CES: Small storage devices hit a higher capacity

Small storage is getting big: Both Sony Corp.’s Memory Stick and Secure Digital cards hit 1GB of storage in versions unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. And Hitachi Ltd.’s Microdrive (formerly made by IBM Corp.) will jump to a whopping 4GB this fall.

Sony’s new Memory Stick Pros will come in everything from PDAs to notebooks to cameras, letting you pack more of your favorite files in theses ultraportable formats. Expect the new capacity Memory Stick Pros to sell for US$880. They should be available in April of this year.

The downside for users: Only “certain” Memory Stick devices on the market now will be compatible with the new format, officials here said. New devices that support the technology are expected this year.

The capacity of the cards will increase to 2GB next year, and Memory Stick Pro can hold a theoretical maximum of 32GB, says Masaharu Yanaga, a senior general manager at Sony.

Memory Stick Duos also made their debut at CES. This new Memory Stick media is about one-third the size and weight of standard Memory Sticks. They’re intended for miniature MP3 players, cell phones, and other gadgets. Duos with 64MB capacity should sell for $70, while the 128MB model should cost $110. Both will be available in April.

Sony claims Memory Sticks have garnered 30 percent of the worldwide market for this class of media since their launch.

Panasonic Consumer Electronics Inc. was the first company to announce a 1GB SD product, scheduled for release this fall. The new cards are faster than current 256MB and 512MB models, transferring data at 20 MBps, which is about twice as fast as older cards, according to Panasonic.

With a capacity of 1GB, SD cards can hold up to 9 hours of MPEG-4 video, 16 hours of MP3s, or over 2000 JPEG photos shot at 1600 by 1200 resolution. Cards are already in use in digital cameras, MP3 players, PDAs, and other devices, and may become staples in ultracompact digital video recorders as well. Secure Digital is the fastest growing flash memory format, according to Panasonic spokespeople.

Microdrives, the slightly heftier cousins of CompactFlash cards (they require CF type II slots), are also getting a boost in capacity. Hitachi announced at CES that the company will be marketing a 4GB version of the card this fall. Pricing has not yet been determined.

Like other small storage formats, Microdrives have found their way to PDAs and digital cameras, among other devices. With the higher capacities, Hitachi is also looking to expand into digital video recorders, says Hitachi’s John Osterhout.

IBM Corp. introduced the Microdrive about three and a half years ago. Hitachi purchased IBM’s hard drive division last year, and formally announced the creation of a new storage company, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, earlier this week. The new company comprises the hard drive operations of Hitachi and IBM, and is 70 percent owned by Hitachi. Hitachi will get full ownership in 2005.

– James Niccolai of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.