SanDisk Combines Storage, Wi-Fi

SanDisk is unveiling a pair of products designed to make flash memory cards more versatile. The SanDisk 256MB + Wi-Fi SD Combination Card offers 802.11b wireless connectivity as well as 256MB of storage, while the new 6-in-1 PC Card Adapter helps notebook users manage multiple memory cards.

SanDisk 256MB + Wi-Fi SD Combination Card.
The Combination Card will ship in June with a list price of $130, SanDisk says. It's the first SD (Secure Digital) memory card to combine both storage and wireless networking, the company says.

"As far as we know," says marketing manager Dave Smurthwaite, "it's the first card that combines storage and anything in that form factor." And he doesn't expect many challengers soon: "We think we're about a year ahead of competitors."

SanDisk started selling its SD Wi-Fi card last year, allowing PDA users to access the Internet from any Wi-Fi hotspot, such as coffeehouses offering wireless connectivity. The Combination Card was originally announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in early 2003, and at the time SanDisk said it would be released around the middle of 2003.

"We had planned to have this out a long time before, but because of a variety of technical and business issues with companies that we were working with, it was delayed," said Bob Goligoski, a spokesperson for SanDisk.

The new card's combination of Wi-Fi and storage offers a number of advantages. It relieves you of the need to swap cards, and therefore eliminates the related danger of losing them. It also allows you to download files that are larger than your PDA's internal memory. And since it's priced about $20 less than the combined cost of separate Wi-Fi and 256MB storage cards, it saves you a little money--at least if you don't already own either one of the separate cards.

The Combination Card works with the Microsoft Pocket PC 2002, Pocket PC 2003, and Windows Mobile 2003 operating systems, but not with Palm PDAs. According to Smurthwaite, the SD slots in Palm PDAs can't manage two functions at once. "We're working with PalmOne to resolve that issue," he says.

Shuffling the Cards

6-in-1 PC Card Adapter
SanDisk's other promised newcomer, the 6-in-1 PC Card Adapter, gives notebook users a compact and extremely portable way to read and write to multiple flash memory formats. It allows you to read and write to six different types of flash memory through your notebook's PC Card adapter. SanDisk expects it will become available in early summer, with a $30 list price.

The 6-in-1 will replace SanDisk's current 4-in-1 adapter. The old adapter supports SD, MulltiMediaCard, SmartMedia, and Memory Stick formats. The new one supports all of these, and adds Memory Stick Pro and XD-Picture Card.

But what about CompactFlash? According to product marketing manager Matthijs Hutten, CompactFlash is designed quite differently than the other standards, making it impossible to fit it into a one-technology-fits-all slot. Although the six supported formats all have unique form factors, "they're all based on the principle of golden-plated contacts on the side. With a CF card, you need to stick pins into the card itself."

SanDisk sells a separate CompactFlash PC Card Adapter for $10, as well as USB-based readers that support CompactFlash and the other formats. This is possible because USB devices, being external, have room for more than a single slot--they sit outside your PC and let you plug in and remove cards in a single step. A PC Card adapter works differently: The 6-in-1 disappears entirely into the PC Card slot, making it impossible to insert or remove a flash RAM card while the adapter is in your PC. You must remove the adapter, remove whatever card is in it, insert another one, and then return the adapter to the PC Card slot before you can access the data.

But once you've done this, Windows sees the flash memory card natively as another drive, even with older versions of Windows that don't support USB. According to SanDisk, the exception is Windows NT, which requires a free patch from Microsoft before it can recognize the adapter.

Martyn Williams of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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