What Is a Flash Memory? | Explained

Every device from a wristwatch to a high-end computer has memory. You also use most of the flash memory devices in daily life. Flash memory is a very fast permanent storage that retains its contents even in the absence of a power supply and this feature makes it non-volatile memory that is used to store and transfer data.

It is not only fast but its data and contents can be deleted and written as many times as this memory is functional. Best examples are USB Flash Drives, Memory Cards, BIOS IC Chip, SSD, etc.

1. What Is a Flash Memory?

A flash memory is a computer storage device that can store data for short periods of time. Unlike traditional hard drives, flash memories are able to retain data even after the power has been turned off. This makes them perfect for portable devices, such as smartphones and tablets. Flash memories also tend to be more reliable and faster than traditional hard drives. As a result, they are becoming increasingly popular in the world of computing.

what is flash memory

Uses of Flash Memory

  • BIOS Chip

Every computer or laptop has a BIOS chip installed on its motherboard which is responsible for hardware initialization and for providing services to the operating system. BIOS is flash memory, and this is why your computer starts within seconds because it doesn't have to install the operations every time.

bios chip

If your BIOS chip is damaged or corrupted, it will damage your whole system and you won't be able to use it. Yes, there are ways to repair it, but you will lose the performance.

  • USB Flash Drives

Thumb drives or USB Drives are flash memories that are widely used to store and transfer data. It is plug and play device compatible with any device having a USB port. The fastest USB Flash drive is 3.2 with 420/380 MBps speed and this is only possible due to the characteristics of Flash Memory.

The first USB drive was introduced in 2000 with only 8 MB of storage and was a replacement for floppy and CDs. As it was flash memory, so it was reusable and users found it more useful than a CD or floppy drive

  • Modern Digital Devices

Well-known companies that develop digital cameras, tablets, PDA, and mobile phones make the internal and external storage of their devices using the flash memory. Memory Cards that are used with these cameras are the best example of the usage of flash memory in digital devices.

  • Printers & Xerox Machines

All the latest printers and xerox machines can store and save the recently printed or scanned documents in their flash memory for a long period of time. You can also manually store a large number of pages in these machines and print them whenever you want. Such flash memory can be operated through the building computer or external computer.

  • Medical Equipment

Flash memory is also performing a key role in different medical fields. Flash Memories are used in medical electronic equipment like ECG machines and Holter monitors, to monitor the real-time condition of patients. These are also part of the latest surgical machines like needle surgery apparatus and LaparoGuard.

  • Industrial Robots

To speed up the manufacturing processes, many industries are replacing manpower with robots using artificial intelligence. These robots are built for a specific purpose are these instructions are installed in their flash memory in the form of programs.

  • Scientific Instruments

Where there is advancement, there is science. Most of the latest scientific equipment like the electron microscope, Ph meters, EC meters, etc have their own flash memory to store data for a certain period of time. This is because the instruments take accurate readings with great precision and store them for future comparisons.

  • Flight Data Recorders

It is important to record flight data from communication to the controls. The recorders that keep track of the flight data use flash memory as storage media. This data helps scientists and engineers resolve the bugs and errors during the flight. It also helps to know the reason behind the flight accidents.

Features of Flash Memory

features of flash memory
  • Non-Volatile

Non-volatile or NVM memory is the type of memory that does not require any power to store and keep data. So, flash memory is a non-volatile memory that does not require any to keep data but you may require power during storage processes. Simply, if you disconnect flash storage, it will not lose its contents. This feature allows us to store data on this memory until you want to remove it.

  • Re-Writable

The best feature about flash memory is that it is re-writable. You can remove the previous data and write a new set of new data hundreds of thousands of times on flash memory. Because of this feature, flash memories are used in almost every digital device from homes to large industries.

  • Very Low Access Time

Flash memories are lightning-fast that can even reach up to 1000 MBps. Huge servers, scientific institutes, and data gathering companies use flash memories for their fast response.

