Getting Technical

Posted by: DT  :  Category: Deeper into the Magic

Why are USB memory sticks also called flash drives?
Because the storage technology behind it is called flash memory. If you’re wondering what that means I can’t promise that you will be smarter at the end of this article. But what I can do is give you some textual and visual ideas. Latter is what I always find to be most helpful.

So at first a brief text definition. Flash memory is a type of EEPROM which stands for Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory. It’s a non-volatile memory that can store little data chunks especially when there’s no power. When the chunks need to be larger the specific flash kind is used. In other words, usual EEPROM is only byte-erasable whereas Flash is block-erasable. I’m sure you already feel smarter or lost.

Ok, then let’s have a picture that shows the typical interior of a USB flash drive.

Flash Drive Interior compared to a Coin

Source: Marhsall’s Brain Blog – I have four different memory sticks

What you see on the left is the chip that holds the actual flash memory and the chip on the right is called a microcontroller. The last part is just for your information and shall be of no interest regarding flash technology. So keeping focused on the left chip, inside it is an array of memory cells which themselves contain floating gate transistors. You can see one in the next image:

Eeprom and Flash Drive Transistor

Source: ZDNet defintion for EEPROM

To quote above source, “The storage part of an EEPROM cell acts like a permanently-open or closed transistor. Charging is accomplished by grounding the source and drain terminals and placing a voltage on the control gate. When the “floating gate” is charged, it impedes the flow of electrons from the control gate to the silicon, and the 0 or 1 is determined by whether the voltage on the control gate is blocked or not.”

Uhm, ok. Now, 0 means a transistor is off and 1 means it’s on because the gate is open and electricity can flow. With a regular transistor the data would be lost once the power is turned off because that shuts down the whole thing and it stays in the 0 position even when power is back on. A flash memory cell however saves the data because it’s basically in a permanent 1 position. That’s due to its second gate, the floating gate, which enables electricity to stay trapped between it and the first gate. The data can still be erased though by draining the electricity out, that’s what the drain to the right is for.

I guess I could try to get into more detail now but to be honest, I really don’t understand most of this stuff. I just use these sticks and think they’re cool. What I’m left wondering is: Why is it actually called Flash? Is it just some fancy marketing phrase? Either way, if you want to get deeper and feel this urge to also know what a microcontroller is for I advise you to join a geek forum or sift through the tons of articles out there on the net. Then please come back and post an explanation. :mrgreen:

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13 Flash Drive Uses

Posted by: DT  :  Category: Deeper into the Magic

So almost everyone knows these days what a flash drive or USB memory stick is. Right? Right. But do you also know the various things you can do with it? Personally, I had no idea of the amazingly different types and uses out there when I started this blog. So I figured I compile a random list and invite you to comment on it. If you have a warranted addition, no matter how abstract or concrete, I will adjust the number in the title accordingly. Here we go!

1.Transporting personal data like documents, photos and videos and transferring them between computers. This is probably the most common use for memory sticks, whether their capacity is 16MB or 16GB.

Crystal Blue Memory Stick

Crystal Blue Flash Drive (@ logox21)

2.Running software and applications, mostly combined with the data stored on the flash drive. This is great with standalone programs such as VLC media player as they’re pretty independent of any operating system. (VLC is the best video program there is IMO.)

3.Storing and accessing game data, especially saved games. This is very popular with playstations and their flash memory cards.

4.Booting up your system. Who needs ridiculous floppy disks or recovery CDs when you can have a nifty, Bootable Flash Drive?

5.Your walking music library. This is especially neat when you can connect it to a car or home stereo that has a USB port.

6.Your actual music listening device. iPods or mp3 players are really nothing more than memory sticks equipped with headphones and audio running software.

SanDisk Sansa Express MP3 Player

SanDisk MP3 Player (@ black logo)

7.Storing and providing medical records which can save your life in emergencies. Medical Flash Drives are specialized for this so if disaster strikes, quick and efficient patient care can be guaranteed.

8.Running or transferring anti-virus and repair programs. You may be able to rescue your machine from that pestering infection of your system and files. Of course you could also get a virus through a memory stick but let’s not think about that.

9.Espionage. Industrial, intelligence, private investigations, you name it. I don’t recommend such use but hey, with Secure Flash Drives it should be pretty effective.

10.Increasing hard disk cache. Adding virtual memory from your USB storage may make your system and programs run a lot smoother. As a matter of fact there are memory sticks specifically equipped for ReadyBoost in Windows Vista.

ReadyBoost Memory Stick

Waterproof ReadyBoost Flash Drive (@ black logo)

11.Backing up valuable data when tweaking around with your system or trying to repair it. Finally it feels good to format that entire hard disk…

12.Marketing and promotion. Whether you’re a big company or freelance business individual you can brand Customizable USB Drives with your name, include promotional content and give them to your (potential) customers. Artists or music labels have distributed select songs on memory sticks, especially during concerts, and fast food chains have got their consumers hooked with USB Hamburgers and Coke Shaped Flash Drives.

13.Simply having fun! Beside fast food memory sticks there’s plenty more Crazy Flash Drives out there that make for great company and cheerful gag gifts (while still being useful). My favorites are probably Fortune Cookies, Guitars and USB Humping Dogs. :mrgreen:

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or Click here to find more different types of Flash Drives