Will flash cards replace optical storage?

I had more or less expected Blu-ray to supplant DVDs as the removable storage medium of choice in PCs, but after reading this little write-up about what Apple is doing with its MacBooks, I’m suddenly not so sure. Optical drives are awfully large and cumbersome for inclusion in smaller laptops, and Apple isn’t alone in favoring SD card slots instead. Apple has, though, traditionally pushed the industry toward dropping older standards, as it famously did when it ditched floppies. (Well ahead of the appropriate time, some might say.)

Beyond the fact that SD cards are absolutely tiny compared to optical drives, optical storage is threatened by the continually plummeting cost per gigabyte of flash memory and the rise of online software distribution. Already, as this article points out, 32GB SD cards have nearly eight times the capacity of a DVD, too. Could it be that, in a few years, the standard OS installation procedure will involve booting from an SD card? Hmm. Now that you mention it, it almost seems like a matter of time.

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    • Blackened
    • 13 years ago

    I dont know.. Back when I used HTC phones, my MiniSD and MicroSD cards would crap out on me all the time. I eventually gave up trying to keep my music on there because more often than not, when I went to listen to it, it would not access the data. If I plugged it into the card reader on my desktop it would require me to format it before I did anything. Maybe I just had cheap ass SD cards..

    • Tamale
    • 13 years ago

    anyone whose put linux on a netbook knows all about the benefits of installing from flash media 🙂

    • YeuEmMaiMai
    • 13 years ago

    not anytime soon as it is cheaper and generally more durable to have opical media….

    • waffle911
    • 13 years ago

    (aside from the fact that the first iPod with Video had a screen closer to 2.5 inches diagonal) Apple also wasn’t the first one to bring portable video to the market. I bought an Archos AV500 (back in oh, 2005, maybe?) which had a 4-inch widescreen display, and 30GB of storage (optional, bulkier 100GB model at significant extra cost) more than a year before Apple even had anything to compete. And even before the Archos, there was the Cowon A2, and a handful of failed Windows-certified “Personal Media Players”. But between all of them, they all had clunky user interfaces and no real official or legitimate source for digital movies. Except that the AV500 was actually a PersonalVideoRecorder– a portable DVR. It certainly cost me a pretty penny (as much as the 32GB iTouch I have now) but it came with all of the accessories, including the AV recording dock, which I never once used. (It needed to sync with Yahoo some how to get channel guide and program information, but it was never clear in the manual how it worked). In effect, Apple didn’t pioneer the personal multimedia player so much as revolutionize it. They knew it could never catch on unless it were simple to use and there was an abundance of compatible digital media to play on it. But this all comes back to the article, actually, in that the future of media distribution is not going to be with a physical storage medium, but with distribution over the internet, as Apple has been doing for several years now.

    • waffle911
    • 13 years ago

    That is true, writable discs are chemically volatile media. It’s not like a pressed disc at all, which is prone to damage from scratching. The actual chemical embedded in the disc, which is burned by the laser to imitate the differences in light reflection of pressed holes in a disc, does not stay stable forever. Re-Writable discs are even more prone to this, because their re-writable nature requires a more volatile, easily altered chemical. Magnetic media last longer so long as they aren’t exposed to too much EMI that would cause bits to flip; but on their own, it would take a long time for the bits to flip without provocation (but they will eventually).
    Although, in the end, I think optical media will win out for longevity– a pressed disc if never touched has the potential to store whatever’s pressed on it indefinitely. Except, I think it will come to laser-engraving data onto a disc made of diamond or graphine. But that would only be practical for one-time writes that need to last forever rather than be quickly read.

