September 19, 2007

The case for Flash memory

In case you hadn't noticed, the IT world is in the middle of a fundamental industry shift that will seriously effect all of the gadgets and computers you buy in the future. It's not, as some would answer the gradual move away from Windows to other platforms like Mac OS X and Linux, but the shift from spinning media (like hard drives and CD/DVD's) to Flash based media.

Hard drives store information on spinning disks. The disks (or platters) are mounted on a spindle and are read by a electro-magnet assembly (or head) that moves across the platter at high speeds. While hard disks are very common, have large capacities and are a cheap medium for storing computer data they are notoriously unreliable, heavy and consume more than their fair share of power.

The alternative, and one that you'll be seeing more and more of in the future is called Flash based memory. You've probably already got some Flash media at home - in fact, it's already ubiquitous. Flash memory is used in digital cameras, mobile phones, USB memory sticks, and even in the latest line of iPods.

The reasons are obvious. Flash memory is silent, doesn't consume much power, and is a lot smaller than a hard disk. It's also more resilient to knocks and damage which means your data will be safer for longer.

As more and more devices begin to use Flash media expect prices to tumble. In fact, next year, Toshiba plan to release a 32GB Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) card and the newest iPod Touch comes with 16GB. At this rate, Flash memory will be cheap and small enough to rival the largest hard drive within a few years.

If you are in the market for a new laptop you can already buy them from Sony and Toshiba with flash-only based hard drives. These new laptops, while still very expensive are the lightest and quickest on the market and are trail blazers for where the industry is heading.