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220px-USB flash drive

A USB flash drive. The chip on the left is the flash memory. The controller is on the right.

About[]

Flash memory is a non-volatile computer storage chip that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. It is primarily used in memory cards, USB flash drives, MP3 players and solid-state drives for general storage and transfer of data between computers and other digital products. It is a specific type of EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable read-only memory) that is erased and programmed in large blocks; in early flash the entire chip had to be erased at once. Flash memory costs far less than byte-programmable EEPROM and therefore has become the dominant technology wherever a significant amount of non-volatile, solid state storage is needed. Example applications include PDAs (personal digital assistants), laptop computers, digital audio players, digital cameras and mobile phones. It has also gained popularity in console video game hardware, where it is often used instead of EEPROMs or battery-powered static RAM (SRAM) for game save data. Flash memory is non-volatile, meaning no power is needed to maintain the information stored in the chip. In addition, flash memory offers fast read access times (although not as fast as volatile DRAM memory used for main memory in PCs) and better kinetic shock resistance than hard disks. These characteristics explain the popularity of flash memory in portable devices. Another feature of flash memory is that when packaged in a "memory card," it is extremely durable, being able to withstand intense pressure, extremes of temperature, and even immersion in water.

Although technically a type of EEPROM, the term "EEPROM" is generally used to refer specifically to non-flash EEPROM which is erasable in small blocks, typically bytes. Because erase cycles are slow, the large block sizes used in flash memory erasing give it a significant speed advantage over old-style EEPROM when writing large amounts of data

History[]

Flash memory (both NOR and NAND types) was invented by Dr. Fujio Masuoka while working for Toshiba circa 1980. According to Toshiba, the name "flash" was suggested by Dr. Masuoka's colleague, Mr. Shoji Ariizumi, because the erasure process of the memory contents reminded him of the flash of a camera. Dr. Masuoka presented the invention at the IEEE 1984 International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) held in San Francisco, California.

Intel Corporation saw the massive potential of the invention and introduced the first commercial NOR type flash chip in 1988. NOR-based flash has long erase and write times, but provides full address and data buses, allowing random access to any memory location. This makes it a suitable replacement for older read-only memory (ROM) chips, which are used to store program code that rarely needs to be updated, such as a computer's BIOS or the firmware of set-top boxes. Its endurance is 10,000 to 1,000,000 erase cycles.[citation needed] NOR-based flash was the basis of early flash-based removable media; CompactFlash was originally based on it, though later cards moved to less expensive NAND flash.

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