    • waffle911
    • 13 years ago

    Well, sure, BD’s cost $10 for a /[

    • waffle911
    • 13 years ago

    Nintendo has done that already. The game cartridges for the DS are based on modified SD cards, and now the DSi has both DS and SD card slots (and the Wii has an SD card slot to store games bought from the Virtual Console store as well, among other things). The Playstation 3 and PSP both have the “MagicGate” whatever memory card slots, too. As for your idea of using a USB stick, well, that’s not necessarily what the article was on about, and the USB standard is more likely to change in the future to better accommodate new peripheral technologies than the SD format will be to change to accommodate new… storage technologies. If they ever come. Since it’s single-purpose, it seems there would be little need to actually change all that much since it’s become a ubiquitous standard. But since USB port by design are supposed to be universal, eventually something will come along and force the standard to change and adapt in order to accommodate some new, previously (currently) un-thought-of function or peripheral use.

    • waffle911
    • 13 years ago

    Magnetic media is probably more volatile than flash, not to mention the mechanical nature of hard drives makes them fragile and just as prone to failure after who-knows-how-long of disuse as flash. The only way to semi-permanently record all of this civilization’s advanced knowledge for use after our apocalypse will be to engrave it into artificial diamond plates (or maybe graphene?) for future civilizations to find and decipher.

    • waffle911
    • 13 years ago

    This reminds me of how Windows used to come on a Floppy, way back when. I can’t remember how those were protected (if they even were). The way I see it, solid state storage has similar potential for volatility/rewritability as old magnetic medium like floppies and cassettes. All of them more durable, but also more complex to manufacture than just pressing plastic.

    • Chrispy_
    • 13 years ago

    My USB drive actually died in the wash after the 3rd or 4th attempt. I think it was the heat in the drying phase that killed it though.

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 13 years ago

    In that case, I would forget it. But aren’t all flash drives writable? I mean, what would they be scared of in providing such things? What’s the difference in me taking this and copying it to a HDD and doing what I want with it… Kinda defeats the purpose. And it would be more expensive, right? Just that extra work to block writing?

    • blastdoor
    • 13 years ago

    I don’t think flash is a very good option for archiving, but maybe that’s why we have terabyte external hard drives…

    • absinthexl
    • 13 years ago

    I absolutely love the 8GB Flash drive I have, even though it was overpriced and relatively slow. I can work on a project, download reference and texture images, and SyncToy the whole thing in less than five minutes on any computer, even one without an optical drive of any kind.

    In a year or two, 128GB should be the new standard, at which point I can carry my entire texture and reference library everywhere.

    • UberGerbil
    • 13 years ago

    But what if you can’t? Assume it’s an SD-ROM, just like pressed optical install discs.

    • vikramsbox
    • 13 years ago

    I used Moser Baer DVD-R’s and most of them seem to have the coating that is today much slighter than what used to be before. Maybe in a bid to make things cheaper, they are compromising on quality.
    The newer disks seem to attract ambient moisture much more easily and also suffer scratches. In the first few years of using DVD-R’s my fault rate was maybe 1 in 30-40. But now its quite larger. So I use flash drives for quick transfers and a removable disk for backups.
    PS_ even authetic music CDs and DVD from companies like Universal, etc have failed after a few months of careful usage.
    Maybe my own experience, but that’s what counts to me. I handle stuff carefully and if my keyboard and mouse can last over 5 years, no question why the DVDs should fail!

    • KoolAidMan
    • 13 years ago

    This was my first thought when I saw SD cards standard in the new Macbook Pros.

    SD cards are dirt cheap per GB, they are tiny, don’t require any moving parts in the drive, and have very very fast read/write times compared to optical media. The result will be even lighter and thinner notebooks that use even less power than they currently do. I will be very surprised if Apple doesn’t eventually overlap and then replace DVD drives with SD cards.

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 13 years ago

    Yea, sure I would, knowing that I can take that drive and backup the OS somewhere else and use it for other things.

    • StashTheVampede
    • 13 years ago

    4GB/8GB sticks are being given away, right now. 32 and greater sticks are a bit cost prohibitive, but that’s only going to go way down, soon.

