The New Digital Media for Consumer Electronic Devices

July 1996


Nonvolatile, high-density and programmable, flash technology has proven the ideal memory for storing code and data in a variety of computing, wireless communications and networking applications. Advances in packaging technology that allow solid state flash memory to fit into ever smaller spaces, along with low-voltage operation capability, make flash memory in a removable card format well-suited for use in next generation handheld consumer electronic devices, as well. Digital photography, advanced cellular phones, digital audio recorders and handheld PCs are applications targeted for this new digital media: the small form-factor flash memory card known as Miniature Card.

Intel's Series 100 Flash Memory Miniature Card is bridging the gap between innovative handheld electronic devices and personal computers, and is helping to create a broad range of exciting new consumer product applications.

For example, a wire service photographer can upload images taken with a digital camera and stored on a Miniature Card to a laptop PC for transmission to a newsroom. Similarly, an insurance claims adjuster can add digital photographs to a database maintained on a PC network server. A family can use the same technology to view photos and relive the fun of a family event at any time. A salesperson can easily store voice notes made in the field and use them later to annotate PC-based text documents.

Miniature Card Applications

In digital still cameras, the Miniature Card replaces traditional roll film. Once images are captured on a Miniature Card, they can be downloaded to a PC where they can be manipulated or enhanced and then printed on a laser printer or transmitted over the internet. In future cellular phone applications, Miniature Cards will store audio data and can function as message answering/retrieval centers. Even with the phone turned off, the card stores messages for the user to retrieve later.

In pager applications, the Miniature Card enables personal voice messaging services. Actual voice messages can be stored locally on the memory card versus being stored in a remote data base as with 800-number message retrieval centers. Miniature Cards can also be designed into telephone answering machines allowing random access to recorded messages, a feature not available on current home phone answering systems. In handheld computers, Miniature Card can be used to store applications programs and to expand main memory.

Miniature Card: The Right Choice for Consumer Products

Miniature Card is the new digital media specification that enables simple and reliable interoperability between PCs and a spectrum of portable consumer products. Intel flash memory is based on Flash Translation Layer (FTL) software, making it the ideal memory type for high performance data exchange between digital consumer electronics products and PCs.

While the leading application for Intel Miniature Card flash memory is moving data from portable consumer products to PCs, Miniature Card-based flash can also accommodate a rich variety of storage and memory applications. Intel flash Miniature Cards can function as high performance solid-state disk drives. Miniature Card flash provides the perfect medium for updating and storing system code, storing application software, or for eXecute In Place (XIP) memory.

With its relatively low cost, ruggedness for consumer use, small form factor, high density, universal PC compatibility and widespread industry support, Intel flash technology implemented in the Miniature Card format offers significant advantages for designers of hand-held products.

Low Cost

The Miniature Card specification incorporates a number of cost-saving advantages for consumer product designers. For example, Miniature Cards employ low-cost plastic connectors. Intel flash implements linear flash architecture which eliminates additional on-board logic and its associated incremental cost. Intel's Miniature Card implementation employs host-resident Flash Translation Layer (FTL) file management software, avoiding the need for relatively expensive card-mounted microcontrollers or ASICs. Finally, the memory-only bus interface of Intel Miniature Card flash makes system integration not only easy but also extremely cost-effective.

Rugged, Consumer-Friendly Design

For both product designers and consumers alike, one of the most noteworthy advantages of the Miniature Card specification is its simple and rugged elastomeric connector design. The connector consists of alternating layers of conductive and non-conductive silicone rubber, with 60 terminals embedded in plastic. The card requires zero insertion force for connection and snaps easily into place in a conductive rubber receptacle. This approach which requires no connecting pins on either the host device or the card itself, eliminates the problem of bent or broken pins, making the Miniature Card design significantly more reliable for day-to-day consumer use. The durable Miniature Card connector is rated for a minimum of 5,000 insertion and removal cycles.

Miniature Cards also support hot insertion and removal, enabling consumers to install and remove cards without pausing to power-down products and host PCs which support this feature. Much like floppy disks, the cards also include user-selectable write-protection to safeguard critical code -- and even those priceless vacation snapshots -- from accidental erasure. Miniature Cards are further protected in consumer use by a housing that protects against data loss due to electrostatic discharge.

Small Form Factor

At just 27% the size of a PC (PCMCIA) Card, Miniature Card memory modules measure just 38 mm x 33 mm x 3.5 mm.. Consumers will find Intel Series 100 Flash Memory Miniature Cards easy to install and remove, easy to transport and convenient to store for future use. For product designers, the small form factor makes Miniature Cards easy to integrate into product designs, with the potential of adding more card sockets per system.

High Density and Performance

With the ability to address up to 64-Mbytes of data and the inherently high read performance of FTL linear flash, Intel Miniature Card flash provides the perfect storage medium for digitized images, audio data and software code. The 16-bit non-multiplexed data bus supports high-performance data transfers.


The software-independent Miniature Card specification incorporates a number of features which enable risk-free interoperability between a wide spectrum of consumer devices and a variety of MS-DOS* and Windows* 95-based PCs.

