CompactFlash® cards, also known as CF cards, are a type of removable storage that led to much greater versatility in electronics. SanDisk® first introduced CompactFlash® cards in 1994. Up until then, the only data storage devices commonly available were floppy disks, which were much larger, had moving parts, and were not as tough or as reliable.
There are two different kinds of CompactFlash® cards: Type I and Type II. Both types are approximately 1 11/16 inches wide (43 mm) and 1 7/16 inches (36 mm) long. However, CompactFlash® Type II is considerably thicker than Type I — almost a quarter of an inch (5 mm) as opposed to about 1/8 of an inch (3.3 mm). CompactFlash® Type I comes in data storage sizes as small as 512 MB and as large as 8 GB, while Type II cards as large as 64 GB can be found.
The different types of CompactFlash® cards are also different in that they are different kinds of data storage devices. CompactFlash® Type I is always comprised of flash memory. Flash memory is a type of technology that requires no power source to maintain its memory, unlike other types of memory where the data is erased if the backup battery dies. Flash memory is also advantageous because it requires no moving parts, unlike other data storage devices such as floppy disks. Because of these characteristics, CompactFlash® cards are extremely tough, and can withstand being dropped, stepped on, or submerged in water without losing their data.
Not all CompactFlash® cards use flash memory, however. Most CompactFlash® Type II cards are actually miniature hard drives. This means that instead of using flash memory, most Type II cards have moving parts. The compact size remains a significant advantage, but CompactFlash® Type II cards usually require more power to run than Type I, and are not quite as durable.
Both Type I and Type II CompactFlash® cards use the same type of connector and interface software to plug in to the computer. The connector is very much like what is found on a PCMCIA card, except that the CompactFlash® connector has fewer pins — 50 as opposed to 68. CF cards were designed with this type of connector because it was the most durable, allowing the cards to be inserted and ejected frequently without concerns of the connection wearing out.
Although CompactFlash® easy outsold and outlasted its early competitors — the Miniature Card or MiniCard®, SmartMedia® (SSDFC), and the PC Card Type I — other types of memory cards have since overtaken it. Nowadays, the demand for ever-smaller electronic devices, such as tiny digital cameras and MP3 players, have given rise to smaller memory cards such as the xD-Picture Card®, SD/MMC, and Sony’s Memory Stick®.
Still, CompactFlash® cards are recognized as being the most durable, offering the largest storage capacities, and providing the cheapest portable storage when compared megabyte-for-megabyte with other cards. As a result, CompactFlash cards are the memory cards of choice for professional digital cameras and other electronics where quality, rather than small size, is the goal.
CompactFlash® cards have revolutionized the world of electronics. Before flash memory was discovered, data storage devices always had moving parts, which made them inconvenient for easily transporting data from one computer to another, let alone from a camera to a computer or a printer. Even though there are now memory cards that are even smaller, it was arguably CompactFlash® that made the compact electronics revolution possible in the first place.