufacturers say that while they are concerned about the first quarter slowdown, they believe demand will start to build in the second half and continue through year-end. Next year has potential to be another banner year for flash.

“We expect things will pick up in third quarter because we expect people to continue buying computers, automobiles, DSL modems, handheld computers and cell phones,” says Kevin Plouse, technical marketing manager for AMD, the second biggest flash memory manufacturer next to Intel. The items Plouse mentions all use flash memory.

Plouse notes also that in the past seven years, quarter-to-quarter flash shipments have fallen on only three occasions, and it never took more than two quarters for unit sales to resume growth.

Cell phones are the single biggest user of flash and will remain so for years. Reason: Cell phone manufacturers keep adding features to cell phones that require more memory As functionality increases, consumers will be apt to buy new phones.

While cell phone shipments have slowed, there is still strong demand. After growing to about 420 million units in 2000 from about 280 in 1999, cell phone unit shipments are expected to total between 460-480 million units in 2001. Each cell phone has a flash chip.

Most cell phones will probably ship with 16-megabit (Mb) chips, but in coming years phones will use higher density 32-Mb and 64-Mb parts as more units become Internet enabled and have voice-recognition features. “There are going to be real reasons for people to change their phones because new subscribers are about 100 million on average. Growth is coming from people who want to replace their phones.

While cell phones are the single biggest user of flash, there are emerging applications for flash which will drive growth for years to come. Example: automobiles where flash is being used in both engine control and global positioning satellite (GPS) systems. “Now cars are moving more to a PC model where you have Internet access, voice-activated e-mail from the car,” says Plouse. “It will be flash-based. Dashboards are one of the fastest growing applications for flash. Car shipments won’t go up much but flash content will go up significantly,” he says.

Set-top boxes, digital cameras and MP3 players also will drive flash growth. Unit sales of these devices will increase as well as the amount of flash memory per unit. That means a transition to higher density flash devices, which have higher price tags.

Buyers can also expect more devices–such as MP3 players, digital cameras, and other consumer electronics equipment–using nand technology for data storage. Nand flash technology is less complex, and therefore less expensive, than the nor flash technology used for code storage in cell phones. A 64-Mb nor flash chip costs between $20-$25. A 64-Mb nand would be less than $8.00

Both nor and nand flash will move to higher densities in the coming year. Most nor devices will be 16-Mb units, but there will also be growth in shipments of 32-Mb and 64-Mb devices.

The flash market is about 65% nor, but that will equalize in coming years as popularity of protable electronic equipment grows. “Nand is more diverse than nor,” says Kevin Kilbuck, director of business development for Toshiba. “It is used in everything from digital cameras and MP3 players to huge disk arrays used for flight recorders and military uses. The market for nand will grow two times nor” in the next three years, he says.

With nand, the most popular densities were 64 Mb and 128 Mb last year. That will shift to 256 Mb this year, says Kilbuck.

Memory cards, which use nand flash, had been eight and 16 megabytes. “Those were built with 64-Mb devices. Memory cards are shifting to 32 megabytes, and 256-Mb devices will be used.”

The move to higher density devices is one reason that average selling prices for flash will increase from $5.70 last year to $6.27 in 2001 despite declining prices overall. In general, a 32-Mb part costs twice as much as a 16-Mb device.

However, buyers of low-density parts will continue to see significant price declines, says Brian Matas, an analyst with IC Insights. Tags were down 30% for 8- and 16-Mb parts and 40%-50% for 2-and 4-Mb devices, he says. “Our forecast is for prices to fall 10% on a blended mix across the industry, says AMD’s Plouse.

But that may be conservative. Last year, a number of flash makers announced expansions. If new capacity comes on line it will boost supply and further weaken prices.