    What you end up doing is putting more of the cost onto the makers of the media themselves. If some game requires 128/256GB cards, the cost *will* be justified when it’s higher since it is more tied to flash itself. Not all games are going to need 32/64GB of space, but that cost will quickly come down if a console comes out and demands it’s use.

    The US isn’t ready for a “download all” system. Some games are fine like this and others simply are not. Other parts of the world are much closer than the US.

    • UberGerbil
    • 13 years ago

    How much more would you pay? $10? $20? And yes, it really would be that kind of difference.

    • SomeOtherGeek
    • 13 years ago

    But they can make it an option for the customers…

    • blacksteel
    • 13 years ago

    Microsoft is certainly considering putting it’s OS on a small 4Gb flash drive for Netbooks. Which I think is great and should be considered even for normal desktops and laptops. You would have to lock it and make it READ only or there might be a slew of virus problems being transmitted by USB stick.

    • maxxcool
    • 13 years ago

    Agreed, 29$ for a 16bg usb stick isn’t bad, and it will be roughly 1/2 the cost same time next year.

    and since the movie only portion of a high-bitrate x264 stream will fit on a 16bg stick i think its a perfect medium.

    hell, my pioneer deck has a usb port that i slap my 600 favorite songs into… its just so damned convenient.

    • dpaus
    • 13 years ago

    …let alone “weeks”

    • gtoulouzas
    • 13 years ago

    As far as media quality is concerned, it seems to me that it is clearly a matter of making the right choice. I have yet to see a Verbatim DVD+R (even DL ones) fail within a few months.

    • jstern
    • 13 years ago

    32gb flash storage will probably reach $10 in less than a year. Judging by newegg prices, and the new sdxc format.

    • continuum
    • 13 years ago

    Yep, agreed. Flash is still relatively pricey and too many of our customers need a cheap read-only media to distribute, and since pretty much everything I see her fits on one or two DVD’s, the extra capacity is not yet an advantage.

    Do I see it coming in other industries? Yes. But for many of my customers, who deliver the most appliance-like experience possible, the cost of conventional DVD or CD media is still an order of magnitude cheaper than flash.

    • Hattig
    • 13 years ago

    Flash storage might reach $10 for 32GB in a couple of years, maybe even 64GB.

    That can’t compete with pressing a BluRay for under a dollar – probably 20 cents by that time.

    Optical media for content distribution will be around for another ten years, but there will be a time soon when you pop into your supermarket, plug in a USB storage device (>1TB) (or SD card, etc), buy your film, wait for it to copy (>1GB/s transfer) and walk away to load onto your home media centre.

    The digital throwaway generation (under 25 years old now) will love this.

    • UberGerbil
    • 13 years ago

    Sandisk has already tried this with their (almost certainly doomed) slotMusic format for music. Of course they’re interested in selling more flash, not in actually offering the best option for consumers (who simply ignore it and continue downloading music from iTunes or elsewhere).

    And the future of software distribution is online also, rather than any kind of physical medium (spinning or solid state) — just look at the iPhone app store.

    The desktop/notebook OS is a somewhat different beast, because (baring a web browser or bootstrap installer in your UEFI) you need to boot and install it from some kind of physical media. The problem with this is the cost — as cheap as flash is getting, it still can’t compete with the pennies-per-disk you get with pressed DVDs. Microsoft isn’t eager to increase the COGS on their products, but they might do it for retail (as opposed to OEM) versions if notebooks without optical drives become commonplace. (And if Windows starts to exceed the size of a single DVD, the price argument may change) There are some other opportunities/issues for MS here, since the rewritable nature of flash means that they could put a unique license key directly into each copy (especially if the packaging makes the SD Read-Only thereafter — otherwise, there’s a lot of opportunity for things like virus infections of your original Windows copy if you plug it into an infected machine, not to mention DRM and “cracked”/modified OS media).

