In the old days, you'd buy a RAID adapter card to let your computer attach to multiple hard drives that provided data capacity and protection. Nowadays, with flash memory, the storage fits right on the card.
Addonics Technologies announced a $50 PCI card Tuesday that's got four CompactFlash card slots. The cards can be configured as four individual drives, a single large volume, or set up with RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks) 0, 1 or 10 to stripe data across multiple cards or mirror data from one onto another.
Note that there's no support for RAID 5 and that cards can't be hot-swapped, so no adding capacity nondisruptively by plugging in newer, bigger flash cards, according to President Bill Kwong.
The company is considering a similar card with smaller SD cards, but doing so would require more electronics because Secure Digital, unlike CompactFlash, doesn't include built-in support to behave like a hard drive with an IDE interface.
The adapter here is the cheap part. If you want a solid amount of flash storage, the costs quickly go up. For example, an 8GB Lexar 300x UDMA card costs about $170. Multiply by four and you're looking at $680 for 32GB raw capacity, and less if you configure the RAID to protect your data.
Compare that with a 500GB Maxtor hard drive that costs less than $100, and you might turn a little pale. But bear in mind that flash cards can offer some faster performance, are silent, and are less power-hungry and bulky than hard drives.
"We have tested a Transcend 250X industrial CompactFlash card and were getting close to 40 MB/sec sustained data transfer. When we striped two of these (in a RAID configuration), we achieved read/write speed close to 80 MB/sec," Kwong said.
Perhaps the more relevant comparison is with solid-state disks, which pack flash memory in a device that looks and behaves like a regular hard drive with spinning platters. So far, these are also expensive when priced per gigabyte, but Kwong believes the PCI card approach could be more economical.
"I think all the solid-state disk suppliers price their product higher to make more profit," he said. "Our approach is to combine low-capacity, mature CompactFlash media to achieve large capacity. You can be the judge as to which approach will have a better price performance advantage in the next few years."
Addonics is aiming for some niche markets, including kiosks, arcade games, low-power PCs and shock-resistant computing equipment, Kwong said.