New memory card format from Taiwan|
(Monday, August 9, 2004 - 16:45 EDT)
Taiwan's Open Mobile Internet Alliance (OMIA) is working to set standards for a two new memory card form factors dubbed "μcard" and "RS μcard", planned to be launched at the Taipei International Electronics Show in October, and to begin mass-production early next year.
Regular readers of this site will know we're not the biggest fans of new and untested flash formats. There are already a huge array of form factors in existence or on the way - CompactFlash Type-I and Type-II (CF+), ExpressCard, High-Speed MMC (HS-MMC), Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick Select, miniSD, MultiMediaCard (MMC), Reduced Size MultiMediaCard (RS-MMC), Secure Digital (SD), SmartMedia, TransFlash (T-Flash), xD-Picture Card, and now both μcard and RS μcard - and these are just the relatively well-known or well-backed form factors!
Consumers don't necessarily need new flash formats and may even be scared off by the large selection of mostly or completely incompatible products, but companies continue to deliver them in the hopes that their creations will succeed over their competitors' formats - leaving them in a position to earn significant revenues from future card sales. The objective of the new μcard and RS μcard formats seems to be to avoid licensing fees associated with other formats (and presumably, to create new revenue for Taiwanese companies manufacturing the flash cards themselves).
The standard μcard has dimensions of 24 x 32 x 1.4 millimeters - exactly the same size as a standard Secure Digital / MultiMediacard, while the smaller RS μcard has dimensions of 24 x 18 x 1.4mm - the same size as a "Reduced Size MMC" or RS-MMC card. Unfortunately, articles on major sites such as Slashdot and The Register seem to have misinterpreted the news, claiming that the newly announced format will see cards with a capacity of two terabytes available.
We'd strongly doubt that this is the case, given the density that would be required to pack such a large capacity into such a tiny form-factor. The confusion likely hails from the description of the new cards in an article from Taiwan's DigiTimes which refers to the cards as having a maximum capacity of 2TB - but this is merely a reference to the maximum theoretical capacity given the cards' addressing limitations. Rather, we'd expect that capacities will be similar to those found in the similarly-sized SD/MMC and RS-MMC cards respectively. SD cards currently ship in capacities of up to 1GB, whilst RS-MMC cards reach a maximum of 128MB. It seems extremely unlikely, unless there is some technology breakthrough which would be gaining much greater media attention, that there will be a card in either of these new form factors that offers hundreds of gigabytes of storage space, let alone multiple terabytes.
Also a source of some confusion is the speed claims for the new cards, which DigiTimes' article says have a bandwidth of 120MB/second. If true, this would be extremely impressive - but we expect that this is once again just a theoretical maximum. The speed of reading from or writing to the flash memory used in the cards, plus the speeds of the devices in which the cards are used, will likely be the real bottlenecks, and we wouldn't expect to see real-world performance anywhere near to the claimed 120MB/second figure.
No pictures or detailed specifications for the new formats are currently available, presumably because these have not yet been tied down by OMIA themselves. The DigiTimes article claims the new cards will have a compatible interface with existing memory cards - which should not necessarily be taken to mean that end-users can use the cards in devices intended for other formats, but rather that manufacturers can switch the media type used in their products with a minimum of changes to the rest of the device's design. Compatibility with USB 2.0 is also noted, and low power consumption is claimed (but no figures to back this up are given).
The new μcard and RS μcard are targetted at use in PCs, mobile phone handsets, digital still cameras, digital video recorders and MP3 players. Given that existing digital camera manufacturers have already invested in other formats, however, we'd see it as unlikely that any of the major players will begin using these new formats in the near future. More likely, initial adoption will be in entry-level cameras from Taiwanese manufacturers, and companies who have licensed these manufacturers to make cameras for them on an OEM basis.