By Francis Chu, eWeek

IBM‘s 1-GB Microdrive is poised to fatten the skinny storage resources of portable devices, opening the door to new multimedia applications and allowing PDAs to handle scads more personal data. This is good news for more than just the MP3 crowd: Corporate storage managers would do well to take a hard look at high-capacity portable storage options for a couple of reasons.

Is the space worth the price?
For starters, it might not be overkill to put 1 GB of storage in a PDA in the near future. As these devices take on resource-intensive applications, higher capacity will have a significant impact in corporate devices.

Figure A
IBM’s Microdrive will greatly increase the storage capacity of PDAs.

Currently, these devices come with a maximum of 64 MB of on-board storage, which is insufficient for multimedia. Who wants an MP3 player that plays less than an hour of music or a camera that takes only a dozen photos?

Second, although a fleet of PDAs with the $360 Microdrive installed might be too expensive for most organizations now, competition will eventually drive that price down. In some circumstances, the Microdrive’s price is already competitive with flash memory.

The Microdrive at a glance
The Microdrive matches Compact Flash cards in size (about one square inch) and supports standard CF- and ATA/PCMCIA-compatible interfaces.

Figure B
To illustrate its size, here is the inside of a Microdrive shown beside a quarter.

The Microdrive uses IBM’s antiferromagnetically coupled (AFC) media, also called pixie dust, to attain this high capacity. In an AFC drive, multiple layers of magnetically opposed media are joined together by several atomic layers of ruthenium, which allow previously unattainable storage densities of 20 GB to 40 GB per square inch.

The 1-GB Microdrive also runs more slowly (at 3,600 rpm) than its 4,500-rpm predecessors to reduce power consumption, and caching content in RAM can further boost performance while also saving power.

Other options
Of course, IBM isn’t alone in its quest to make the Microdrive the leader in portable storage media. Compact Flash media vendors will release cards in the gigabyte range this year, and Toshiba and SanDisk jointly announced the 1-GB flash memory chip in November.

The 1-GB Microdrive paves the way for more affordable portable storage by forcing other vendors to offer bigger, less expensive products. Today’s PDAs might not justify high-capacity portable storage in the corporate world, but tomorrow’s must-have apps surely will.

ZDNet Tech Update published this article on Jan. 14, 2002.

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