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NEWS / Sundisk Flash Cards

NEWS / Sundisk Flash Cards

SUNDISK Lets You Store 10-20 Megabytes on a Memory Card -- No Batteries Needed!

By Hal Goldstein

A new world of file storage possibilities has opened up for HP 95LX users. SUNDISK recently announced a series of high-capacity "Mass Storage Cards" compatible with the 95LX Palmtop. These specially engineered Flash ROM cards come in capacities up to 10 Megabytes. With available compression software, 95LX users with a SUNDISK SDPL5 Mass Storage card in the memory card slot, will be able to store as much as 20 Megabytes (about 40,000 pages) of data on the card.

Users will now be able to store large databases of information, DOS programs that require lots of disk space, and larger or more spreadsheets and word processing files. Having specific technical information readily available anywhere will surely be a boon to professionals such as physicians, lawyers, sales professions, teachers, and engineers.

To give a flavor of what is to come, Official Airline Guides (OAG) and Navigation Technologies announced their intention to provide their information on SUNDISK cards. OAG is a compiled and updated schedule of over 700 airlines worldwide. Navigation Technologies' navigable database is a collection of information on all major metropolitan areas and inter-city road networks.

When coupling this mass storage breakthrough with other emerging technologies, we can begin to envision computing for the rest of this century. In the future we will examine the synergistic effect of combining such innovations as higher storage capacity with wireless communications (see page 20, this issue), and expanded multi-tasking (see page 25, this issue).

SUNDISK Mass Storage Technology Compared to RAM Cards

Currently, for extra storage HP 95LX owners use SRAM cards such as the many advertised in this issue. SRAM cards and Flash cards are "solid state" storage media. User data is transferred to solid state media electronically. In contrast, data gets transferred to a hard disk of a desktop computer mechanically. In general, solid state devices are faster, more reliable, and more portable than mechanical devices.

An important difference between a SUNDISK Mass Storage card and an SRAM card is that the SUNDISK card does not require a battery to maintain its contents. Once you copy a file to a SUNDISK card, the file is literally etched into the card until it is overwritten -- a battery is not required to maintain the file's contents. On a SRAM card, when the battery starts to go bad there is little time to change the battery or back up files.

It is a little slower to write to, or read from Flash cards than SRAM, but faster than most hard disks. Currently, the price of SUNDISK Mass storage per megabyte is a little lower than SRAM. The number of write-cycles to a SUNDISK card is limited (100,000 according to company specifications). SUNDISK said that it is theoretically possible to write an intensive read-write application that could "wear out" the SUNDISK card. However, according to SUNDISK this shouldn't be a problem for a typical user because of "wear-leveling" techniques incorporated into the card.

One other important difference between SUNDISK and SRAM cards: Once formatted, the files on a SRAM card can be read by an HP 95LX by just inserting the card. The SUNDISK card requires that a file called a "device driver" be on the 95LX's built-in C drive. In addition, the CONFIG.SYS file on the C drive must be modified (or created if one does not exist).

The SUNDISK Mass Storage card comes with a connectivity cable and installation software to transfer the necessary files to the 95LX. IMPORTANT NOTE: If the C drive or the SUNDISK device driver file ever becomes corrupt, you will not be able to access the SUNDISK card until you have replaced the device driver and restored the CONFIG.SYS file.

Some SUNDISK Specifics

The SDPL5 series of Mass Storage cards from SUNDISK represents an impressive engineering effort. SUNDISK made use of the flash technology originally developed in 1984 to create an important tool for the HP 95LX and other mobile devices. Here are some of the innovations in the SUNDISK product:

  1. 1. Software (device driver) that allows the HP 95LX to read 10 megabytes of flash memory as the "A" drive. (Two megabytes is the specified HP 95LX PC-card limit.)
  2. 2. Electronics within the card that use the power of the HP 95LX to write data to the card (draws less battery power from your HP than a SRAM card).
  3. 3. The SUNDISK card is the industry's only complete mass storage system on a card. The card includes memory, memory control, and I/O interface functions on the card itself. It uses 512 byte sectors and implements an IDE controller, which results in compatibility with existing operating systems, application programs, and utilities.
  4. 4. The SUNDISK card is PCMCIA-ATA compliant. That means that the same card or future versions of the card will be usable in the variety of palmtops and other devices without having to change software. For example, the SUNDISK cards can be used in the latest Databook or Adtron PC card readers and can be used in a Sharp PC-3000 palmtop.

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Conclusion

The product is new -- we have not seen the final product. In future issues, we will give a more in-depth review of the product and provide a forum for readers to share their experiences.

SUNDISK is a well-funded, impressively-staffed start-up company that wants to be a leader in what surely will be a huge market. Assuming the SDPL5 mass storage card delivers on its promises, SUNDISK has made a strong step in fulfilling its charter to "develop and deliver superior, solid-state mass storage solutions that are interoperable among portable computing devices."

iPhone Life magazine


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