USB Flash Drive – 2000 AD

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USB Flash Drive

“Inside the typical USB flash drive you’ll find two integrated circuits: a flash memory chip and a Universal Serial Bus (USB) controller. These two different technologies, invented at different times, were paired together by Israeli company M-Systems, which applied for a patent in April 1999. About the size of an adult thumb, the device for US patent 6,148,354 A was described as a “Universal Serial Bus-based PC flash disk.” The patent was issued on November 14, 2000. By that time, USB flash drives were being sold by multiple companies.

To understand the significance of this pairing, it’s useful to understand the function of the two separate technologies from which it derives. The USB is an industry standard for a common connection interface between devices that connect to computers. It was created in the mid-1990s by a consortium of leading technology companies. Flash memory, invented in 1980, is microelectronics that require little power to operate and can retain data with no power at all.

The marriage of USB and flash memory made data portability and offline sharing much easier while increasing the amount of data that could be stored and moved between devices and personal computers. Previously, using removable flash storage required having a special reader—something that most computers didn’t have. But by the year 2000, practically every desktop and laptop computer sold had multiple USB connectors—it had become the standard way for connecting keyboards, mice, printers, and other peripheral devices.

Suddenly any computer could have extra storage that was fast, portable, and didn’t require a power supply. This was a leap in convenience for consumers. For many uses, USB drives instantly replaced floppy disks, writable optical discs, Zip drives, and other storage devices.

The inventor of the USB flash drive remains controversial. While M-Systems had the first patent, IBM filed an invention disclosure by one of its employees who came up with the idea. There were also competing patents from Singaporean company Trek Technology and Chinese company Netac Technology. In 2000, Trek Technology became the first to commercially sell the USB flash drive using the trademarked name ThumbDrive. That same year, IBM was the first to sell the USB flash drive in the US. Called the DiskOnKey, its capacity was 8 megabytes. Today, storage capacity for USB flash drives can exceed” 1000 gigabytes.

SEE ALSO: Flash Memory (1980), Universal Serial Bus (USB) (1996)

Most USB flash drives consists of just two chips: a flash memory chip that stores the data, and a microcontroller that transfers data between the USB interface and the flash chip.

Fair Use Sources: B07C2NQSPV

Ban, Amir, Dov Moran, and Oron Ogdan. Architecture for a universal serial bus-based PC flash disk. US Patent 6,148,354, filed April 5, 1999, and issued November 14, 2000.

Buchanan, Matt. “Object of Interest: The Flash Drive.” New Yorker online, June 14, 2013.

History Software Engineering

Flash Memory – 1980 AD

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Flash Memory

Fujio Masuoka (b. 1943)

Flash memory was invented in 1980 by Fujio Masuoka, then an employee at Toshiba Corporation in Japan. Masuoka and his small team were trying to create memory that retained data in the absence of a power source, functioned as a solid-state device rather than a mechanical disc, and could store a lot of data at an affordable price (unlike magnetic cores). It would be four years before he was able to present his work to the broader semiconductor industry at an IEEE meeting in San Francisco.

It would take another two decades before flash would dominate the market for portable storage. In the meantime, there were all kinds of experiments in portable digital media, including Digital Audio Tape (DAT), MiniDiscs, and even tiny hard drives the size of matchbooks. All of these systems were mechanical, which made them subject to shock and vibration, impacted their reliability, and put constraints on their size and capacity.

Flash, in contrast, relied on the same basic semiconductor fabrication techniques that were used to create microprocessors and other integrated circuits. Each year the flash chips got smaller, cheaper, and faster, and increased in capacity. The invention of flash memory has made possible a whole range of new mobile devices, including smartphones, MP3 players, digital cameras, e-readers, and tablets. These uses had to wait until the price of flash fabrication dropped dramatically in the late 1990s.

Flash has also proven to be amazingly flexible. Individual chips can be soldered directly onto printed circuit boards like any other chip during manufacturing. Removable flash can be packaged first into CompactFlash® (CF) cards, and then into Secure Digital (SD) cards, which saw their capacity increase from 1 megabyte to 2 terabytes (a factor of 2,000) between 1999 and 2017.

Flash memory has also been integrated into simple, handheld devices with another technology—the Universal Serial Bus (USB)—creating portable storage devices that can be used with laptops, desktops, and other devices that do not have flash memory readers.

SEE ALSO USB Universal Serial Bus (USB) (1996), USB Flash Drive (2000)

A microphotograph of an MX25U4035Z 4-mebibit serial flash unit; the flash storage is the area on the left, while the control logic is on the right.

Fair Use Source: B07C2NQSPV