    More interesting might be OS-on-SD, ie the sort of boot-from-flash that some people have been doing with Linux Live distros (and cobbling together for Windows) for years now. Given the rewritable nature of flash (and setting aside the issues I already mentioned), there’s an opportunity for some real innovation: you could carry around your personalized copy of Windows from machine to machine. Unfortunately, SDHC transfer rates are still very poor relative to even mobile HDs, so that’s not going to happen with this generation.

    • Ashbringer
    • 13 years ago

    This is true. I forgot about my 1 gig USB flash in my pants, and it went through the washer and dryer. I thought the thing was dead, but I plugged it in and it still works just fine.

    • willyolio
    • 13 years ago

    optical disks can’t survive a washing machine. SD card can. the end.

    • StashTheVampede
    • 13 years ago

    Flash storage (ihmo) will be the next physical piece for a newer console. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft must admit that their next plans *should* have a physical aspect to their system — what better than a USB flash stick (with obvious data restrictions, encryption, etc)?

    The time is NOW! Bluray is GREAT for 50GB on a disc, but it’s coming to the point where 32/64GB flash storage will be cheaper than a single optical disk. Not *every* game will require this much storage, but once you get the physical medium, everyone will just line on up.

    • Kurotetsu
    • 13 years ago

    I’m surprised it hasn’t happened already.

    • liquidsquid
    • 13 years ago

    What about long-term storage of Flash drives vs. Optical? I think Optical will be gone before long for that factor alone.

    • albundy
    • 13 years ago

    no, but you can pay $10 for a BD-R for 25 gigs. the only problem with flashcards is the price per gb. If they can sell 32gb for $10 or less right now (they cost about $50 or more now), then optical media as we know it will cease to exist.

    • Meadows
    • 13 years ago

    Flash storage is *[

    • eitje
    • 13 years ago

    q[

    • Hattig
    • 13 years ago

    Even the cheapest and nastiest will get into the thousands of rewrites and be readable for years. I’d say that puts it ahead of optical media with its complex burning software requirement. CDRs and DVDRs are very cheap though, perfect for copying a CD for in-car use, but you don’t need to have that capability in your laptop, it can be in an external drive.

    • stmok
    • 13 years ago

    How durable are SD cards compared to optical media like DVD and Blu-ray?

    • vikramsbox
    • 13 years ago

    Optical storage now makes very little sense due to the following reasons-
    – Poor quality of modern day optical disks as compared to the early ones; CDs hardly last a few months and DVDs a few weeks.
    – Slow writing speed and the risk of a snag ruining the whole DVD/CD.
    – In notebooks, they are energy suckers on batteries as the drive consumes a lot of power to spin up/down;
    – slow transfer speeds and risk of scratches ruining the disk;
    – large and cumbersome compared to USB drives;
    – increased capacity disks always require a new drive that’s ridiculously expensive for a few years, USB drives are much cheaper;

    • 5150
    • 13 years ago

    I used flash cards when I was in elementary school to learn addition/subtraction/letters etc. I would highly recommend them.

    • jstern
    • 13 years ago

    You think ahead then. Back then most people would have looked at it like, “How can a 1gb flash card over take a 8gb DVD?” Not considering the pros and cons, and most importantly how the size of flash card are not going to stay at 1gb. Right now what’s killing optical discs are the hard drives. They are so cheap. I once recorded many hours of mpg videos onto like 20 Dvds. Burning those discs was hell, took such a long time, and after 3 years, I decided to check them out, 1/3 or them were dead. Now I have what was left on a hard drive, and it’s so much convenient, easier to manage, easier to browse. Just so many advantages.

    • jstern
    • 13 years ago

    You have a great point there, I remember checking out some Dell laptops like 4 years ago, and they had an SD card slot. (I think maybe even compatible with Pro Duos) I said to myself that the next laptop that I’ll get must have an SD slot. I wanted an Apple though, so I had to give up on my plans.