  • Shock Resistance

Old magnetic storage media like hard disk drives are used to get out of order in case of shock. Flash memories are not only shockproof but their lifespan is also more than the latter storage devices as they lack the physical components like heads and discs.

History of Flash Memory

Flash Memory was first invented by a Japanese engineer Masuoka Fujio in the early 1980s at Toshiba. Latter wanted to remove the old and slow magnetic storage media, and he succeeded prominently. Now, his invention is even used in almost all digital devices including computers.

Forms of Flash Memory: All-Flash vs Hybrid Flash

  • All-Flash

This flash memory consists of All-Flash Arrays (AFA) and it is a type of Solid State Storage System. Most of the storage media that we use today is All-Flash Memory such as USB Flash Drives, SSDs, Memory Cards, etc. This storage media does not contain any magnetic heads or spinning platters.

  • Hybrid Flash

This kind of flash memory is developed by combining SSD (Solid State Disk) with the traditional HDD (Hard Disk Drives) with spinning platters. The technical name of Hybrid Flash is Hybrid Flash Array and it was developed for improving IO speed.

All Flash
Hybrid Flash
Write cache first, read from capacity tire Read and write cache
Costly devices Cost-Saving
Flash devices SAS, SATA, and NL-SAS
Suitable for a heavy workload and delivers high performance. Delivers optimal performance.
Less space consumption. More space consumption.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Flash Memory

Pros

Flash Memories are durable as they are shockproof.

These storage devices are compact and portable so you can carry them anywhere.

These storage devices are very fast.

Flash Memories are lightweight.

These memories can store data in thousands of GBs AKA TBs.

Flash Storage Devices are present in both forms, internal and external storage.

The latest types of Flash Memory can be attached to your smartphones using OTG connectors.

Flash memories are used as promotional material.

Cons

These memories are very costly.

More susceptible to data loss than hard drives.

2. How Does Flash Memory Work?

The basic building blocks of flash memory are FGMOS (Floating Gate MOSFETs). These are electronic components that are also called Flash Cells when used as a memory. MOSFETs are transistors and it stands for Metal-Oxide Field Effect Transistor.

Flash memories are EEPROMs means these are electrically erasable programmable read-only memories with various sections to store data.

Computers and other digital devices understand the Binary Language of 0s and 1s, and each FGMOS can store either 0 or 1. Unlike other MOSFETs, FGMOS has a Floating Gate for trapping and releasing the electric charge (your data). When there are no electrons trapped inside this gate, it is considered as 1 while on the other hand, trapped electrons tell our devices that the binary digit is 0.

3. Types of Flash Memory: NAND vs NOR

There are two following types of Flash memory regarding their manufacturing:

types of flash memory

NOR Flash

NOR Flash memory consists of NOR Gates and these gates are connected to the ground in a parallel manner. This is why NOR Flash needs more space as it is bigger in physical size. This memory is faster than NAND Flash. This type of flash memory is used for storing programs that contain instructions.

NAND Flash

NAND Flash memory is made up of NAND Gates and these gates are present in a series sequence just like beads in a rosary. NAND Flash does not require more space as it can be developed compactly. NAND is preferred for data storage such as in digital devices.

NAND vs NOR Flash Memory

You can learn the difference between NAND and NOR Flash Memory in the table below:

NAND Flash Memory
NOR Flash Memory
NAND memory has ten times more endurance than NOR flash memory. This type of flash memory does not have much endurance.
It is a very high-quality storage medium. NOR memory is a low-quality storage medium.
The most used and the most popular memory type. This is why it is found in computers, tablets, and cell phones. Rarely used in modern devices.
NAND Flash is ideal for storing image and video data. This is why most digital cameras and camcorders that use NAND for storing your data. This memory is used only in devices with small read and write operations such as random and execute-in-place access.
NAND Memory has ten times more endurance than NOR Flash Memory. The SLC type NOR Flash memory has more endurance than NAND Flash Memory.
The performance of NAND flash memory is greater than NOR flash as well. NOR Flash consumes less power than NAND flash memory.
Cheaper than NOR Memory. Expensive than NAND Flash.
Smallest Read and Smallest Write are performed on pages. Read and Write operations can only be performed on bytes.

