Storage-Media for Mobile Appliances

Storage-Media for Mobile Appliances

A few brief remarks on how to choose the right storage media for mobile appliances like cameras, handheld-computers, mp3-players/recorders, mobile phones, etc and combinations thereof.

A) Avoid the Memory Stick like the plague!


  1. It is a proprietary solution owned by Sony. There is no way of telling what they might do to this format. They might close it up some more (see 2.), they might raise prices once the format is ubiquitous. Look at the prices of Sony accessories and anticipate what to expect!
  2. The memory stick is available in a version, which restricts the ways in which data can be copied to and from the stick (magic gate). It is possible that appliances be developed that demand this kind of memory stick and thereby limit the usage of the universal ones you might have bought. It also means that you must buy two different kinds - no good. And who wants to be limited arbitrarily by some company?
  3. The memory stick is way more expensive than compact flash.
  4. There are no memory sticks with huge capacities. Wait till you need more mp3s on your player ... or want to shoot more photos ...
B) Choose compact flash!

Compact flash is an almost ideal storage medium for mobile appliances.


  1. It is an open standard (ATA).
  2. No versions of compact flash cards restrict the user with respect copying. This is necessary. Attempts to introduce a copy-control mechanism have been thwarted so far. You are safe if you do not buy any device that supports, or even worse, requires this.
  3. Compact flash cards are cheap, beacause they are made by many different manufacturers.
  4. Compact flash cards are available whith huge capacities like 16 GB solid state memory and there is also the 4 GB IBM Microdrive in this format.
  5. Almost all appliances can be used with all capacities of CF, even with greater capacities that might be introduced in the future. This is the case, because the conroller is built into the card and presents the card via a standardized interface (ATA).
  6. Compact flash cards are built very robust, they have a truely compact length to width to thickness ratio - it is almost impossible to bend them by accident.
  7. Compact flash cards can be used in PC-Card-slots (think notebook) by way of a simple and cheap passive adaptor (15 €). They are presented in the user interface as an additional drive which you can use like a floppy. It is just way bigger.
  8. Compact flash cards have indirect connectors which have a very long life.
  9. Compact flash cards are really fast.
C) Avoid smart media! The entities discussed in 2), 4), 5), 6) 7) and 8) are not properly solved in the case of smart media cards.

Smart media devices can only use those cards, that where thought of at the time of their design. PC-Card-adaptors are way more expensive and complicated than their CF-counterparts because they must contain a controller-interface and suffer from the same problems. The connectors are direct ones (wear out more quickly) and are exposed so ESD-Problems must be anticipated.

D) Avoid Secure Digital (SD), this technology disqualifies itself because of the inherent copy-protection. Update 2007: Right now, it seems that the industry has won the battle. SD-cards are as cheap as CF and widely used and therefore almost impossible to avoid.

SD is junk, do not buy it. Note the perverted use of the word secure. The contents of the card, which you copied to the card are to be protected against you, the user. Imagine not to be able to copy files from the card onto a friends computer. Bother! Same crap as the "magic-gate" memory stick. Update 2007: Although the above comments are still valid, as said before it is almost impossible to avoid SD-cards. Most digital cameras of the medium price segment do not have a CF-slot any more. I use a fast (133x) 2 GB SD-card in my Pocket PC (acer n35) now :-(


I can not understand, how the manufacturers of the memory stick and smart media devicess want to achieve any success. Who wants to buy devices with such inherent problems and troian horse tactics? :-) Perhaps the rest of the device is made so well that one might accept the media with a grudge? I doubt that this is the proper way of statisfying customers.

Of course I know that Sony tries to establish the memory stick with all marketing power at hand, but I am sure that one should not further this. Fortunately I liked one of the last Sony products that does not impose any arbitrary restriction on the choice of still photo storage media, the video camera TRV 900E. It has a PC-Card slot and by way of the cheap adaptor mentioned in B)7. I can use a 256 MB compact flash card at a fraction of the price of a memory stick. I also have a Canon S70 with a 1 GB CF-card on my belt almost at all times. Unfortunately the S80 and most subsequently developed Canon Cams feature SD-card-slots only.

I think that every memory card should fit in any device and that the user should not be restricted in their use of the cards. If I want to share some files with you - who should be able to keep me from that? You are right, nobody! Thus copy-prevention schemes like Sonys Magic Gate are of no use to the customer and should be avoided. Who likes to buy a whole zoo of media to feed all the different handheld devices mentioned above? Why not carry data from a notebook to a handheld via CF card? Why not plug it into the MP3-player/recorder? Why not into the mobile phone (copy address books, SMS, you name it)? Why not take the CF card from the MP3-player, and plug it into the digital camera when the card there is full and you need to shoot some more pictures? All of the above and much more is possible if you use CF only! In this way CF is more versatile than any other storage medium: Its capacity can grow, while you use the same old devices with new cards. Floppy disk drives, zip-dives and cdrw-recorders do not offer this. It also scales better: If you own five different devices (think in longer terms!) you do not in all cases need to have five high-capacity CF cards. You only need to equip those devices you actually use and produce or consume much data with. Think! CF saves a lot of money and trouble.

By the way: I search for a MP3-recorder/player equipped with compact flash to use as a dictation machine. (outdated 2007-06, using pocket pc now, unfortunately with SD-card).

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