Options for your PDA: expanding
memory with storage cards by Lisa Gade ,
27, 2002 (updated 2/2004)
need the background info but rather want to jump to the reviews
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So you've had your PDA for a while, and you've
found all these great programs, digital photos, Adobe Acrobat files
and e-books your dying to load. But where will it all fit? Throw
them all on an add-on storage card, available at many retailers
in stores and online. All modern PDAs accept some form of storage
card which allows you add more memory for programs and data on
our PDA. In fact, you can own many cards and swap them out as you
need the data on them. One card for digital photo albums, another
for Acrobat files or e-books and a card just for games.
What's the difference between all the storage mediums?
CompactFlash (CF) cards are the cheapest since they've been around since 1994 and both
digital cameras and PDAs use them. CompactFlash cards are designed
with flash technology, a non-volatile storage solution that does
not require a battery to retain data indefinitely. CompactFlash storage
products are solid state, meaning they contain no moving parts, and
thus are immune to damage from movement, vibration and etc. (conventional
magnetic disk drives used in computers don't like being bounced:
they may be suffer damage, resulting in data loss). They are quite
fast, transferring data on a 16 bit data bus (the more data lines,
the faster the transfer). Pocket PCs, Handheld PCs and the HandEra
Palm OS PDA have CF card slots. You can get CF cards up to 1 gig,
with a 4 gig model looming on the horizon. These two larger capacities
come in a type II card. Type I cards are thinner (and the HP Jornada,
for some unknown reason still comes with only a type I card slot).
Type two cards are about twice as thick as type I cards and most
other PDAs have type II slots . Type II slots can also accept type
I cards, so don't worry!
MMC cards (MultiMedia
Card) are the size of a postage stamp and wafer thin. Casio was the
first PDA manufacturer to include an MMC slot in their EM-500 Pocket
PC. Some MP3 players also use this type of card. Their benefit is
their incredibly small size. However, they generally aren't available
in capacities above 64 megs and they are slow, having a 1 bit data
bus. Pocket PCs and Palm brand PDAs with expansion slots can accept
MMC card as well as SD cards, but SD cards are faster.
SD cards (Secure Digital) are the same wafer-thin postage stamp size as MMC cards. However,
they have a sliding lock on the side (like a floppy) to protect the
data on them from being modified or erased when needed. They also
have cryptographic copyright protection (useful for such things as
books and music sold on SD cards). SD cards are faster than MMC cards
since they have a 4 bit data bus and a max transfer rate of 2 MB(megs)/second.
Does this make a difference? If you're running programs from a memory
card or playing MP3 files, you'll notice that programs run much more
quickly off of SD cards and that your songs are less likely to stutter,
jump and skip. PalmOne brand devices with an expansion slot accept
(and were intended for) SD cards, as were the Dell Axim, HP iPAQs,
Toshiba Pocket PC and more.
Memory Stick is Sony's
own trademarked invention. They're fairly small long rectangular
purple cards that range in capacity from 16 to 128 megs. For years
they've sold MP3 players, digital cameras and notebook computers
with a slot that accepts Memory Sticks. When the CLIÉ line
was introduced, it too had a memory stick slot and still does to
this day. Memory sticks used to be quite expensive, but prices have
dropped and are more competitive with SD card prices. The Memory
Stick will only work in Sony products. Transfer speed is 2.5 Mb/second,
about the same as SD cards and some of the faster CompactFlash cards.
Like SD cards, MemorySticks have a slider that allows you to lock
What's the difference between a regular purple
Memory Stick and the white MagicGate Memory Stick? The Magic Gate
sticks are designed to do all the stuff a regular Memory Stick does,
and in addition it supports ATRAC3 audio format and has strong copy
protection. What does this mean to you? Unless you're one of the
few folks using the ATRAC3 format (used by minidisc players), then
stick to the standard purple sticks. They're much cheaper, easier
to find and won't cause you any hardship when it comes to MP3's and
Top: above the Compaq iPAQ a Viking 128
MB card and a 32 meg Kingston CF card.
To the left of the iPAQ you'll see an adapter
that allow you to use CF cards in a PC Card slot (handy for
use in notebook computers and the iPAQ with a PC Card sleeve.
They cost about $15.
Far left: a 64 meg MMC card at top and
a 128 meg SD card, both from SanDisk.
Memory Stick Pro and Memory Stick Select
These cards were released in the Spring of 2003.
The Pro cards were a joint development effort between Sony and SanDisk.
These cards come in 3 capacities: 256 meg, 512 meg and 1 gig. Not
only do they offer larger capacity than regular Memory Sticks, but
they're faster. Just how fast depends on the device you're using
the card with. Devices with native Memory Stick Pro support show
nearly 2x faster speeds compared to regular sticks. Sony NX, NZ and
TG models are compatible with the Memory Stick Pro format. The NX73V,
NX80V and TG50 have native support. For older NX models and the NZ90,
you'll need to install a Sony-supplied driver.
Memory Stick Select cards come
in 256 meg capacity and offer all Clié users a way to use
a stick with more than 128 megs capacity. How does it work? Internally,
they're actually double-sided, and in effect are like two 128 meg
Memory Sticks glued together. They're actually the same size as
standard Memory Sticks, despite the added chips inside.
IBM MicroDrive is
the product that makes you wonder just how small can you make a hard
drive. These are the same size as a CF type II card and come in capacities
of 340 megs, 500 megs, 1 gig and higher! The data transfer is fast
given that the MicroDrive runs on the same 16 bit bus as CF cards.
These drives have tiny hard drive platters (just like your desktop
and notebook hard drives) and thus take energy to spin. You may notice
shortened battery life when using one of these, but the power management
is pretty sophisticated, so the penalty shouldn't be too high. Also
note that these drives do have moving parts, while the other storage
mediums listed here do not. This means that you must be more careful
with the MicroDrive.
You're not limited to buying memory cards
from the same company that made your PDA. Those often cost more
and are rebranded anyhow. That means the Compaq or Palm branded
memory cards are actually manufactured by the companies listed
in this article (among others). Some no-name CompactFlash cards
may actually offer slower data transfer rates since the CF standard has
a wide range of acceptable transfer rates. Check out the left sidebar
for some memory cards that we've reviewed and tested. They are
widely available in stores and are companies with excellent reputations.
But which PDA takes what? Use this table as a guideline.
PalmOne (newer models), several
Palm OS Smartphones, Tapwave and Garmin iQUE:
SD cards (preferred) and MMC cards
Memory Stick (NX and NZ models
can also use CF)
Pocket PC and Handheld PC:
CompactFlash (CF), (SD & MMC
cards on many Pocket PC PDAs), PC Card memory and hard drives
for 3000 and 5000 series iPAQs with PC Card expansion sleeves,
IBM MicroDrive for those with a type II CF slot. Note: The
HP Jornada 540, 560 and 720 series have type I CF slots, not
Software Tip for Pocket PC Users
Pocket PC and Handheld PC users: For
some odd reason, Microsoft didn't think we'd ever need
to format our storage cards or manage them. Enter FlashFormat
an indispensable utility that allows you to format, verify
and repair storage cards. Not only that, FlashFormat can
add digital camera support to your cards, automatically
create a "My Documents" folder on the card and
allow you to auto-run any application on your card upon
insertion. Pretty amazing stuff for only $11.95 US.