(Shown is a display from CompuTex showing stick memories designed to look like sushi, and priced similarly.)
Chip-based memory sticks, which you plug into a USB port, are getting super-cheap, and due to get cheaper. I went with a 32 Gigabyte Corsair, but versions with twice that memory are already less than $150.
Memory makers are anxious to find new markets for their product. Cheap chip memory will mean higher-capacity iPod Nanos, phones with many gigabytes of storage, and netbooks that store as much as desktops did just a few years ago.
I remember being amazed a year ago when I went to a trade show and received press releases on 128 Mbyte stick memories. Now you can do that with multi-gigabit sticks.
Chips also store gigabytes of data on Secure Digital Cards (SDCs). I had a 2 Gigabyte model in the Canon camera I brought to China.
While in Taiwan I saw SDCs coming to market this Christmas with up to 16 GBytes, at very low cost. Instant upgrade, and no more worries about using your PowerShot as a video unit. The same will be true with your next phone.
To maintain prices and margins, stick makers at CompuTex looked desperate. I saw sticks with leather jackets, sticks you could brand yourself, sticks offered as fashion statements. (Like the sushi sticks above.)
You can also expect to see sticks with software — security software or application software. I recently suggested shipping sticks with a full Linux stack.
It’s also important to consider the implications of cheap, multi-gigabyte stick memory on our computing environment.
It has been a decade now since manufacturers stopped offering floppy disks, which held about 1 Mbyte. For a while this improved security, since online traffic could be audited.
Now you can pull out gigabytes from any PC with a USB stick in just the time it takes to read this sentence. Sticks are easy to hide, and USB ports are difficult for IT managers to eliminate, since they’re a primary means by which devices, not just memory, are linked to PCs today.
That’s a scary implication. Here is a less scary one.
Before leaving for China I put many important applications on the Corsair stick, including my passwords and my picture editing software. During my trip I moved data repeatedly from the 2 GByte SRAM on my Canon camera to the stick — the netbook had drives for both so it took just a few minutes.
I just checked the Corsair and I have used just 5% of its storage capacity.