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Winter 2003

Greetings from PCB Technologies,

There's been lots on the go at PCB over the past few months, and we have had a busy time recruiting staff and improving our services, more about that later. And before we tell you about the handy Flash media technology, we have news about a very special deal on a Notebook that ends tomorrow.

+ Notebook special: HP Evo P4 Notebook all in only R16385.00 (including VAT)

+ Flash Memory - hassle-free data lugging at last?


+++ Notebook special: HP Evo P4 Notebook N1050V only R16385.00 (including VAT)

This is a fully comprehensive top specification Pentium 4 notebook with all the features that will make a mobile computing a breeze.

This includes a 1.8GHz CPU, 256MB RAM, a 30GB hard drive, an internal modem, a 10/100 Ethernet interface, a CD Writer / DVD Drive, Windows XP Pro Operating System, Norton Antivirus 2003 but the big plus is the Office XP Pro application suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc). And we will even throw in a free Carry Bag. Please note this is special finishes tomorrow afternoon the 30th May 2003. Full specs are on

Please call Anusha now on 011 880 9999 for more details or to place an order.


+++ Flash Memory - hassle free data lugging at last? (or just another digital wet dream...)

PCB's Bruce Gillespie tells all.

Most of us have a need to move around information, generally in digital format between PC's, typically from home to work and inevitably vice versa. Since it's all going digital now, you can throw in cameras, cell phones, portable music players into this realm of needs as well. The magnetic media diskette drive (more commonly known as the 'stiffy' or the 'floppy') has served us well from its early 8" days, although we know how problematic they can be. As protection against the inevitable, one resorted to copying the same files on two separate disks. ZIP drives provided larger capacity but were relatively expensive and tricky at times being the mechanical devices that they are. The CD-inspired laser optical media technology of CD-R has been useful (and still is), but not without its durability problems since being a precision mechanical device, they eventually do wear out. And it takes time to write a CD, however CD ROM drives are certainly ubiquitous as a PC feature today.

With the shrinking of silicon semiconductor-based mass storage (generally configured as RAM), it was just a matter of time before small portable memory devices evolved to help us shuffle around all those megabytes. Generally known as Flash Memory, after the exact technology used to store the bits & bytes, we can confidently announce that it's here and ready for your data dumps. It's a small module that you slip into a device which acts like a drive. Inside is a digital memory chip, however it retains the data after power is removed (non-volatile is the correct electronic term). Actually virtual RAM drives have always been around, but not in this miniature non-volatile format: that's been a dream, certainly with the kind of capacities on offer.

The problem is that there are a number of different formats, originating from different industries and manufacturers. They all did it their way, but fortunately there is universality in the sense that there are 'drives' that read and write to all the formats (some people call these devices Readers, but in fact they write data as well so why not call it a 'drive'? So we will call it a Flash Drive). The most common format of this portable minature Flash memory seems to be Compact Flash, which is a broad industry standard and supported by a lot of digital cameras. It's also easily adaptable to work in a laptop's PCMCIA slot. This supports the greatest capacity, up to 1GB in a volume a third the size a box of matches but it's a bit chunky compared to the rest. Then there's the Secure Digital format (SD), which is smaller and also seems to be around a lot. Sony Corp. has their Memory Stick format, which you will find in all Sony devices from Laptops, Cameras and portable MP3 players. The author successfully uses a SmartMedia module, since his notebook has a built-in reader for that. This is as thin as an Autobank card, and about 1/3 the size as well. However capacity seems to be limited to128MB which is a bit tight at times. MultiMedia Cards (MMC) are smallest available. At this stage, most formats are readily available but in future we might see convergence to one format.

For the interface on your PC or Laptop side, best you get a 6-in-1 Flash Drive with a USB interface. You do get more compact device-specific readers as well. Once installed, the memory module volume looks like another drive, and one can save to it directly rom whatever application you are using, drag and drop files, delete, rename and do whatever you have to do, treating it as just another drive letter. Reading information is instantaneous but there is a slight delay in writing. Often it looks like its complete on your screen, but the light of the Flash Drive is still 'flashing' since the data is buffered. Taking out the module before its finished will raise scary error boxes popping up on your screen, but putting it back in, saving the files again and making sure its finished sorts that out with no other data loss (so far)

On a technical level, the information is stored in non-volatile FLASH memory which theoretically has a limited life span in terms of rewriting, but practically can be written, deleted and re-written as much as you need to. The modules are quite rugged and shock resistant and generally come in small plastic carriers that protect them whilst in your pocket, bag, purse, satchel or however else you might want to transport it. Pricing is obviously what differentiates between this and the disposable formats such as diskettes and CDR's. A Flash Drive is generally cheaper than a CD Writer, but the media can be quite pricey, however there is a general trend downwards as volumes go up.

PCB supplies all of this technology and what we don't have in stock, we can source for you (at the best prices of course). If you would like a demo, please let us know and we will be happy to arrange it for you. We do have a Flash Drive set up at the MilkyWay Internet Cafe.

Typical retail prices are:

-128MB SmartMedia R650
-256MB Compact Flash R865
-128MB Memory Stick R535.
- 6-in-1 Flash Drive with USB Interface R625

All the best from us at PCB Technologies.


TechnoBeat is the newsletter of PCB Technologies (Pty) Ltd and its divisions, including WiseNet Internet Services and The MilkyWay Internet Cafe. Opinions expressed by authors and contributors do not necessarily reflect PCB company policy.

Please note: All prices quoted include VAT but are subject to confirmation.

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