Say Goodbye To The USB Flash Drive?

I had an interesting conversation the other day with Trek 2000’s chief financial officer, Gurcharan Singh. Trek, a Singapore company, claim to be the originators of the USB drive, or thumb drive as they call it, and are currently sueing a company called M-Systems in a test case over who owns the patent for putting flash memory on a USB plug.

That’s all going through the courts, and has been for some time, but clearly Trek 2000 are playing a central role in the whole flash-drive-on-a-stick thing, since besides selling their own products, they are the OEM manufacturers of several dozen such USB drives, including folk like iomega. But what intrigued me, among several things, was a gadget he had in his display case that he hinted was the future of USB drives. I had asked him about concerns over the durability and reliability of flash memory (my own experience making me less than sanguine) and while he was careful not to play up such concerns, he pointed to a device that was barely larger than a USB drive, but which contained a 0.85 inch 10 gigabyte hard drive, manufactured by one of Trek 2000’s main strategic partners, Toshiba. “This will address the issues of flash that you’re talking about,” he said. At the moment flash drives get no larger than a 2 gigabytes.

Toshiba has promised to lauch the 0.85” drive early this year, according to The Register, who point out that these drives are about 80% smaller than the hard drives you’ll find in an iPod or similar device. If Gurcharan is correct it sounds like these hard drives will have a larger capacity than earlier expected and they’re likely to be as popular, if not more so, than the USB flash drive.

So will this cause a splash? Yes, I think, because they’re so small. They’ll wow us and make us do a lot more with our USB stick. Not that there aren’t options beyond flash out there already. Of a similar ilk, but using the older, larger drives, take a look at Sony’s new 2.0 GB Micro Vault Pro, which I saw in Singapore’s malls for about S$450 ($275, see illustration) or Z-Cyber’s 1 or 2 GB Zling Drives, which I’m guessing use the same hard drives, but seem to sell for a lot less: I saw the 2 GB version selling for S$200, and the 1 GB for S$129. Then there’s the Emprex range of Micro Storage, from 2.2 to 4.0 GB, selling for S$190 and S$275 respectively. All of these are basically small hard drives on a USB dongle. They’re nice, but they’re not nearly as small as what Trek 2000 are likely to unveil some time this year.  

(If you’re looking for larger storage you’ll have to go to iomega’s Mini Hard Drives, which come in 20GB and 40GB capacities. )

What I think we’re going to see are these microdrives really pushing out flash as folk come to rely on them more and more. It’s yet to be proven that these very small hard drives are as rugged as they claim to be, but I think we’re safe in saying that flash, while excellent, is not reliable enough to be anything other than a short-term means of storage. What’s more, with bigger capacities, micro drives are going to be able to do things, and go places, that flash drives just can’t do: Storing whole feature-length movies, an evening full of musical entertainment on a key-ring, a cellphone that doubles as your hard drive. There’ll be a role to play for USB flash but we may soon be looking back nostalgically at these devices as charmingly limited in what they could do for us.

31. January 2005 by jeremy
Categories: Storage | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 comments

Comments (7)

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  2. Hello.
    Your company was known to us that you are the one leading supplier of usb flash drive,which i have in interest to buy from you company to ship to lagos nigeria by UPS courier service.
    pls i will like you to give me the best price.
    the payment of this order he will pay by cheque,hope to hear from you soon.
    best regard.
    michael.

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  5. I’m all for hard drives replacing flash in portable means, if they allow for the same durability as flash, and if they scale to and work with the form factors and interfaces of existing flash cards – primarily, Secure Digital and Compact Flash (the latter I need not worry about, since IBM and Toshiba already manufacture microdrives in that form factor).

    It would also help if they simultaneously mimicked or surpassed the speed of current EEPROM solutions, but this isn’t a significant factor since flash media isn’t blindingly fast by today’s standards. So long as it maintains the minimum transfer rate of 25mbps of the current SD standard, then I’ll be happy.

    Jump drives that plug into USB have long lost appeal to me, since I’ve begun using peripherals that favor memory card form factors (eg, my digital camera, my PDA, and my portable audio player/recorder) – which is better for me since these cards come in any number of capacities. It’d be redundant to have one usb jump drive at 512MB, and have to get another to get 1024MB; makes better sense to get a card reader that can take same-sized cards at varying capacities.

  6. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Seagate’s hockey-puck-shaped 5GB drive, which I recently picked up for US$135. For those keeping score at home, that’s about one-third of the $-per-GB when compared to a high-speed 2GB USB flash drive at around US$180. It even has a nifty built-in cable that unspools so you can plug in without leaving a three-inch-long microdrive casing sticking rigidly out of your USB port, which I think is just asking for trouble.

    -AG

  7. I don’t think that hard drives will push USB NAND flash out of the market. Probably NAND flash capacities are going to improve very fast.

    Don’t forget that NAND flash can take some really rough shocks/hard-impact and is quite solid. Also FLASH uses a lot less electricity then a normal harddrive.