Flash Memory vs RAM: What's The Difference

Flash Memory is non-volatile while RAMs are volatile. In simple words, RAMs need continuous electric power for storing data and instructions. If there are no voltages or electric power then their contents are erased. It is obvious that RAMs store data and programs temporarily, especially when they are being used.

On the other hand, Flash Memory does not require power every time for storing data permanently. This is why the data stored inside your memory cards, smartphones, SSDs, and USB drives remains as it is even after months and years.

Flash Memory
RAM
It’s a non-volatile memory. It’s a Volatile memory.
Retain data without any power supply. Could not retain data without a power supply.
Long-term file storage. Short-term file storage.
Slower than RAM Much faster than flash memory.

Flash Memory vs HDD: What's The Difference

HDDs are not shockproof and a single shock can permanently damage them. Contrary to that, flash memory storage devices can bear shocks as the components are in solid-state. Flash memory is way faster than HDD because it has less access time. A flash Memory dropped down on the floor more than once might work again but not an HDD.

Flash Memory
HDD
Limited small capacity. Large capacity.
Fast response time then HDD. Slow response time.
Cost is higher than HDD. Comparatively cost-efficient.
Shockproof. Not shockproof.
Durable with more lifespan. Not durable and have less lifespan.

Bonus Tips: How to Recover Lost or Deleted Data from Flash Memory Storage Device?

There's a possibility that you might lose your data stored in a Flash Memory Device. Luckily, we have a powerful tool known as Wondershare Recoverit for recovering your lost and deleted precious data. This application has a very user-friendly UI that even a ten-year-old can perform the recovery.

Wondershare Recoverit can recover your data from almost every kind of storage media such as M2s, SSDs, HDDs, Memory Cards, USB Flash Drives, etc. You only need to install it from its official website. After opening the app, it will automatically detect all of your internal and external devices. Then you can let it scan and enjoy your coffee.

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Step1Select The Recovery Drive

To start recovery you have to select the drive you want to recover data from. After launching the application you will see a user friendly interface. Now select the “Hard disk drives and Location” option on the left. Now you can see all the drives including flash drives and hard drive partitions.

choose the flash memory storage device
Step2Scan The Location

After selecting the location Recoverit will start an automatic scanning process. Time of the scanning will depends on your files size. Sometime it takes minutes and sometimes it may take few hours. You can select specific files from the file menu that you want to recover. These file type may include photo, video, audio, document, database, web files etc. You can also search specific folder to start recovering from it.

scan the flash memory device
Step3Recover The Desired Data

You can preview the scanned files to make sure they are your desired data. Then, simply click the Recover button to restore them.

flash memory recovery
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People Also Ask

When Mr. Masuoka’s colleague, Shōji Ariizumi, saw that the newly invented memory was very fast. Mr. Shōji Ariizumi said that it reminded him of the camera's flash so the memory was named “Flash Memory”.

No, there is a prominent difference between Flash Memory and RAM. RAMs lose their contents as the computer or device is powered off while Flash Memory never loses its contents in such a case.

Yes, USB is a flash memory as its technical name is USB Flash Drive. Even Memory Cards, SSDs, and Firmware use flash memory.

Flash memory has IC chips for storing data and each chip contains arrays of FGMOSFETs. Each FGMOSis is known as a memory cell that can either store a 0 or a 1. There are no electromagnetic parts in Flash Storage Devices.

Well-known sources have said that Flash Memory can last up to more or less 10 years. You should get flash storage devices as they are shockproof as well.

Conclusion

This article is a very useful guide based on the basic concepts about Flash Memory which is a very popular storage nowadays. This article contains the definition, usage, and features of Flash Memory. It also describes a brief history and working of flash memory.

By reading this article you will not only be able to differentiate between NOR and NAND Flash but also between the All-Flash and Hybrid. In this guide, we have also compared Flash Memory with RAMs and traditional HDDs.

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