PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card Memory Card Devices FAQ

Contents
Brief PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card Overview
In Depth PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card Information
How do I prevent data/card corruption due to unfinished writes?
Will my ATA Flash Card work in my Windows operating system?
How do I configure an ATA Flash card in Windows?
Working with ATA Flash on Unix and Unix-like Systems
Where do I purchase Sandisk ATA Flash PC Cards?
What is ATA and how can I learn more about the ATA standard
Are there any data recovery options for PCMCIA ATA Flash Cards?

Brief PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card Overview

PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards are standard PCMCIA PC Cards in either Type I or II (85.6 x 54.0 x 3.3 or 5.0mm thick) form factor. Like all PCMCIA PC Cards, they feature the standard 68-pin parallel interface, although they only utilize 50 of those pins. Because PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards use their own onboard controller to access their memory, just about any operating system can utilize them without additional driver software since the controller presents itself as an IDE device. This also makes PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards very easy to integrate into embedded systems and vertical market devices. Since PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards contain no moving parts, have robust operating environment capabilities, and are available in industrial temperature ranges, they are often used in applications requiring high reliability, availability, and endurance.

In Depth PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card Information

The first PCMCIA PC Card memory types were Linear Flash and SRAM. PCMCIA Linear Flash PC Cards utilizes NOR memory. PCMCIA SRAM PC Cards are Static-RAM. These memory types offer powerful flexibility and reasonable speed, but present complexity in their hardware driver and software interfaces. Hence, very few operating systems support PCMCIA SRAM PC Cards and PCMCIA Linear Flash PC Cards natively and software packages that do are expensive. Furthermore, the memory employed by these card is expensive and neither technology offers capacities required by modern portable devices. PCMCIA Linear Flash PC Cards and PCMCIA SRAM PC Cards are still used in vertical market devices; including farm combines, GPS devices, medical monitoring systems, and many others.

With the introduction of PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards a whole new approach was taken. Instead of placing the burden of addressing a card's data storage via the operating system, driver stack, or software level, PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards features a built in controller. This controller allows the card to behave a standard IDE disk, a hardware device natively supported by nearly every operating system imaginable. This interface is better as it is trivial to deal with card I/O. The hardware controller also provides onboard error management and flash write load balancing.

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Very early PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards used NOR style memory like that in PCMCIA Linear Flash PC Cards, but then switched to NAND. Some NOR based cards required 5.0V and were available in smaller capacities. NAND based cards are 3.3/5.0V and come in sizes much larger than those available in Linear Flash Cards. As NAND densities and die sizes have shrank over the years, ATA Flash PC Cards' capacities have grown considerably from sizes comparable to Linear Flash and SRAM to multi-gigabyte capacities today. Synchrotech currently offers PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards as large as 8GB.

PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards are extremely reliable. The microcontroller interfacing between the host system and the NAND chip banks employs a technique known as "wear leveling" to insure that writes are made to various "sectors" of the NAND banks on a ATA Flash card in order to prevent premature wear. Since NAND memory has limited cycles of write and erase, typically from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000, wear leveling prevents constant use of the same sectors on an ATA Flash PC Card which extends card life. Data reliability is also a function of the microcontroller, which utilizes algorithms for sophisticated defect and error management. This hardware based error correction allows most PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards to acheive < 1 non-recoverable error in 1014 bits read (100,000,000,000,000 bits).

How do I prevent data/card corruption due to unfinished writes?

The most common form of data and sometimes card corruption is removal of the card during a write operation. This occasionally happens even when a GUI based system indicates write operations are complete since there may be uncompleted buffered writes going on in the background. Such corruption will render data unusable, and in some cases damage the PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card. Data rescue is sometime possible if only some files are damaged. Occasionally a damaged card can be rescued with low level MBR formating utilities like fdisk under Unix-like systems. The best way to avoid corrupting PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards is to use the removal method indicated by host's operating system:

  • On Unix and Unix-like system always perform a sync then a umount on the directory point that the PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card is mounted before removal of the card. Some GUI environments provide a command like eject for this functionality. Insure no programs or terminals are accessing files or directories on the PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card before performing the actions above.
  • On the Windows based operating systems, always use the Safely Remove Hardware functionality before removal of PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards. Insure no programs are accessing files or directories on the PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card before performing the actions above.
  • On Mac OS X and Mac OS systems, always select the drive icon for the PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card in the Finder and choose Eject from the menu before removal of PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards. Insure no programs or terminals are accessing files or directories on the PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Card before performing the actions above.

