2000: Portable Personal Storage Devices

USB Flash “sticks” displace disks for portable computer data storage

Removable media from reels of steel wire to cassettes of mylar tape were essential components in the development of audio recording and computer storage devices. The removable disk pack introduced the convenience of portable mass storage to business computing applications in the 1960s. The benefits of removable disks were extended to personal computers and digital entertainment systems with successive generations of magnetic floppy and optical disks in the 1970s and 80s.

IBM engineer Forrest Parry attached a strip of recording tape to a plastic card using his wife’s hot clothing iron in 1969 to prototype today’s most widely distributed portable personal storage device, the magnetic striped card. Developed by the IBM Information Records Division (IRD), Dayton N.J for government security use, the concept found wide application in credit cards, identity cards, and transportation tickets. In the late 1990s, Smartcards began to replace the function of magnetic strips with more secure embedded microprocessor chips and semiconductor storage.

Portable semiconductor storage units in PC (formerly PMCIA) Card packages based on Flash technology were developed for laptop computers in the early 1990s. SanDisk manufactured the first Compact Flash cards for digital cameras in 1994. Standardization of physical formats and electrical interfaces, such as ATA and PCIe, ensured wide adoption of these portable devices. Under the name ThumbDrive, Trek 2000 International Ltd., Singapore introduced an 8 MB USB (Universal Serial Bus) compatible data storage device in 2000. Generically known as USB flash “sticks,” they have universally replaced floppy disks for portable storage and transport of personal files such as documents, pictures and videos. Many generations of these devices have been introduced, each with improvements in read/write speeds and capacity.

  • Araki, S. "The Memory Stick" Micro, IEEE (Vol. 20, No. 4, July/Aug 2000) pp. 40 - 46
  • Parry, F. C. "Identification Card" IBM Technical Disclosure Bulletin (Vol. 3, No. 6, November 6, 1960) p. 8

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