Flash memory is a non-volatile computer storage chip that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. It was developed from EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable read-only memory) and must be erased in fairly large blocks before these can be rewritten with new data. The high density NAND type must also be programmed and read in (smaller) blocks, or pages, while the NOR type allows a single machine word (byte) to be written or read independently.
The NAND type is primarily used in memory cards, USB flash drives, solid-state drives, and similar products, for general storage and transfer of data. The NOR type, which allows true random access and therefore direct code execution, is used as a replacement for the older EPROM and as an alternative to certain kinds of ROM applications. However, NOR flash memory may emulate ROM primarily at the machine code level; many digital designs need ROM (or PLA) structures for other uses, often at significantly higher speeds than (economical) flash memory may achieve. NAND or NOR flash memory is also often used to store configuration data in numerous digital products, a task previously made possible by EEPROMs or battery-powered static RAM.
Example applications of both types of flash memory include personal computers, PDAs, digital audio players, digital cameras, mobile phones, synthesizers, video games, scientific instrumentation, industrial robotics, medical electronics, and so on. In addition to being non-volatile, flash memory offers fast read access times, as fast as dynamic RAM, although not as fast as static RAM or ROM. Its mechanical shock resistance helps explain its popularity over hard disks in portable devices; as does its high durability, being able to withstand high pressure, temperature, immersion in water, etc.
Although flash memory is technically a type of EEPROM, the term "EEPROM" is generally used to refer specifically to non-flash EEPROM which is erasable in small blocks, typically bytes. Because erase cycles are slow, the large block sizes used in flash memory erasing give it a significant speed advantage over old-style EEPROM when writing large amounts of data. Flash memory now costs far less than byte-programmable EEPROM and has become the dominant memory type wherever a significant amount of non-volatile, solid state storage is needed.
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