    The same thing when Apple aloud video play back on a one inch Ipod screen. For years I had been wanting these beautiful Mp3 like movie players, with big beautiful colorful screens, yet on CNN and Fox news it was breaking news about how Apple has changed the way we will watch videos forever, just how color TV did back in the days. I mean breaking news, on Fox and CNN, and probably MSNBC if I cared to tune into that channel. It felt like big corporations doing favors for another big corporation. I scratch your back, you scratch mine.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 13 years ago

    Man I hope so. DVD drives are so slow and have huge access delays.

    • Hattig
    • 13 years ago

    Most Mac people are miffed that their ExpressCard -> CompactFlash adapters are now no longer an option.

    • Hattig
    • 13 years ago

    Apple can remove the optical drive, move the hard drive back there (and thus make the battery longer and higher capacity), and put back the ExpressCard slot, and they can do this yesterday in my opinion.

    • jwb
    • 13 years ago

    I love that when Apple gets around to not being stuck in the past, people suddenly declare it to be the future. For many years I’ve been put off buying a Macbook because they lack an SD slot. I buy ThinkPads instead, because they have the SD slot.

    Now that Apple finally has them, I will certainly consider them again.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 13 years ago

    Transfer speeds are already there, see #2.

    • moose17145
    • 13 years ago

    Doesn’t shock me. A friend of mine a few years ago bought some Tax program to help him with his taxes, and was shocked when he opened the box to install it and found not a CD, but 256MB USB Flash Drive! And that was a few years back that this happened. So this news isn’t really too shocking to me.

    • Ashbringer
    • 13 years ago

    You weren’t the only one. I suggested long ago that flash media would prevent Blu-Ray from ever succeeding, but everyone made fun of the idea.

    Flash media is just so ultra portable, it makes sense. I costs less power to read and write data then optical. It’s durable. You can read and write data faster then optical. It’ll get drastically cheaper in the next year or two from now.

    Best of all, you don’t need no expensive drive that takes up a lot of space in the PC.

    • jstern
    • 13 years ago

    Less than a year ago I was ridiculed here for saying that Blu Ray and optical disks seemed primitive to me. Reading off a rapidly spinning disk with a laser, with horrible seek time. People get stuck in the moment, and forget to consider how fast technology improves. I can’t wait for a 2tb micro sd card.

    • [SDG]Mantis
    • 13 years ago

    Not to mention that many ultraportables and netbooks do not optical drives at all.

    • designerfx
    • 13 years ago

    Maybe when transfer speeds and costs are more similar to an optical storage, but otherwise no.

    5 gigs for a dollar via dvd is a bit diff than $10 for 4 gigs. Not grossly so, and in the long term I can definitely see flash drives replacing storage, but only when the same 4 gigs heads to a dollar/dollar and a half. I don’t think very many people at this day and age are okay paying $10 for a single DVD-R.

    • cygnus1
    • 13 years ago

    I’ve been installing Vista and Win7 beta/RC from a thumb drive for well over a year, maybe over 2. I discovered how easy it was when my dvd drive in my old laptop died and I needed to reload the OS.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 13 years ago

    I’ve seen many Blu-Ray players that have SD slots for displaying pictures. Even the $150 Wal-Mart varieties.
    One would think that a firmware upgrade could theoretically allow it. I mean, data is data, right? They could make WORM SD cards that could have the same protection scheme as the discs, since it’s all data, right? SD cards have plenty of bandwidth (the Blu Ray spec requires 54mbps, which is 6.75 MBps which almost any flash drive can support).

    • Farting Bob
    • 13 years ago

    If the distribution companies didnt already have so much invested in blu-ray im pretty sure we’d be hearing more rumbles from hollywood about using flash media. It wont happen officially for a while though and would require yet another change in hardware (most/all blu ray players dont come with an SD slot and support). In software and PC games though i can see it being viable much quicker.

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