Will my ATA Flash Card work in my Windows operating system?

For DOS and Windows 3.1X: ATA Flash cards need a DOS version of Card and Socket Service Program. Please check to see if you have this running, if not, contact your notebook PC vendor or card reader manufacture.

For Windows 95/98: ATA Flash cards need the standard IDE/ESDI hard disk controller driver which provided by Windows.

For Windows NT V3.51 and NT4.0: ATA Flash cards do work. Set ATDISK in Devices to Boot and Start. Please note the Windows NT is not support hot insertion and removal. The ATA Flash card must be in the PC Card slot at the time of power up.

PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards
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Standard ATA Flash Cards
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Industrial ATA Flash Cards
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Industrial Grade ATA Flash Cards
Synchrotech Industrial ATA Flash PC Cards
Several lines of ATA Flash cards in industrial temperature ranges with high endurance and tolerances

How do I configure an ATA Flash card in Windows?

For Windows 95/98:

Insert the ATA Flash card into a PCMCIA slot. A drive letter should appear automatically in the 'My Computer' icon when inserted. If no driver letter appears, do the following:

  1. Make sure the memory card appears in the PC card icon in the Control Panel.
  2. See that the memory card appears on the list of Hard disk controllers in the Device Manager.
  3. Go into the Resources of that memory card and uncheck Automatic settings.
  4. Choose a Basic Configuration with only 1-Interrupt and 1-Input/Output with no conflicts. Change the I/O by double clicking Input/Output and clicking on the up arrows. Choose a range greater then 0123-01FFF, with no conflicts. Agree to any changes and reboot. A new driver letter should appear. If not, try a different range.

For Windows NT:

Insert the ATA Flash card into a PCMCIA slot before powering on. Start up your NT system. A drive letter should appear automatically in the 'My Computer' icon when inserted. If no driver letter appears, do the following:

  1. Go to the Devices icon in the Control Panel and set PCMCIA to Boot and Started.
  2. Set ATDISK to Boot and Start.
  3. Reboot for changes to take effect.

Working with ATA Flash on Unix and Unix-like Systems

Open/Net/FreeBSD, Linux, and other Unix based systems treat ATA Flash just like any other removable IDE device. Many Linux systems automatically mount PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards upon insertion. Other Unix-like system may require the mount command to access the card.

The following third party article "OpenBSD ATA Flash Card Mounting" explains how to mount PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards under OpenBSD. The procedure should be very similar in most Unix and Unix-like systems. Opinions and information expressed on third party sites does not reflect those of Synchrotech. Another source of Linux information is 3.8 PCMCIA ATA/IDE card drives

Where do I purchase Sandisk ATA Flash PC Cards?

Sandisk discontinued making PCMCIA ATA Flash PC Cards around the first quarter of 2005. They have been off the market long enough that no vendor has any remaining stock. Nearly every application of Sandisk ATA Flash PC Cards will accept substitute cards like those manufactured by Synchrotech. We typically recommend our Y-Series and P-Series for commercial (SDP3B-[XXX]-201-00) and extended (SDP3BI-[XXX]-201-00) standard grade Sandisk ATA Flash PC Cards, and Y-Series Industrial and M-Series Industrial for commercial (SDP3B-[XXX]-201-80) and extended (SDP3BI-[XXX]-201-80) industrial grade Sandisk ATA Flash PC Cards. The other option is to see if used Sandisk models appear on ebay.

What is ATA and how can I learn more about the ATA standard

Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) an extension of the IDE disk drive bus that specifies how a device interacts with ATA drive. For PC Cards, any ATA compliant device should behave as a standard IDE disk (for example ATA Flash cards). Technical Committee T13 of the National Committee on Information Technology Standards (NCITS), is responsible for all interface standards relating to the ATA interface including ATA and ATA with Packet Interface (ATAPI). Visit the Technical Committee T13 site for more information and technical documentation regarding ATA standards.

Are there any data recovery options for PCMCIA ATA Flash Cards?

See our techical note: Is There Any Way to Retrieve Data From Damaged PCMCIA Memory Media Cards?

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