From The Archives: RAMSTICK

What’s the point of this post?

Well, I found this old abstract and thought it was interesting, so I’m posting it.

I’ve been interested in technology for a long time 1. I’ve also been pretty good at anticipating new technology, but spent a long time thinking about coming technology without trying to capitalize on it 2.

That officially changed when I started following Apple in 2008 (I couldn’t resist the iPhone 3G). I had a pretty good sense of where the firm should go, and I decided to make sure to record my thoughts so that I could compare the outcome to my actual predictions. I also bought some Apple stock in early 2010 (at $250/share) so I could finally make money on my predictions.

Before I started following Apple, I made several predictions that were pretty good, but they were usually just in passing conversations with friends. 3 In 2001, I had an idea for something I called “RAMSTICK”. I am going to copy and paste my original abstract below 4 because it’s pretty entertaining (I’m painfully formal, and it’s obvious I’m a pretty green college student). Note that there are several typos 5 that I’m not correcting because I’m literally copying and pasting the abstract below.


General Idea:

A “stick” of non-volatile memory that can be used for high-capacity storage of digital information. This stick would be small (1″ x 2″) and would be “hot-swappable” via a slot on a PC or other computing device. This stick would be similar to RAM (as in the memory in a PC or the sticks used for currently MP3 players and other portable, digital devices).

Reasons for RAMSTICK:

The RAMSTICK would be superior to current large-capacity technology because it could be used as an easily portable medium for large quantities of information.

It could be used for long-term storage of large quantities of information because it would be non-volatile and would be less sensative to extreme temperatures than current technolgies. This more tolerant temperature characteristic would be due to the difference in materials used to construct the medium.

This technology would have no moving parts, thereby making it less succeptible to loss of information by jolt, or high “G” subjection. This would make it more practical for hot-swapping and transporting than current technology.

This technology would be significantly faster than current “platter” based technology. Because there are no moving parts and all data transfer and access is based on electrical impulses and not moving parts. Access time would be significantly reduced, thereby increasing overall execution time for fetch and store instructions.

Foreseen difficulties with achieving this technology:

One of the limiting factors on RAM thus far has been the difficulty in storing easily accessible information in such a small space. It will prove difficult to make a small chip, based on current methods of RAM production, that will store large quantities of information (upwards of 4 gigabytes and perhaps as large as 60 to 100 gigabytes).

Possible solutions to foreseen difficulties:

It may be necessary to design a new compression scheme for this technology. Perhaps if an efficient, dependable, large-scale compression can be accomplished, the large amounts of data as seen by the user may be reduced to smaller amounts of data capable of being stored on a RAM-like medium.

It may also be necessary to reconsider current memory-chip technology with respect to layout, materials and production techniques. It may be necessary to use new materials to achieve smaller electronic “parts”, so that more information may be exchanged and stored in a smaller amount of space.

Short summary of benifits to RAMSTICK:


Possible, specific uses:

This technology may be particularly benficial to modern server technology. Servers are regularly in need of “backups” and often have several hot-swappable storage drives to help ease the flow of large amounts of data to and from teh servers. Also, many servers currently necessarily utilize a “raid/SCSI” drive configuration to help speed access time for the information that is often accessed by the server. This technology would eliminate the necessity for “Raid/SCSI” interfaces as the access time of the information would be dramatically reduced. Because of faster acess time and the durability of this technology, backups would be quicker, more dependable and more easily stored. Also, once this technology is explored, simplified and expanded, there could be less of a need for frequent backups because of larger storage capacity.

This techology could also be used for other purposes such as storage of high volumes of information that may need to be accessed quickly. An example might be a chip designed for home movie viewing similar to DVD, but on a smaller, faster medium capable of higher bandwidths of information, thereby enabling the technology to be more intricate and subsequently more appealing to the entertainment driven consumer.

Genral purpose:

The general purpose of this technology would be to help alleviate the problem with current technologies’ slow access times. Platter and laser based technologies are all based and dependant on moving parts. Moving parts are slower, less dependable, more volatile and more likely to break than technologies based solely on electrical impulse without burden of moving parts. This technolgy, because of its lack of dependance on moving parts and its subsequent boost in access time could open doors for significantly higher bandwidth, thereby helping to move techology into a higher-bandwidth, more detailed era.

Reflecting on this abstract, 11 years later

I sent this abstract to a couple friends, and even tried to get one of my electrical engineering professors to look it over to see if we could do something with the idea. He totally blew me off, so I shelved it. A year later, a friend of mine emailed me with a link to a site that was just selling the first thumb drives and a subject of something like, “Look familiar?”

It turns out I was really describing two technologies that would emerge over the next several years. First, I was obviously describing thumb drives, which have run up to the sizes I described (they’re available in 64GB+ sizes now). Of course, thumb drives had become commercially available a year earlier, but I didn’t know that at the time 6. Second, I was describing SSDs, which are quickly becoming ubiquitous in mainstream consumer products (first in smart phones and portal devices, and now in larger capacities like the one in my MacBook). Again, this technology had existed for a while before I imagined it, but I was unaware of it.

I think I pretty much nailed thumb drive technology, but I missed a little bit on the SSD side. I anticipated the technology serving as an easy server backup mechanism, but it turns out SSDs are just generally more useful than HDDs. They’re providing a much broader service than just server backups.