New file system constrains Treo 650 storage capacity

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

The change to flash memory from DRAM (dynamic RAM) for PalmOne Inc.'s new Treo 650 smart phone appears to have had the unintended consequence of reducing the amount of memory that is actually available to users. As a result, PalmOne plans to offer a free 128M-byte expansion card to Treo 650 purchasers to get around the problem, the company said Monday.

Small files, such as contacts or tasks, must now be stored in chunks that are much larger than the actual files themselves. This means that the same files a user stored on a Treo 600 might not all fit on the Treo 650. The Treo 650 was released to the public last week through Sprint Corp. and PalmOne's Web site.

A PalmOne spokeswoman confirmed the memory issue in a statement last week. The capacity problem is a design tradeoff caused by the decision to use a new file system that allows users to quickly change batteries and protect their data when power runs out, she said. Treo enthusiast Web sites such as MyTreo.net were the first to highlight the problem.

As a general rule of thumb, users thinking about upgrading to the Treo 650 should understand that their old data will require 33 percent more storage capacity on the new smart phone, PalmOne warned users in an online support posting.

On the latest version of the popular Treo smart phone, PalmOne made two important changes to the system's design. The device now uses flash memory, rather than DRAM, to store data. Flash memory is nonvolatile, which means it can store data without a constant supply of electricity and protect that data in the event of a battery failure or unintended shutdown. PalmOne users have clamored for flash memory for years, and were finally accommodated with the release of the Tungsten T5 and Treo 650.

In order to use flash memory, PalmOne had to switch the file system technology that decides how files are stored. The Treo 650 now uses the NVFS (nonvolatile flash system) file system to store data in clusters. This file system is based on FAT (file allocation table) technology, which was the underlying file system technology for Microsoft Corp.'s DOS operating system as well as Windows 95 and Windows 98. The Windows NT and XP operating systems use a different technology.

In the Treo 650, NVFS technology stores data in 512-byte blocks. This means that even small 20-byte files, such as a contact's phone number, are stored in 512-byte blocks. Smaller files stored in DRAM on older smart phones and handhelds took up only as much space as the size of the file.

This is inefficient, but FAT-based file systems were designed for PCs that work with larger file sizes and have disk drives in the gigabyte range.

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