Flash memory abounds in PalmOne's Tungsten T5

PalmOne unveiled a new version of its Tungsten-class personal digital assistant Monday that is designed to protect data even when the device's battery dies.

With the US$399 Tungsten T5, the company has redesigned the way its handhelds store data and run applications, said Andrea Johnson, product group manager at PalmOne. The new T5 uses flash memory to store data and run legacy applications brought over from the Tungsten T3, she said.

Australian pricing will be announced tomorrow.

A total of 256M bytes of flash memory comes with the T5, Johnson said. Of that amount, 215M bytes are available to the user. Users can store data in the 160M-byte internal flash drive or run legacy applications out of the 55M bytes of program memory, she said.

Flash memory can store data without a constant supply of electricity, meaning users will not lose data if they lose power while working on applications running out of flash memory, Johnson said. SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), commonly used in PDAs, requires a constant supply of power to hold data.

In the new T5, data is automatically saved to the flash memory as a user is working on an application, Johnson said. This was enabled by the Palm OS version 5.4, also known by its Garnet code name, she said.

Users could think of the T5 as an extremely large USB (universal serial bus) drive, said Sam Bhavnani, an analyst with Current Analysis. "It's a very Palm-like application, one of the things that drove Palm to success in the first place," Bhavnani said.

Both PalmOne and Bhavnani believed the new T5 comes with more storage capacity than any PDA on the market. Hewlett-Packard Co.'s iPaq hx4700 PDA comes close with 192M bytes of both flash memory and RAM. Other PDA vendors such as HP and Dell Inc. use flash memory to prevent data loss in the event of a power failure of dead battery, but the T5 has far more flash memory than PDAs released by either of those two companies.

PalmOne kept the large 320 pixel-by-480-pixel color display that it introduced on the T3. The company moved on to use "T5" for this upgrade because for the "T4" models, the word "four" is translated into a symbol that resembles the symbol for the word "death" in China and some other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Johnson said.

Intel's 416MHz PXA270 series processor is featured in the Tungsten T5. This is Intel's new Bulverde series of processors, which come with improved support for multimedia applications.

The T5 has a built-in Bluetooth chip and can connect to other devices that support the wireless technology, Johnson said. Some PDAs in this class also feature built-in WiFi chips, but PalmOne decided that most users were content with using an expansion WiFi card if they wanted to connect to the Internet over wireless LANs, she said.

The new PDA also features several new applications developed internally at PalmOne, Johnson said. The File Transfer application allows users to connect the T5 to a PC and drag and drop documents back and forth between the PC and the PDA, she said. This is done through a window representing the T5 that appears on the PC's desktop when the application is loaded.

Drive Mode makes it easy for users to treat the T5 as an external hard drive, Johnson said. That application lets the user see the T5 as a hard drive in a PC's file system, with any expansion media in the T5 appearing as yet another hard drive, she said.

The T5 now supports Microsoft Corp.'s Powerpoint documents through the Documents To Go product developed by DataViz Inc. and comes with Real Networks Inc.'s RealPlayer multimedia software.

It measures 4.8 inches long by 3 inches wide (12.2cm by 7.6cm) and is just 0.6 inches (1.5cm) thick. It weighs 5.1 ounces (143 grams). It will be available worldwide on Nov. 3 on PalmOne's Web site and through select retail stores, the company said.

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