Because the Miniature Card interface is a subset of the standard PC card interface, card-to-PC data transfers can be easily accomplished with a low cost Type II PC Card adapter. The passive adapter requires a PCMCIA socket on the host PC. The widely supported Universal Serial Bus (USB) peripheral plug and play standard provides another ideal means of card-to-PC data transfer. USB peripherals, including card readers/writers, keyboards, and monitors may easily include one or more Miniature Card slots.

Miniature Cards also feature voltage-level keying to support multiple voltage in both hosts and cards, including 5.0 volts, 3.3 volts, and provision for a future low-power voltage specification. Developers can use the voltage keys located on the front of the card to key the card for single or multiple voltages, allowing multi-voltage cards to be used with 5 volt-only and 3.3 volt-only hosts. The other advantage of the voltage keying feature is that it prevents single-voltage cards from being accidentally inserted into an incompatible system.

Industry-Wide Support

The Miniature Card specification, originated by Intel Corporation, is endorsed by leading manufacturers of consumer devices and PCs, along with Intel and other leading suppliers of flash memory, DRAM and ROM. The Miniature Card's lower cost makes it the ideal specification for the broadest range of consumer and professional products.

The Miniature Card Implementers Forum supporters include key consumer electronic and computing companies such as: Asahi Optical Inc. (Pentax brand); Compaq Computer Corporation; Eastman Kodak; Fujitsu Limited; General Magic; Hewlett-Packard Company; Hyundai Electronics; Intel Corporation; Konica Corporation; Microsoft Corporation; Nokia Corporation; Olympus Optical Company, Ltd.; Philips Electronics; Ricoh Company, Ltd.; Sharp Corporation and Sony Corporation.

Also supporting MCIF are Advanced Micro Devices (AMD); Alps Co. Ltd.; Augat, Inc.; CDSM Inc.; Centennial Technologies; Duel Systems; Elastomeric Technologies; Kingmax Micro Technology; M-Systems; Micron Quantum Devices; Mitsubishi Electronics; Mitsubishi Plastics; NRG Systems, Inc.; PC Card Packaging; Phoenix Technologies; Samsung Semiconductor; Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd.; SCM Microsystems; Simple Technologies; Smart Modular; Sycom Technologies and SystemSoft Corporation.

Intel's Commitment to Flash

With an estimated 40 percent share of the worldwide flash memory market segment, according to In-Stat and Dataquest market research firms, Intel is committed to providing high-volume manufacturing capacity for flash memory. Intel currently produces flash memory at three factories in New Mexico (Fabs 7 and 9) and with its technology partner Sharp Corporation at Sharp's Fab 3 in Japan. Intel's Fab 18 in Israel, a $1.5 billion investment, will be manufacturing flash chips by 1998.

Intel offers the broadest range of flash memory products within its high- integration, high-density and high-performance product lines. Intel encourages the overall growth of the flash memory market through cross-licensing agreements and by participation in industry standards bodies.


Intel Series 100 Flash Memory Miniature Card is the flexible and consumer-friendly memory medium that bridges the gap between handheld electronic products and PCs. From digital snapshots to software and data interchange, Intel flash in the Miniature Card form factor offers the advantages of low cost, ruggedness and high performance, making it the clear medium of choice for the fast-growing universe of portable consumer products and electronic devices.


Intel Miniature Cards Implement Flash Translation Layer (FTL) Filing System for
DOS/Windows Compatibility, Fast Write Performance

Flash memory-based Miniature Card is the data storage and transfer medium of choice for a wide range of new products, including digital cameras, voice recorders, PDAs and other hand-held computing devices. Flash cards implementing linear flash architecture supported by the host-based Flash Translation Layer (FTL) filing system are a simpler, lower cost and higher performance alternative to cards implementing ATA flash memory. Intel Corporation has joined Compaq Computer Corporation, Toshiba, NEC, IBM, PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card Industry Association) and other industry leaders who recognize FTL flash as the industry standard.

Comparison: Linear Flash vs. ATA

A quick comparison of FTL flash vs. ATA flash illustrates the difference. ATA flash cards require complex embedded logic that includes a microprocessor, RAM and an ASIC on each card for flash memory management. In contrast, linear flash consists of an array of card-mounted flash chips with little or no additional on-card logic required. Memory space is accessed directly, and a host-based flash filing system emulates a hard disk drive. Flash memory management is carried out by the host processor, operating system and the flash filing system.

In an ATA card, required on-board hardware generates significant cost overhead, which is especially critical in low density (2- to 8-Mbyte) consumer applications such as digital cameras. Of equal significance, the on-card hardware reduces the amount of board space available for flash media.

Linear Flash: Performance Advantages

Fast read performance is a critical attribute of flash cards used in consumer applications such as digital cameras. Based on tests conducted by Intel, the read performance of Intel linear flash cards is twice that of competitive ATA-based flash cards tested in the same operating environment. Moreover, the read performance of ATA flash is inherently limited by strict ATA/IDE interface timings. While the native memory access speed of linear flash is attainable by the host application software, the ATA hardware layer prevents ATA flash cards from achieving reach native component access speed. Digital cameras and other flash memory-based consumer products that exchange data with the PC require linear flash read rates that ATA-based cards cannot equal.

*Other brands or products are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective holders.

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