Upgrade Tips For Old Notebooks

0 comments

Posted on 21st June 2014 by admin in Tech

,

utonbWhen considering upgrading your notebook, you’ve got to keep two caveats in mind. First, the lack of standardization among portables means you must take time with manufacturers and vendors to tailor your upgrade to your specific notebook and to do some comparison shopping. Vendors’ Web sites can help you find the correct parts, even though you may choose not to buy through them. In some cases, you may conclude that the process simply isn’t worth the time and effort. Second, consider the following procedures a guide to typical upgrade steps. The actual steps (especially for installing the hard drive) will vary depending on your notebook and on the particular upgrade solution you choose.

THE TOP DOWN

Benefits: RAM, better Windows performance: hard drive, greater capacity

Costs: 32GB RAM upgrade $75-$150, 64GB RAM upgrade S150-S300, hard drive upgrade (750GB-7TB) $250-$l300

Expertise level: Intermediate Time required: RAM, 15-30 minutes; hard drive, 1-2 hours

Tools required: Various sizes of Phillips screwdrivers, antistatic wrist strap

Vendors: Notebook manufacturers (check their Web sites), Kingston Technology (www.kingston.com). Simple Technology (www.simpletech.com), Crucial Technology (www.crucial.com)

BEFORE YOU BEGIN

1 Do some research. Find out the amount of RAM in your notebook (watch your display at Start-up or right-click My Computer, select Properties, and look on the General tab) and the size of your hard drive (open My Computer, right-click the drive’s icon, and select Properties). Check the Web site of your notebook’s maker to see whether It has upgrades available. Then visit the Web sites of companies that specialize In upgrades (third-party vendors are likely to be cheaper).

2 Prepare to upgrade, it’s an excellent idea (though not essential) to confirm that your notebook’s BIOS is up-to-date. Visit the support section of your notebook vendor’s Web site. To ensure that your old hard drive is trouble-free (you’ll need to copy data from it later), run both ScanDisk (Start*Programs*Accessories*System Tools*ScanDisk) and Disk Defragmenter (Start*Programs*Accessories*System Tools*Disk Defragmenter). Finally, completely back up your hard drive. If you don’t have a tape backup for your notebook, back up your data flies onto floppy disks.

ADDING RAM

1 Find the old RAM and install the new RAM. Don a properly grounded antistatic wrist strap (available at your local electronic parts store), and make sure your notebook is turned of f and unplugged from AC power. Remove the battery, too. Follow the instructions that came with your RAM upgrade (or check your notebook’s instruction manual) to find the RAM sockets. You may need to remove one or more screws to access it. Carefully remove the new RAM from its antistatic packaging, and install it in your notebook. Make sure it’s firmly seated in the socket. Reattach the RAM cover and the battery.

2 Check it out. Turn your notebook on. You should see the new amount of RAM displayed on the screen at startup. If you don’t, go back to the RAM compartment (disconnecting power and using the antistatic guard as before) and make sure the new RAM is correctly installed, if that doesn’t help, call tech support.

INSTALLING A NEW HARD DRIVE

1 Copy the old to the new, install the software that came as part of your hard drive upgrade kit, and follow the directions for copying the data from the old drive to the new one.

2 Remove the old drive. Put on a grounded antistatic wrist strap, make sure your notebook is turned off and unplugged, and confirm that the battery is removed. Follow the directions with the upgrade kit to remove the old drive. This usually entails removing screws.

3 Install the new drive. Working carefully, plug in the new drive and secure it with the screws you removed in the previous step. Replace the battery.

4 Get up and running. Turn your notebook on. if the copying step worked correctly, everything will function as before, but you’ll have more disk space. if your notebook doesn’t automatically recognize the new hard drive, enter your notebook’s setup program (procedures vary) and make sure the BIOS for the drive is set to AUTO. (in some cases, you’ll have to manually enter the drive parameters.)

