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  1. Technology
July 18, 1991


By CBR Staff Writer

Munich, Germany-based SCM Microsystems GmbH has just launched its range of flash memory products in the UK, via Newbury, Berkshire-based distributor DMST Ltd. SCM’s products include flash memory cards, a solid state flash disk alternative – a circuit board for a standard personal computer expansion slot, and the MCD1 memory card drive unit. The last consists of a cartridge the size of a 3.5 floppy drive, an AT bus controller board that looks after up to three card drives, and all the software needed to install it in any MS-DOS machine. The controller can also take up to four flash SIMM modules so that, besides dealing with the flash cards, it also doubles up as an 8Mb secondary store. SCM was formed a year ago by two ex-Intel Corp employees, applications engineer Dieter Haas and European marketing manager Robert Schneider, who left Intel to pursue what they perceived to be a great market opportunity in flash memory software products – despite the potential of flash cards, says SCM, the software needed to enable the cards to work with MS-DOS is probably more complex than the cards themselves. He identifies two specific applications for flash memory technology – the industrial market, as personal computers are brought down to the factory floor, and the new volume market in portable computers (CI No 1,529). Portables currently using flash card technology include Hewlett-Packard Co’s HP Lotus Laptop, Fujitsu Ltd’s FMR Card Personal Computer, NCR Corp’s Notepad and Kyocera Corp’s Refalo. The arguments for using flash cards in portables include the ability to get the weight down to 2 lbs 4 oz, to double battery life to six hours, for reliability – flash cards are less sensitive to vibration and shock, and solid state storage also rules out the need to load into main memory, as the card acts as an extension to read-only memory. Schneider acknowledges that solid state cards will never be cheap enough to replace magnetic disks, but is confident that they will become so commonplace that portable computer manufacturers will soon be fitting laptops and notebooks with flash card drives as a matter of course. Flash memory is based on EPROM one-transistor bit technology and is twice the density of static RAM, the competitive read-write solid state memory technology. And it doesn’t require battery back-up. Says Schneider, flash is 30% cheaper than static – a 1Mb Flash SIMM single in-line memory module costs $100 and a typical 1Mb flash card costs $200, though SCM expects these prices to fall below $10 with volume demand.

By Susan Norris

But flash technology cannot compete with magnetic disk when it comes to cost, which is presumably why flash developers have singled out the industrial computing and portable markets. Another obvious flaw in current flash technology is chip capacity – it is likely to be at least 10 years before 64Mb will be achieved on a flash card. Schneider reckons flash capacity doubles every two years – this year should see the advent of the 8Mb flash card. A card will take 16 chips, so 4Mb would have to be condensed onto one chip to get 64Mb on a card. Furthermore, solid state flash memory cannot be erased byte by byte. To date, there are only two software aids to overcoming this snag Microsoft has one, SCM the other. SCM claims its $30,000 plus licence fee Flash Filing System is the superior because the latter only marks invalid files, without deleting them – this means that the memory card fills up just as quickly as without the software. SCM’s system, which consists of MS-DOS driver software, looks ahead so that before the card is full, the software looks back at which are the most invalid files and copies them onto a back-up chip, creating space on the flash card. Intel, with which SCM claims to have maintained a good relationship, is among the users of the Flash Filing System. Siemens AG also uses the software in its new industrial personal computers. SCM, which turned over the equivalent of $1.4m in its first year, has 15 employees and has a subsidiary in Erfurt, in the former German Democratic Republic, wh

ere SCM’s software developers are based. These East German recruits are, according to Schneider, the key to SCM’s future – the standard flash card, he says, will soon become a commodity. As far as SCM is concerned, the flash card is a way into the market, where the Filing System software will be the company’s strategic product. The company’s first product was the Solid State Flash Disk for the industrial personal computer market, then SCM developed its own flash memory card and has a 1Mb card currently in production, to be joined in September by a 2Mb card – as well as a card reader-writer to be used on desktop personal computers. Schneider reckons that in a year’s time, flash technology will take 60% of the market for memory cards. DMST Ltd, Distributed Micro Storage Technologies, the two-year-old personal computer enhancements distributor, is for now SCM’s exclusive UK outlet. To date, SCM also distributes in Germany, France, Italy, Finland, Sweden, Taiwan and the US.

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