Computer memory in homes and offices is usually stored on rotating disk drives. That electromechanical solution fits the price-performance demands of stable, air-conditioned consumers.
But what happens when auto companies start adding GPS receivers to cars, or phone companies start building 3G base stations in remote, outdoor locations? Those harsh environments expose the disks to extremes of shock, vibration, and temperature.
The typical solution is flash memory—a solid state technology for storing data that uses no moving parts. But new applications have pushed even flash to its limits.
Faced with these new demands, flash-medium maker SanDisk Corp. (Sunnyvale, CA, www.sandisk.com) decided to get serious about rugged memory. The company split into three divisions in October, serving distinct markets—retail, OEM, and industrial. And on May 22, they launched a new line of "Industrial Grade" flash storage products.
They include: CompactFlash from 16 to 512 Mbyte, PC Cards (PCMCIA) from 16 Mbyte to 2 Gbyte, and 2.5-inch Flash Drives from 32 Mbyte to 2 Gbyte.
"Our consumer customers look first at price, then performance, then reliability," says Jeff Ellerbruch, director of marketing for SanDisk. "But industrial customers look at reliability and durability first; they heavily qualify and test all equipment before ordering it."
Those industrial customers include telephony companies like Cisco, Nortel, and Lucent, as well as makers of handheld tools, like the PDA that rental car agencies use to check your car back in at the airport.
So SanDisk has made these things tough. They're all in familiar shapes, but now they're built with four-bit error correction, MTBF of more than three million hours, construction of RTV silicone to handle shock and vibration, 100% testing on the line, and bar code traceability.
In fact, SanDisk has extended its warrantee to seven years, since it's been testing products beyond those requirements, says Product manager Norm Frentz. All that extra reliability does make the cards more expensive, but he argues they're cheaper over the product's lifetime because they last longer, and need less repair. That means SanDisk is aiming for the market of embedded, remote, and mission-critical applications. Examples include handheld data collection, medical monitors, factory automation, communication routers and switches, and cellular base stations.
But don't assume the disk-spinners are giving up. Manufacturers of hard disk drives may cede industrial applications to flash memory, but they're expanding into the consumer arena, says Mike Paxton, a senior analyst at In-Stat/MDR (Scottsdale, AZ). Hard disk drives are now found in personal video recorders (PVRs), video game consoles (like Microsoft's X-Box), portable digital music players (like Apple's iPod and Rio's Riot), and satellite TV set-top boxes. Future uses may include PDAs and cell phones.
In the meantime, two market trends are pushing the market to create even newer technologies for memory, In-Stat says. Portable products are shrinking, so they need to reduce the number, space, and power demands of their chips. And digital cameras and MP3 players demand ever-larger memory arrays for mass storage of audio and video files. Those pressures are sparking research into memory technologies like Magnetic Random Access Memory (MRAM), Ferro RAM (FeRAM), chalcogen-ide, polymer, MEMS (MicroElectroMechanical Systems), and write-once 3D memory.
For more information about memory from SanDisk, www.sandisk.com: Enter 541