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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 23rd year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Big things in small packages

1 September 2017

What's the largest capacity SD card you own?

I recall that the first SD card I bought was a hefty 128 megabytes. Wow... so much storage in such a tiny space -- how on earth could they do that?

This tiny plastic card had more storage than 100 8-inch floppy drives (and I'm talking about the higher density ones, not the original ones). Indeed, this thing was the equivalent of ten 10MB 5.25" hard drives, of the type that were first used in desktop micros like the original IBM PC XT, yet it was so small and light.

Then microSD cards came along and we had even more storage (2GB to 4GB) squeezed into an even smaller package. Damn, these things are about the size of a fingernail!

Of course technology never sleeps so today, most of my HD cameras have 16GB microSD cards in them and my 4K camera has a 32GB card.

And now we have this...

SanDisk, one of the leading microSD card makers, has released a new card with, even by today's standards, a stunning amount of storage.

Yes, my jaw dropped when I read that they are releasing 400GB microSD card.

Seriously?

400GB?

That is crazy!

How much is 400GB? Well it's 0.4 of a terabyte or (in disk-makers terms -- remembering that they think 1K is 1000, not 1024), it is 4x1011 bytes.

Of course the convenience of storing so much data in such a small space comes at a price and that price is US$250 -- but even that is a surprisingly small amount of coin to part with for such a huge amount of storage.

Okay, you can pick up a 1TB portable drive for under NZ$90 these days but we're talking something completely different with a microSD card. The storage density (both in terms of volume and weight) are many orders of magnitude higher for the card and as far as convenience goes, it's a no-brainer.

As video standards move from 1080p to 4K and upwards, the need for compact, low-power, high density storage also increases so I expect that this card will be lapped up by those who like to collect hours and hours of footage without the hassle of shuffling tiny bits of plastic as they fill up. Hell, if I had the money I'd probably buy one myself.

But where to from here?

Surely we must be approaching some form of physical boundary with this stuff. At what point do we begin suffering from quantum effects that mess with data integrity? When do we simply run out of room in the microSD format to squeeze any more bits in?

When I was playing with 4GB microSD cards I might have been tempted to think that such a threshold was not too far away -- but now the density has risen by more than 50 times in just a couple of very short years so might we see multi-terabyte cards in another year or two?

I also wonder what other applications this uber-dense data storage technology might have.

In the case of data-logging (or "spying even), such a huge amount of ultra-compact storage will allow for extended periods of collection between "dumps". How many IoT devices will have covert high-density Flash storage secretly built into them to collect data -- scooping up valuable information undetected for months or even years. Sniffing the IP traffic will show nothing and such devices could be assumed to be "safe" -- until, perhaps a year or more later, they spontaneously dump all that data to an eagerly waiting server somewhere.

Okay, I'm a cynic -- but what other doors does this level of uber-compact high-capacity data storage open?

Aside from the obvious applications for cameras with ever-increasing resolutions, where do you see such a card being valuable?

Who's going to make a RAID array of these things as an alternative to an "off the shelf" SSD -- oh, sorry, that's already a thing.

Your thoughts and suggestions please.

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