Micro size, macro memory

Nandagopal Rajan        Print Edition: March 2012

A decade ago, while struggling with floppy drives that never seemed to have enough memory to store files, we would never have foreseen a time when a device smaller than a thumb could hold over 10,000 songs or a hundred hi-def movies. But then none of us are good at predicting the twists and turns technology takes. USB drives have always been small, but now they are becoming even smaller. But that doesn't mean they are becoming costlier or have lesser storage than earlier. In fact, things are moving in exactly the opposite direction. The latest USB flash drives might be small, but they now have more storage capacity than ever before and are more affordable.

Strontium Technology, one of the largest manufacturers of flash drives, says earlier the devices were larger as the controller and flash used to be soldered separately. Now, a single piece, called the COB, has both the controller and flash memory chip built in, thus drastically reducing the sizes and prices. So, while a 2GB USB drive would have cost you Rs 500 a couple of years ago, now you will get a 16GB drive for the same outlay. A top-draw 64GB drive could cost you under Rs 5,000. Another factor behind the reduced prices of USB flash drives is the fall in flash wafer costs due to technology advancements.

But USB flash drives tend to be slow as most cheaper ones run on low performance NAND flash with just a couple of channels. This is why it takes ages to copy a large file to a flash drive. Most new USB drives, especially the ones with capacities of 32GB or more, use SSD with high performance multiple-channel NAND . These drives also have better memory controllers and most of them now feature the latest USB 3.0.

At CES 2012, Victorinox showcased its SSD and Slim 3.0 USB drives with storage capacities between 64GB and 1TB. The company claims their thumb drive-sized SSD is the smallest high-storage SSD around and the first to include a connector for both USB and eSATA. Last year, Transcend touted a similar sized USB 3.0 flash drive with 2 TB storage. While the storage capacities of the USB drives keep increasing, the push for the smallest size seems to have hit a dead end since Dutch manufacturer Deonet came out with the "smallest USB-stick in the world". Based on revolutionary Micro UDP-chip memory, it is half the size of a classic USB-memory chip: 19.5 x 14.5 mm with a 2.9-mm thickness. Despite its size, it can store between 4 and 16 GB of data. No wonder, no one has made a USB drive smaller than this.

Courtesy:Gadgets and Gizmos

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