GPS And Accident Response: Phenomenal Times

0 comments

Posted on 7th June 2014 by admin in Tech

,

gpsMinnesota’s Mayday Plus project combines GPS with in-vehicle accelerometers to automatically relay not only accident location but also crash severity data. The system intelligently routes this information, based on location and type of emergency, directly to public safety dispatchers in the appropriate jurisdiction. Emergency crews can then respond more quickly and with better preparation for the type of accident and probable injuries.

The time between an injury’s occurrence and the provision of emergency medical care can make the difference between life and death in trauma cases. Emergency medical response can save the majority of critically injured patients, if it can reach them and get them to. appropriate care facilities quickly enough. In rural traffic incidents, obtaining accurate location information can consume precious minutes, reducing the time physicians have to save a victim’s life.

Minnesota’s Mayday Plus project has developed and operationally tested a special emergency response communications system through the state highway patrol and emergency medical dispatch centers. The system automatically provides collision notification, using GPS to furnish location and other in-vehicle sensors to sense and transmit crash severity data. The Mayday Plus system relays vehicle location information, direction of crash impact, the vehicle’s final resting position, and the change in velocity during the crash. It intelligently routes this data, based on location and type of emergency, directly to the dispatchers in the appropriate jurisdiction. After transmission, the system automatically opens a direct voice connection to passengers in the car.

Traffic on rural Minnesota roads accounts for 30 percent of miles travelled, but 70 percent of the state’s accident fatalities. National statistics tell a similar story, demonstrating the need for improved accident response in rural settings, where single-vehicle and run-off-the-road crashes can go undetected for hours, and where accurately locating and quickly dispatching assistance presents difficulties.

Cellular phones provide a tool for vehicle occupants to quickly report roadway incidents. However, this method does not currently provide accurate location data to emergency responders, who must rely on the caller’s ability to give accurate information. Further, it requires a conscious individual to make a call. In a serious incident on a deserted rural highway, the victims may be unconscious, and passers-by rare. It could take several hours to notify the appropriate emergency services for the jurisdiction.

Other current commercial Mayday systems use airbag deployment sensors to detect and send notification of crashes, but these cannot provide information on the nature or severity of the crash, and the urgency of sending assistance.

Mayday Plus, a public-private, multiple-organization partnership, developed and tested a response system integrating existing emergency response agencies with the rapidly growing commercial market of in-vehicle Mayday products and services. The project prepares for scalable deployment of a self-sustaining automated accident location and collision severity notification system. The project encompassed system design, implementation, onsite testing, training, and a sixmonth operational test phase using 50 vehicles from August, 1999 through January, 2000. Mayday Plus demonstrates the technical feasibility of such a system, and identifies and seeks to resolve jurisdictional issues involved in emergency response.

System Description

The Mayday Plus system targets a direct voice and data link from the accident vehicles to emergency dispatchers in southeastern Minnesota. The system includes:

* the in-vehicle equipment suite shown in Figure 1, comprising the In-Vehicle Module (IVM), a cell phone handset and transceiver, a back-up battery, and associated antennas

* dispatch interface workstations at Minnesota State Patrol District 2100 (MSP 2100), Mayo Clinic Emergency Communications Center (MECC), and the Rural Metro National Message Center (NMC)

* data and voice communication links (shown in Figure 2) between the in-vehicle equipment, NMC, MSP 2100, and MECC via the gateway communications system.

Cell phone. The IVM controls the cellular transceiver and handset via a serial control channel. The handset can be directed to operate as a normal hand-held unit, or can be operated in a hands-free mode directing the audio-out to the larger speaker underneath the keypad, and taking incoming audio from the microphone above the LCD display.

The system software maintains control of the handsfree mode; when the Mayday Plus system detects an accident, it connects the car’s occupants to the dispatcher in hands-free mode regardless of the handset’s position. If the IVM detects a crash while the handset is in use, it overrides the call in progress to establish the Mayday Plus connection — unless the call in progress is already a 911 call.

