High-tech hard drives brought down to earth

A maker of solid-state disks has launched a flash drive for systems that need stable storage in a small form factor. The technology being used was originally developed for space vehicles.

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Houston, we have flash drive.

Protecting data has never been more important, and in that vein Memtech SSD Corp., is bringing hard drive technology originally developed for space vehicles down to Earth.

Memtech's newest solid-state flash drive, the Wolverine, is a low-profile 10G Byte drive designed for use in laptop and networking applications that need stable storage in a small form factor.

CEO Curt Schmidt said Memtech has broadened its product line to include more practical applications now that the price for solid-state flash drives has dropped from approximately $100 to less than $1 per megabyte.

"We are delivering the same [features] that were previously relegated to only industrial and military applications," he said.

Solid-state refers to electronic components, devices and systems based entirely on a semiconductor, which allows for elaborate power protection features to keep from losing data, making the disk more secure than conventional RAM.

Memtech is vying for a piece of the estimated $5.3 billion market for solid-state flash drives by custom building drives for military and aerospace applications as well as digital switching, routing and networking systems.

Florida Atlantic University was using a Memtech drive in a robotic submarine when smashed into a rock.

Dr. Ken Holappa said all of the electronics inside the submarine were destroyed except for the hard drive.

"Our pressure vessel ruptured and saltwater filled the batteries and electronics creating an acidic saltwater bath," said Holappa. "[The Memtech drive] was rinsed off, soaked in alcohol, and baked. It booted up on the first try and we recovered the data," he said.

While most laptop users will not be taking their hard drive with them the next time they take a swim in the Atlantic, the technology can be applied to more practical situations.

According to Schmidt, solid-state flash drives are safer than traditional rotating disk drives when it comes to everyday dangers like the wear and tear of travel.

"When your laptop gets zapped by an airport X-Ray machine there's a risk that it will damage your drive," he said. "Flash drives are [unaffected]," he said.

Enterprise Storage Group analyst Tony Prigmore said the solid state disk market is evolving from a specialty market into a more broad-based commercial market. "We've seen recent product innovation from many companies similar to Memtech such as Cenatek and Texas Memory Systems that will collectively provide users with much improved application performance at very reasonable price points," Prigmore said.

"Since rotating drives have scaled in capacity but not performance, this leaves a complimentary relationship opportunity for SSD," He said.

The Wolverine, which measures 2.5 inches across, features a storage capacity of 10M Bytes and sustained read speeds 16Mbps and sustained write speeds of 3-4Mbps. Data integrity is maintained via a hold-up circuit, with integrated ECC data protection and active remap. The Wolverine also offers a DMA connection.

The Wolverine is designed for low power consumption and can withstand extreme temperature, pressure, moisture, shock, vibration and power loss. Each drive is tested for read-writes at temperatures as low as -45 to as high as 87 degrees Celsius.

The Wolverine is priced at less than $1/M Byte and will be available in the first quarter of 2002.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, assistant news editor

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