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Mainland readies own memory card format

Posted: 16 Aug 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Mike Clendenin? memory card? compact flash? Lenovo? Founder Technology?

Adding to a confounding array of choices for consumers, a group in mainland China is wrapping up what will become the sixth memory card to reach the market.

The project involves more than a dozen high-profile domestic companies, including PC makers Lenovo Group and Founder Technology, and consumer electronics companies TCL Corp. and Beijing Huaqi Information Digital Technology of the mainland's largest MP3 makers.

The cardexpected to be completed by year's endwill use NAND flash and will not be compatible with memory cards already on the market, said Li Zhang, Lenovo's representative to the China Mobile Storage Standard Workgroup. Details on form factor and what makes the card technically superior are not known yet.

No doubt, the format will struggle to displace more popular cards, such as the Secure Digital/MultiMedia Card, CompactFlash and Memory Stick. But the card should lessen the royalties paid by assemblersa motivation that has driven many standards efforts in China. The country is actively pursuing domestic standards in high-density optical disks, digital TV, WLANs, mobile phones, digital rights management, networking and A/V compression.

The storage group is targeting mobile phones as the main application, but hopes the card also will be used in MP3 and MP4 players, as well as for storing sensitive or copyrighted data.

The project, driven by the mainland industry seeking government funding, parallels a similar effort in Taiwan, the second-largest assembler of memory cards. But the two are not cooperating.

In the spring, a technology consortium in Taiwan introduced the Micro-Card memory card format, which Taiwan said is twice as fast as USB 2.0, yet less expensive. It is also 66 percent smaller than the reduced-size MMC or miniSD cards hitting the market.

Unlike the forthcoming mainland China format, however, Taiwan's Micro-Card is compatible with the popular Secure Digital and MultiMedia Card formats. That has helped to foster a cooperative alliance between the MultiMediaCard Association and the Micro-Card Alliance.

The mainland China and Taiwan groups are on common ground, though, when it comes to saving money. They hope to reduce their royalty exposure, which is 6 percent for the popular Secure Digital card format. Yet, backers of the formats face the sticky prospect of probably needing to support other popular formats in the market. So, instead of saving money, they might need to spend more to support another memory card format. As a result, Chinese companies have deferred any decision on whether to support the format in their products.

Undeterred, the storage group said that China's domestic market is large enough to support a local format. And, if it proves popular, the group will push it into the global market.

The two-year-old group downplayed the notion that it is adding to the dizzying choice of memory card formats when the market may just want fewer choices, not more. "It is because there are too many standards in the market that we need our own standard to standardize the market," said Jianqiang Ren, Huaqi's representative to the storage work group.

After the spec is submitted, it will take several months to test it. The group said more than 100 domestic companies support the project. Foreign companies are allowed to join the group as observers. Ren said a few have expressed interest, but he declined to identify them.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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