Battery. The IVM keeps the back-up gel-cell lead-acid battery constantly charged so that it can provide enough emergency power for collision reporting and an extended duration phone call or two, should the accident disconnect or destroy the car’s battery.

IVM. Packaged in a rugged aluminum housing, the IVM contains a high performance (16 bit processor, 13.8 MIP) digital signal processor (DSP), three orthogonally mounted micro-machined accelerometers, an analog to digital converter (ADC), a single-chip modem, a 12-channel GPS receiver board, power conditioning circuitry, and a nonvolatile flash memory (128 kBytes, expandable to 1024 kBytes) to store detailed crash event time histories.

DSP. The IVM uses very DSP-intensive detection and sensor conditioning algorithms; many computations are tight loops of multiplyintensive convolutional equations. The 16-bit fixed-point DSP has a program data bus and a data data bus (internally), and also controls the peripheral devices and telematics sequencing.

The IVM has as much RAM available to it as the DSP can directly address. Since the program and data data busses are multiplexed into a single data bus for external RAM access, the IVM maps both program RAM and data RAM into the same physical set of devices: three 32k by 8-bit RAM chips.

The IVM stores many of its parameters, much of its operational code, and all of the data collected during a collision in flash memory.

Serial I/O. The IVM requires six serial ports: two for the modem and one each for communication with the GPS receiver, the handset, the transceiver, and the diagnostic port. The diagnostic port is used to upload the program and parameters into the IVM, including the transformation matrix that allows the crash algorithm to account for IVM installation orientation within the vehicle. An external Reference Correction Unit used during installation provides the transformation matrix. The diagnostic port also uploads measured event histories.

Modem and audio multiplexing. The IVM uses a singlechip modem, initiating calls at normal V.23 originate baud rates of 75 baud transmit, 1200 baud receive. Since the IVM will transmit the preponderance of information and reception is required only for commands and verification, after connection the channels are immediately reversed so that the IVM transmits at 1200 baud, receives at 75 baud.

GPS Receiver. The system utilizes a 12-channel GPS receiver on a small PC board. This “daughter” board is mounted on the in-vehicle module board and connected via ribbon cable. The GPS signal provides the vehicle latitude, longitude and speed.

Sensors. Three orthogonal accelerometers mounted on the in-vehicle module board record vehicle motion in the X,Y and Z directions. These accelerometers are calibrated to align with the vehicle coordinate system (longitudinal, lateral and vertical directions) during installation.

Digital Signal Processor (DSP). The DSP continuously calibrates and reduces the sensor data, processes the information to recognize a crash, assembles an emergency message, initiates the data and voice cellular communications, and transmits the message. The accelerometer outputs are anti-alias filtered and sampled at 1440 samples per second with an onboard 12-bit analog-to-digital converter. These data are then decimated and filtered to 180 samples per second at 60 Hz.

The system samples the GPS signal at a one per second rate, and incorporates GPS location and speed information into the emergency message.

Power Regulation.

Power for the IVM comes from the automobile’s power, is diode-isolated, and switches automatically between car power and back up battery as needed. After a series of protection and filtering components, a switching regulator converts the voltage to 5V Power for the transceiver and handset comes from the diode node, switched under computer control using a field effect transistor. The battery is float-charged whenever the ignition line is on.

Logic flow. Figure 3 provides a schematic description of the logic flow among in-vehicle components. The crash detection algorithm processes the acceleration data in real time and identifies a crash based on direction-dependent injury producing thresholds of vehicle acceleration and velocity change. The crash characteristics of velocity change, principal direction of crash force (PDOF), rollover, and final rest position are calculated and stored in permanent flash memory along with the complete triaxial acceleration time-history Following the crash event the acceleration data are analyzed and crash parameters determined. The system also obtains vehicle location at the time of crash, expected error in the vehicle location, and vehicle tracking for the preceding 10 seconds.

