SHANGHAI Just what the world needs another memory card format. Hang on, don't despair yet, because this one, with its full USB compatibility and high-speed interface, may just have what it takes to catch on.
Backed by the MultiMediaCard Association, and based on core technology from Taiwan, the new miCard might just be what the system designer ordered. It slips into a standard USB slot yet complies with MMC electrical specs. That means consumers wouldn't need to buy MMC/SD card readers for PCs, and if it proves popular then system designers may not need to design in internal readers, either.
With 60Mbytes per second in throughput, miCard trounces all mainstream cards in speed. An interface that handles a hefty 2048Gbytes of capacity is future proof and only matched by Sony's MS Duo and Pro. And at 12x21x1.95mm, its only competition is the slightly smaller microSD (15x11x1mm).
Working prototypes were unveiled today in Taiwan and will be on display at next week's Computex, one of the region's largest IT shows. The spec will be published by the MMCA in June and mass production of the first batch is expected in the third quarter.
"When the card is popular enough, so that you see it everywhere in retail, consumer electronics vendors have said they will design in a special slot for it," said Liu Chih-yuan, of Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), which spearheaded the project.
Other perks inherent in the design include power consumption lower than USB 2.0, a hardwired passive adapter that would be cheaper than a card reader at about 9 cents per piece and support for smart cards or subscriber identity module cards for easy use within mobile phone designs.
Eventually, miCard throughput will increase to 120Mbytes per second. In labs tests, it's been achieved, but the internal interface of NAND chips remains a bottleneck to achieving such an overall system speed.
At its heart, the simplicity of the miCard spec derives from the use of USB protocols for the digital portion. Its speed comes from a 16-bit bus compared to 4- and 8-bit buses for next-generation SD and MMC cards. Initially, the miCard will use a USB PHY but eventually it will migrate to a digital USB "wrapper" circuit that will consume one-third the power of USB 2.0. The numbers: at 3.3V, less than 26mA; at 1.8V, less than 20mA.
Work on the spec began at ITRI about three years ago. The main motivation was to get out from underneath royalty payments of 6 percent for SD cards, of which Taiwan is the No. 2 assembler, by promoting a spec that might eventually supersede it in popularity.
But the spec, which started out with the less snappy name Mu-Card, might easily have been another has been. A break came in mid 2005 when the Taiwan developers pitched the idea of the card to the MMCA. They liked it and later that year formed a technical committee to adopt the spec and shepherd it through the long process of adoption, which ended in May.
"We needed to use that interface because it is already in so many devices like mobile phones and cameras. MMC helps us to leverage the strength of worldwide companies," Liu said.
Still, its success is no slam dunk. Taiwan is a powerful force in the memory card industry, but consumers will make the final call. And with more than eight card formats out there, only the tech savvy may pick up on the convenience of the USB compliant format. Marketing will be key but that's never been a strong point for Taiwan vendors.
Companies already committed to supporting the card include A-Data, BenQ Corp., Carry Computer Eng. Co., C-ONE Technology Corp. (Pretec), DBTEL Inc., Power Digital Card Co., Ltd. and RiCHIP Inc. Once the spec is made public in June, Liu expects others to begin development.