Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Is ther a PRAM in your future? You betcha...

Used PRAM lately? Okay there are a few people out there (hi skribe, toxicpurity) to whom that word has taken on a whole new world of meaning, but to unprogenied geeks this is a word to watch out for.

Basically, phase state change memory (PRAM) is like Flash memory in that it retains its state when the power is taken away. Unlike Flash though, it is fast, from the article it seems that it's almost as fast as current PC memory.

Now here's ome application where PRAM will shine - solid state hard drives. As you may have read, some laptops are shipping with Flash memory based hard drives, that is, no moving parts to jar, no heads to skip, no bearings or motors to wear out. The two downsides of SSHDDs are that you can't get that many gigs in one SSHDD yet, and they are still quite slow.

I have a "laptop" made by Tandy way back in the 80's, a Model 200. It had a 40 character by 16 line LCD character-only display, which was no problem for what I used it for, and (in my 200, anyway) two 16Kilobyte banks of flash memory. That was it, that was the hard drive, machine memory, everything.

Startup was almost instant because there is no HDD to spin up, and if they'd just used a pause/resume button instead of a power button this machine could have started - instantly - at whatever point you switched it off, and carried on without an interruption.

That is, if you bothered to switch it off. You see, using Flash memory that consumes very little power, an unilluminated LCD screen, and some low power quite basic CPU, a set of four penlight batteries lasted several weeks of solid daily use...

Now imagine a laptop using the same "run it in place" philosophy (i.e. you don't first load a program from the storage area to working memory, instead you treat ALL the memory as working memory) with an E-Paper screen and a nice low power CPU/GPU. Can you see a device that weighs in at under a pound (half a kilo to us Aussies) and runs for a month between recharges?

To top the list of features off for PRAM memory, here's the best bit. Where Flash "wears out" the bits it uses to store data in (about 100,000 cycles last time I checked, if you use your USB pen drive or camera CF card a lot you may wear it out in a few years) the same is not true of PRAM - according to Intel, PRAM should last pretty much forever and retain whatever was last written into it forever.

All the better to store a copy of yourself on...

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