Gimme more!

While the battle for microproces sor speeds has ended (thanks to dual-core chips), the battle for more storage space has just begun. People want to store everything they have: Songs, home videos, pictures, games-you name it. And our options are mind-boggling. Content with floppy and hard drives of a few GB a few years ago, today we have CDs, DVDs and 100 GB plus hard disks. And the best part is that storage is getting cheaper and more plentiful for everyone.

Getting hungrier

Also gone are the days when you wanted storage just on your computer. The day won’t be far of when even your fridge will have a hard drive. Today we have a handheld MP3 player with 100GB of memory and the next revolution is waiting to happen in mobile phones. That’s when the full range of data services like downloading multimedia, games and applications becomes hot. Then you’ll wish that your mobile had a few GB to begin with at least.

How long is long?

Says Wong Chuan Yong, a manager with Iomega (which came out with the Micro Mini USB Drive), “People will go to any lengths to store all the information they have. Recently one of our customers bought a 35GB REV drive for his home computer that is actually meant for the SMB market.” This external drive comes with a 35-year-guarantee.

So does that mean that drives that last long will become popular? Not necessarily, feels Wong Chuam Yong, the key will be “transfer technology”, that is, how easy it will be to transfer your data. For example, today you can convert all your VHS tapes to CDs or DVDs if you want to. Technologies like those will always be handy.

Virtual storage

A lot of people, including Microsoft chief Bill Gates, are putting their weight behind the Internet for storing content. That means you don’t have to worry about what technology is used where. While online storage is already on the rise, the right bandwidth and the right price for unlimited storage space could tilt the balance in favor of virtual personal storage as the preferred choice. Already Gmail offers accounts upto 1GB and Streamload offers 10GB of free storage and just $4.95 a month for unlimited storage.

But whichever technology prevails, personal storage may well prove to be the killer application of the future.

Hard or Flash?

While computers have a hard drive, most MP3 players and gadgets have flash drives, which are smaller and more durable. That’s because they don’t have internal moving parts like hard disks. But flash memory is much more expensive and unless the price factor is brought down, most gadgets might end up with hard drives rather than flash ones.

Think perpendicular

Today in hard drives, data bits are recorded on magnetic mediums by being placed parallel to the media plane. The more bits you can pack in a given area, the more the storage capacity increases. A new technology is being worked on to place the bits perpendicular to the media plane. That means you can pack many many more bits in a given area and far greater storage. Hitachi, IBM and Seagate are all working on this technology.

Then and now

The first “storage device” was the punched paper card of 1804 that was used in silk looms. Computer hard disks were invented in the 1950s. Then you had large disks which had a diameter of 2-and-a-half feet which could hold only a few MB of memory. So if you wanted loads of memory, it had to be brought in a truck! Today Seagate has brought out a mini hard drive of 1″ form factor which can hold 5GB of memory.

(This article appeared in Living Digital magazine in April 2005)