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Removable or embedded storage? Both have their advantages – and their disadvantages

Deciding whether to use removable or embedded memory is a matter of weighing up the pros and cons of each option. There are manufacturing issues, features and functionality differences, and user expectations to take into account. Where do you start?

When any manufacturer is producing a device that uses flash memory they have a crucial decision to make. Should they use removable or embedded flash memory?

Sometimes the nature of the product will dictate the answer to that question. Nobody needs to fiddle with the flash memory unit that looks after all the coded signals they blast out of their TV handset. These are relatively simple devices, with a relatively simple job to do, and embedded flash memory is perfect for them.

But there are many times when the decision isn’t clear-cut and the pros and cons of removable and embedded flash need to be carefully considered. I’ve captured some of the pros and cons below. They are the kinds of things every device maker using flash memory finds themselves thinking about at the product design stage. All devices have some form of embedded storage. Without this they couldn’t boot. The big question is whether and how to use removable storage.

The final decision might be led by the market, development cost, the degree of freedom a manufacturer wants to give an end user, a manufacturer’s desire to lock down or open up access to their product’s firmware, the range of data a product generates or uses, or other factors. Sometimes the choice is clear cut. At other times it’s a finely balanced decision.

Flash memory comes in many different shapes and sizes, known as form factors. Some are proprietary, though the tendency across the industry is to support universal form factors and differentiate on specifications (storage capacity being just one of many), so that device makers can have the broadest possible choice of capabilities depending on their needs.


EMBEDDEDREMOVABLE
USERADVANTAGES
– Users don’t have to research the ideal flash memory specification for their device, they just power it up and use it, and it will work to its optimum capability.
– A user buys a complete, working product without the need to add anything to make it function as expected.
– Embedded storage can be configured by manufacturers to optimise speed and performance, which gives the end user the best performance a device can deliver.
– Manufacturers can include ‘factory reset’ software into their device, allowing easy recovery to factory settings.
DISADVANTAGES
– The consumer price of a device might be higher to cover the manufacturer’s costs for sourcing and integrating the flash memory.
– It is impossible, or very difficult, for end users to upgrade their device’s storage.
ADVANTAGES
– Changing to a new card, for example to add more memory capacity, is easy.
– The user can decide what additional storage to buy, including selecting a brand and a storage capacity.
– Data is portable – the user can take their data to a new device. For example, moving a music library from an old handset to a new one.
– A device can have a longer lifespan if users can upgrade its memory or add features via updates administered from a flash memory card.
– Data can be secured through on- card encryption.
DISADVANTAGES
MANUFACTURERADVANTAGES
– A device maker has complete control of the memory used, so they can specify the optimum balance of capability and cost.
– When a device maker knows the specification of their flash memory, they can be confident about making claims around speed and performance.
– Embedded memory tends to be smaller than removable, which means more storage can be provided where space is at a premium, or that there is more room for other components.
– Device managers can treat their flash memory as a critical component, and take control of the supply chain.
– Embedded storage gives manufacturers more control over how data is read and written to the storage: they can design their own interface and greatly improve performance.
– It is easier for manufactures to protect their intellectual property as they can hide their code effectively.
– Retailers might be more interested in stocking a product as they can upsell memory cards as accessories.
DISADVANTAGES
– If the flash memory fails, the whole device may be rendered unusable.
– Device failure might mean a return for repair, either under warranty or at a cost, creating pain points for both manufacturer and user.
– Integrating embedded storage into devices adds to development time especially if a bespoke interface is being designed.
– Integrating embedded storage into devices adds to development costs.
– Integrating embedded storage into devices can create additional user support costs, which can be even greater if a bespoke interface is designed.
ADVANTAGES
– The data is stored safely when the device itself is powered off.
– New, faster and better products come to market more quickly.
– Third party applications can be booted from a flash memory card, opening up new horizons for device users and making it viable to sell the device to a wider market
DISADVANTAGES
– The device maker can’t control the flash memory used. Cards that are under- specified for the device might cause slowness or malfunction, for which the device is blamed.
– There are many grades of flash memory, and the user might find it difficult to understand the differences or work out what is ideal for their device. Using the least expensive flash might mean the device is under- served.

Author: Paul Norbury

Date: Thursday 16th July 2020  

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