Miscellaneous, Science & Technology

TechnoSpeak: Remember Memory

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

Sharing data at ridiculous speeds across the world is an amazing feat and one that is exercised to a tremendous extent. However, we must handle this data once it is received and the obvious solution is to store it until desired. What’s not so obvious is how to store that data. Here is a list of common storage formats and their benefits and drawbacks.

Hard Disk Drive (HDD):

The most well-known and commonly used device for storage in practically any computer since the 1960s. They are electromechanical and are commonly found in external storage devices. HDDs are the only storage device that operates with moving parts on this list, using a spinning disk coated with ferromagnetic material, that varies in rotational speed from 3000-15000RPM. The rotational speed is one of the main factors that determine data transfer rates (another being data recording density), and can vary but does not stray far from 1030Mbits/sec. The reason HDDs have not become obsolete (yet) is due to their continuous advancement in data storage density. A drawback of HDD storage is power consumption which is a rising issue in portable devices striving for a longer battery life.


USB storage devices have now (slowly but surely) phased out all other portable media devices. As I write this article on my laptop, I think back to those days when CD ROMs were the rage (yep, I was born AFTER the floppy disk era). USB storage devices a.k.a. Pen Drives a.k.a. Thumb Drives a.k.a. Flash Drives a.k.a. USB Keys, have changed the face of computing as we know it. These handy portable devices have the advantage of being re-writable, compact, widely compatible and cheap. These attributes have made them a staple for anybody who uses multiple computers. Newer USB storage drives use the new standard of data transfer, USB 3.0, enabling almost instantaneous transfer speeds. Moving forward, we can expect even faster USB drives which use newer and faster interfaces.

Solid-State Drive (SSD):

Get comfortable with seeing SSDs more frequently in most devices as a common replacement to HDDs. It has already begun to take over in the portable electronics market due to its better efficiency for battery longevity. They utilize NAND-based flash memory that does not require constant power consumption. SSDs trump HDDs in many other aspects including lower random access time and latency time, lack of defragmentation requirement, quiet operation, imperviousness to magnets, and lower weight. With all these benefits, why do we still use HDDs? Patience! We are getting there. Due to their limited number of writes, SSDs do not have a very long life span and they are dependent on frequency of use. Combine that with a cost of replacement up to $2/GB compared to the $0.10/GB for that of HDDs and progress must still be made before completely replacing HDD technology.

Memory cards:

Memory cards have changed the face of portable storage on devices such as cellular telephones, digital cameras and portable media players. Right now, 64GB (or about 100 CD ROMs) of data at your fingertips is very much a reality. These nifty little gadgets will only grow in capacity and improve in speed while still maintaining the small form factor required by the applications they are used in. These memory cards are as cutting edge as technology gets and a prime example of “size matters.”


Memristors are devices which were hypothesized in the early seventies. As hypothesized, these devices are designed to “remember” the amount of current passed through and have a memory of this even after the passage of current has ceased. In 2008, HP Labs succeeded in fabricating the very first real-world memristor prototype using thin films of titanium dioxide and nanowires. These devices promise to reduce to the energy consumption of memory devices vastly. Also, as small as these devices are, they can replace traditional NAND transistor based storage, thus vastly increasing the density of storage.

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