Communications

The system assembles all this information into a Mayday data packet crash message and initiates the cellular transceiver to call the NMC within one minute of the crash. It sends the message, including the cellular telephone number of the in-vehicle equipment, and date and time the device initiated the request. When the NMC has successfully received all data, the cellular call is switched to voice and the vehicle occupants can talk with Public Safety Answering Poing (PSAP) dispatchers in a hands-free mode. This system differs significantly from currently available airbag-initiated Mayday systems in that it provides measures of crash severity

The gateway communications system routes calls and data intelligently based on the caller’s location and emergency response jurisdictions. This feature makes it unique from other Mayday systems, providing a direct link to public emergency responders and giving the identified agency useful emergency-related data including crash severity parameters. Data from the IVM initially goes to the NMC, which automatically and immediately routes it to MSP 2100 and MECC, when the crash occurred within the MSP and MECC jurisdictions.

If the location information fixes the crash position outside the Minnesota jurisdictions — wherever the location may be, nationwide — the system alerts MNC operators, pops up the relevant local map showing location, identifies the appropriate PSAP for that location and provides the phone number. NMC operators can then contact that PSAP, relay the information, and connect the vehicle directly to that PSAP. This feature gives the Mayday Plus system national rollout capability.

Operational Tests

The operational test phase ran from August 16, 1999 to January 30, 2000, analyzing performance of the IVM, computer software interface applications, communications, and system routing procedures. The tests took place in southeastern Minnesota, location of both the MSP 2100 and the MECC in Rochester. Communications from the vehicles used an established cellular telephone infrastructure.

As this testing took place before the turnoff of selective availability (SA), the GPS system produced accuracies of approximately 100 meters, the best available at the time of the test. Of course this performance will improve in the post-SA environment, and will need to in more difficult location environments.

The system produced a near 100 percent success rate of message routing: it delivered all messages per spec, that is, to the correct PSAP jurisdiction. We experienced some problems with time stamps due to a software problem. The problem was not detected until after the test and was therefore not corrected.

Collision Data

The system gateway records the PDOF the vehicle’s rollover condition, and the vehicle’s final resting position, and displays this information graphically on the call screen. All three pieces of data provide useful information for emergency management personnel in determining the collision’s potential severity, as well as the appropriate resources to dispatch to the scene.

During the Minnesota tests we instrumented 50 vehicles. In addition to these test vehicles, suitcase testers generated synthetic crashes and calls, testing message routing and the effectiveness of the information on PSAP operations.

A sister field operational test in western NewYork had already tested in-vehicle crash sensing equipment. That automatic collision notification (ACN) field test, sponsored by the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), instrumented more than 700 vehicles over several years, and experienced 70 crashes, 48 below threshold and 22 above threshold.

While we configured the suitcase testers to produce only “simple” head-on collisions with a PDOF of 12, no rollover and a final resting position of upright, they provided adequate data for testing the PSAP routing and the system’s data display capabilities.

The PDOF information enables dispatchers to determine if the vehicle had a head-on collision, a side-impact collision, or an impact from behind.

The final vehicle resting position provides information dispatchers can use to determine if the vehicle rested on its roof, side, or upright at the end of the crash.

Accomplishments

The Mayday Plus project developed a gateway for routing Mayday calls throughout Minnesota, a gateway capable of receiving and routing data and voice calls to PSAPs based on type of call and PSAP jurisdictions. It routes data to all PSAPs that may become involved in the call and sends voice to the PSAP responsible for coordinating the call.

The project developed a networked software and a user-friendly graphical user interface (GUI) to support coordinated teams of dispatchers working within and across emergency response centers in southeastern Minnesota.

A national message center (NMC) handled and routed Mayday Plus calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, staffed by certified emergency medical dispatchers, with a Mayday Plus Gateway and equipment for receiving and routing data and voice portions of calls.

