March 1, 2006 With their high capability and no moving parts, flash drives safely store data in camera memory sticks and in some MP3 players, and they also hide in gadgets such as cell phones. Experts say once prices go down enough, flash drives will even start replacing hard drives in laptops.
SUNNYVALE, Calif.--Experts say we're no longer in the technology revolution, but in the technology evolution. The next step is to make everything we use shrink. That's why gadgets like cell phones, laptops, and MP3 players get smaller and smaller, yet can do more.
Zack Weisfeld, general manager of M-Systems in Sunnyvale, Calif., says, "I just need a screen, I need a keyboard, and basically, I carry my computer with me."
A USB flash drive uses a flash memory chip to store all of your computer applications and files just like a hard drive. Weisfeld says, "A USB flash drive means you can store a thousand disks in a little thing."
Not only can a flash memory chip hold a huge amount of information, but it also protects your information better. Unlike a hard drive, it has no moving parts inside to damage the memory. And the chip is smaller than a push pin.
"What many people don't realize is they use a lot of flash every day," Weisfeld tells DBIS. The tiny little chip is a household item and often goes unnoticed because it's buried inside devices. Flash memory technology makes it possible to have small cell phones capable of Internet access and video games.
Experts say that next, flash memory will appear in laptops. Esther Spanjer, an electrical engineer for M-Systems, says, "In another year or so, you will see the first commercial flash disk drives on the market that you will put in your laptop vs. a standard hard disk drive." They say as the size goes down, the power of these devices will continue to grow.
The only limitation of flash right now is the price, which is comparable to a hard drive with up to 60 gigabytes of memory. Flash technology is also used in memory sticks for cameras and in cars that have info-tainment and GPS systems.
BACKGROUND: How can we store hundreds of songs on pocket-sized portable devices, like Apple's iPods? Flash memory chips are the technology behind the multimedia capability of most of today's electronic devices. Digital cameras can have flash drives; and memory cards can store many different kinds of media: everything from sound and music files downloaded from the Internet, to personal photographs and digitally recorded video clips, even satellite radio.
ABOUT FLASH MEMORY: There are many forms of electronic memory, depending on the application. Flash memory is used for fast and easy information storage in devices like digital cameras and home video game consoles. It is not the same thing as RAM, which stores temporary files and is erased when you turn the computer off. (Flash RAM is used in car radios, and requires an external power source -- the car battery -- to maintain its contents.) Flash memory is used more like a hard drive for permanent, yet portable, data storage.
ADVANTAGES OF FLASH MEMORY: Flash memory offers many advantages. It is noiseless and allows faster access. It is also lighter and smaller in size, and it has no moving parts. The reason we don't use it for everything is because it is more expensive than the cost per megabyte for a conventional hard disk, which is not only cheaper, but also has much more storage capacity. As scientists continue to make improvements in the speed and storage capability of flash memory chips, we will see more and more extra features on gadgets in terms of enhanced visual, audio and memory capabilities.
SOME COMMON USES OF FLASH MEMORY:
- Your computer's BIOS chip
- CompactFlash (digital cameras)
- SmartMedia (digital cameras)
- Memory Stick (digital cameras)
- PCMCIA memory cards (laptops)
- Memory cards for video game consoles
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.