smaller is bigger

Toshiba just announced 1.8″ hard drives with perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR), up to 80GB. Apple is already using them in their new 6G iPods announced yesterday.

Buteven more interesting in storage technology news is Samsung’s announcement of new “phase-change” RAM modules. As DailyTech reports, relative to modern-day flash memory, PRAM will be faster, smaller, and cheaper.

PRAM, says Samsung, is much faster than the fastest NOR flash memory. Samsung indicated that PRAM achieves its performance by changing the way it writes and reads to memory. Unlike current NOR flash, PRAM does not have to erase data before writing new data. This alone achieves 30 times the performance of current memory technology said Samsung. Durability and endurance are also a key development for PRAM, allowing products to last at least 10 times longer.

Samsung indicated that PRAM will be a positive forward step for consumer products as well — lowering prices thanks to new manufacturing techniques. Samsung said that PRAM cells are half the size of NOR flash memory and requires 20 percent fewer manufacturing steps to produce.

I’m not sure if there’s a Moore’s Law equivalent for storage capacity as there is for processor speed, but if not, there ought to be (and they should name it after me). The intriguing thing is that in five years as 100 GB storage in miniscule form factors becomes commonplace, I think we are going to see more innovative usage models than at present. Right now everyone talks about storing your music, photos, videos, and data. But eventually we are going to see full-fledged applications being just as portable. People have already managed to cram an functional (but limited) install of Windows XP onto a USB drive. And there’s also a distro of Linux called Knoppix which is also USB-compatible. And many flash drives sold today come with an application manager called “U3” which lets you selectively install specific applications to your USB stick. But all of this is done within the confines of just a few GB (and of course were not even possible just a couple of years ago).

But imagine what you could do with a device the size of a pen cap but which held 100 GB? You could literally take your entire computing environment with you. It’s not really clear yet how this capability will change our usage models – can you remember how you survived without a cell phone?