The Mayday Plus project attempted to closely match pre-existing emergency protocols and procedures. This required interagency cooperation between MECC and MSP, emergency responders, and other local PSAPs in the test area. Institutional issues encountered during the operational test included agency concerns about loss of jurisdiction, procedural impacts, and increased workload. Working through these concerns in the context of the test began to resolve underlying institutional issues, as those involved saw the benefits of Mayday technology and adapted existing procedures to work with the new Mayday Plus functions.

Conclusions

Test results show widespread user acceptance. Dispatchers found the Mayday Plus system easy to learn and use — not entirely surprising since they had significant input into its design. The location information of successful test calls proved sufficiently accurate for dispatch of emergency services in the test area. Post-SA location accuracy will improve in the future.

Conclusions of the Minnesota Mayday Plus and the NewYork ACN projects include:

In-Vehicle Technology Works. All critical functions of crash sensing, location determination, telematics data communications, and mapping worked together reliably to give PSAPs time-critical crash information. The system provided accurate location and distinguished between crash events and non-crash events. Finally, the equipment survived crashes.

PSAPs Need Mayday Data. The tests demonstrated the feasibility of routing Mayday data to PSAPs for immediate display following emergency events. PSAP dispatchers could put the data to good use, especially the accurate location immediately following the emergency event. Most locations have wireless communications infrastructure in place, although gaps occur in cellular coverage in some rural areas. Building connectivity with commercial Mayday providers constitutes the next key step.

Institutional Barriers Remain. Fears about increased workload and concerns that less-tested systems will replace existing working systems and procedures constitute barriers to national deployment.

When Installed, ACN Works. Mayday systems can save lives only when people purchase them for their vehicles. This requires a commercial model at an affordable price. The continued sales growth of systems like OnStar and Lincoln RESCU indicate Mayday systems’ commercial viability. Challenges include issues of liability and privacy, and better connectivity between commercial Mayday providers and PSAPs.

ACN Reduces Response Time. The tests provided PSAPs with crash notification in less than a minute. This speed together with accurate map display location expedited response.

Next Step

While the Mayday Plus System demonstrated the feasibility and benefits of linking in-vehicle Mayday systems with the emergency response professionals in PSAPs, a key next step must be taken. Government and industry organizations should develop and pursue an approach that can lead to national deployment. This will involve employing accepted communications standards and protocols to allow connectivity with commercial Mayday providers and integration with the existing 9-1-1 call routing system. Efforts now underway build on the technical successes of ACN and Mayday Plus and the market successes of commercial Mayday systems to achieve national Mayday solutions that can save lives on our highways.

RAM Buying Guide

0 comments

Posted on 26th May 2014 by admin in Uncategorized

,

To get the most value for your dollar, don’t spend more on RAM than your system warrants. If you’re considering upping a 2000MHz or slower system to 256MB or 512MB of memory, instead consider a new PC.

What you have, what you need

ramThe simplest way to ensure you get the right kind of memory is to give the serial number and model name of your computer to the memory supplier, which can be the original system manufacturer, a mail-order or Web-based supplier, or a retail outlet. The supplier should be able to provide the exact memory type you need, and possibly determine compatibility with the RAM modules you have.

To decide how much memory to buy, you need to know how much you’ve got and how much more you can fit. Current RAM is displayed during bootup; you’ll see the memory amount cycle by on the initial boot screen. Other wise, hit F2 or the equivalent key to enter the system BIOS, which should be able to tell you the amount as well.

To see how much memory you can add, open the PC case and take a look at the RAM modules. The amount of memory on each module is usually the total system memory divided by the number of modules. If you have 64GB total and two modules, each contains 32GB. Older systems may have 16MB, 8MB, or even 4MB modules, and you could encounter a mix of them. If your system’s RAM total is an unusual increment, say 40GB or 48GB, you could have such a mix. In that case, pull out all the modules and read their numbers to your supplier. You may have to discard some of the lesser modules to open up enough slots for the upgrade.

Most RAM comes in one of two forms: 72-pin SIMM or 168-pin DIMM. You’ll encounter additional distinctions within these formats, such as FPM DRAM or EDO DRAM (if you’re using SIMMs), or SDRAM (if you’re using DIMMs). Again, rely on your supplier to help ensure that you get compatible types. A recent development is DRDRAM, found on high-speed Pentium-based machines and available in modules called RIMMs.

Another consideration is the rated speed of the memory, measured in nanoseconds. Again, your supplier should be able to help. You must ensure that your new RAM can work with your CPU and the system bus (the so-called front-side bus). SDRAM DIMMs meant for 66MHz operation are usually rated at 10ns, DIMMs for a 100MHz bus are rated at 8ns, and those for a 133MHz bus are rated at 7.5ns.

Installation is easy if you’ve done it before, but it can be tricky the first time. Get assistance from someone who’s installed RAM before if this is your first install. SIMMs are held in place at each end by metal clips and cannot be removed until these are released. The SIMM needs to be inserted into its slot at an angle. As you lift the module toward the vertical, it clicks into place. DIMMs slide straight in. When they’re in position, you lock them in place using two levers, one at either end of the slot.

Removable Storage: Smaller Than Ever!

0 comments

Posted on 12th April 2014 by admin in Tech

,

rssA new company, DataPlay, believes hard drives aren’t the only spinning media worth miniaturizing. Its half-dollar-size DVD-based discs could have a big impact this year. In the first quarter of 2013, device manufacturers should begin announcing products using the discs. The discs store 250MB of data per side but are only write-once.

GAGGLE OF STANDARDS

The GROWING popularity of handheld devices has spawned an entire industry of teeny storage media. Flash memory rules, but the multitude of competing standards confuses just about everybody.

Easily the most common flash memory modules are the 1.7-by-1.4-inch CompactFlash cards. Gaining in popularity are similar-size (but slightly cheaper) SmartMedia cards, which have a thinner profile. Both formats offer 8MB to 300MB cards, but CF supplies its own I/O intelligence, while SM relies on the device reading it to supply the brains; the latter arrangement puts the burden on device makers to provide in advance for higher capacities or at least to establish a software upgrade path.

But there’s more. Pocketsize devices have led to an even smaller flash format–MultiMedia, or MultiMediaCard (MMC). About the size of a postage stamp and available in capacities from 8MB to 64MB, MMC is pricey but is also as small as storage currently gets. By mid-2001, Secure Digital–a slightly thicker version of MMC that adds both encryption and security–should be available.

Meanwhile, Sony has its Memory Stick modules. About as big as a stick of gum, the media’s size is appealing, but do we need another proprietary standard? Units ranging from 8MB to 64MB are currently available; a 128MB Memory Stick will ship soon.

Into this confusing field comes IBM’s Microdrive. The Microdrive is a true hard drive, but this tiny powerhouse measures only 0.2 inches by 1.4 inches by 1.7 inches, weighs about 0.5 ounce, and is available in capacities up to 1GB. The 340MB model costs $299, and the 1GB unit is just $399, making this media about four times cheaper per MB than flash memory. An adapter lets you install the drives in PC Card slots, too.

Alas, with the drive’s CF+ profile, only newer devices that support this slightly thicker CF format can use it. International Data Corporation analyst Xavier Pucel says it’s difficult to predict when this overcrowded standards market will shake out. It’s a safe bet that CF and SM will continue to dominate in larger devices such as cameras, but MMCs and possibly the Memory Stick should gain ground in compact, mobile devices.

CRYSTAL METHODS

SCIENTISTS WORLDWIDE are working on holographic storage technologies–once a scifi pipe dream–that use lasers and a doped crystalline medium. When this storage becomes practical, perhaps within a couple of years, its capacity and bandwidth will make today’s magnetic memory as outmoded as punch cards.

For now, choose your memory media carefully, and be glad big capacities come in small–and light–packages.