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The History of USB Flash Drives

Updated on December 16, 2014

Before the year 1999, re-writable external computer storage took the form of floppy disks and tapes. It was inevitable that someone would decide to combine the technology of the Universal Serial Bus- the port in which almost all computer peripherals are connected- with the technology known as flash memory. Flash memory was developed in its first form by Toshiba in 1984. The result of this combination was a portable re-writable storage device that would soon utilize "Plug and Play" technology- allowing it to be compatible with virtually any computer, and be able to transfer files between them.

The individuals responsible for this invention were Amir Ban, Dov Moran and Oron Ogdan- all from the Israeli company "M-Systems" who filed a US patent in April 1999. M-Systems sold these products outside of Israel with the help of IBM, who marketed these products under their own name. Throughout the rest of 1999, USB flash drives remained experimental devices, but were released commercially in 2000.

In December 2000, the M-Systems site advertised DiskOnKey as the following:

"The DiskOnKey is a personal, reliable, and portable device for Mac and PC users. Built in drivers make it compatible with most computers running the latest operating systems, making it a must for any one using more than one computer. DiskOnKey is ideal for transferring files, downloading Internet sites, and storing data, such as presentations. Just use your imagination and you can probably come up with new ways to use the DiskOnKey".

At the same time- December 2000- the MSystems site also claimed they had the following partners- Toshiba, who were involved in the creation of DiskOnChip products, and Microsoft, who were involved in the creation of software drivers for DiskOnChip.

On the 20/02/01, M-Systems opened a new office in the People's Republic of China. In April 2001, the M-Systems site had the following specifications of DiskOnKey:

"Removable storage with capacities of 8, 16 and 32 MB
USB Interface
Fully Plug & Play, no driver installation required
Appears as a Hard Disk in the system
Data security
M-Systems’ TrueFFS® technology
Optimal data retention
Failure resistant
No power supply or batteries needed
Reliable, pocketable, personal, portable storage

Overview:

The DiskOnKey utilizes a standard Universal Serial Bus (USB) port for complete and instantaneous plug-n-play interoperability on the latest Windows ®, Mac ® OS and Linux ® operating systems - without requiring users to load software drivers(Windows 98 still required a driver provided on an accompanying disk or for download from their website). When plugged into an USB port, the DiskOnKey operates as a secure, reliable, removable hard drive.

Capabilities and Opportunities

The DiskOnKey lends itself to a wide variety of innovative uses. The product is an active device with its own central processing unit (CPU) and is capable of supporting and running multiple applications directly from the product. When using the DiskOnKey you can save documents, presentations, cross the boundaries between a PC & Macintosh, and save downloaded music, videos or books. Because it connects with host computers through a USB port, the DiskOnKey product is easily utilized: just plug it in! The host computer will immediately detect it and recognize it as a supplementary hard drive.

DiskOnKey Specifications

DiskOnKey host interface
Universal Serial Bus (USB)

Power supply
USB Bus-powered
No external power required

Power Consumption
Standby: 30 µA (typical), 500 µ (Max)
Read/Write: 80 mA (typical), 95 mA (Max)

Performance (read/write)
Up to 12 MBits/sec
Supported Operating Systems
Windows 98(1), Windows 2000, Windows Me, MacOS 9.0, Linux 2.4.0
Capacity
8 MB, 16 MB and 32 MB

LED Indication
LED beating slowly:
DiskOnKey connected and inactive
LED in fast flashing mode:
Transmitting/receiving data

Operating Temperature
0 °C to +45 °C

Storage Temperature
-20 °C to +60 °C

Environmental Conditions
Relative humidity during operation (Non-condensation): 10% to 90%
Relative humidity during storage: 5% to 90%
Maximum wet bulb temperature: +38.7 °C (101.6 °F)

Dimensions
Length: 82 mm
Width: 15 mm
Height: 23 mm

Vibration
Operating: 0.5 G, 10 to 500 Hz, 0.5 Oct/Min sweep rate
Non-operating: 1.0 G, 10 to 500 Hz, 0.5 Oct/Min sweep rate
Shock
Operating: 10 G, 11 ms, half-sine
Maximum Altitude
Operating: 3,048 m (0 to 10,000 ft.) (14.7 to 10.1 PSIA)
Non-operating: 9,144 m (0 to 30,000 ft.) (14.7 to 4.4 PSIA)"

For the next few years, similar specifications would appear for M-Systems' later products.

A picture of the MSystems site from July 2001.
A picture of the MSystems site from July 2001.

The MSystems site stated the following regarding Windows 98:

"Windows 98, opposed to later Windows releases(Windows Me, Windows 2000), does not support the full standard of USB. One of the features that are not included in Windows 98 is the support for a standard USB storage, such as a standard disk drive. This is why a driver is required to be installed before the DiskOnKey can be used with Windows 98.

The installation procedure is as follows:

1. Turn on the PC and startup the Windows 98 operating system.

2. Create a new folder for downloading the driver, for example C:\DiskOnKey.

3. Download the driver by clicking on the "Download" link at the bottom of this page.

4. Insert the DiskOnKey device into the USB port.

5. A request to select a driver will be displayed by Windows 98.

6. Choose "Search for the best driver..." and click "Next".

7. A request for the location of the driver will be displayed by Windows 98

8. Choose "Specify a location", and use the "Browse" button to select the download location (i.e. C:\DiskOnKey).

9. Click "Next" until the driver is installed.

10. Repeat 5-9 one more time, always use the same download location (i.e. C:\DiskOnKey).

11. The DiskOnKey can now be used with your PC."

By Windows 2000, the necessity for software driver installation was removed by "Plug and Play", which automatically installs the drivers for peripherals when first connected to the computer.

By January 2002 the following had appeared on the MSystems site describing DiskOnKey:
"Smart, removable data storage for business and personal use
Highly reliable data retention using M-Systems patented technologies, such as TrueFFS®
Available in 8, 16, 32, 64 and 128MB capacities
Multiple certifications, including USB 2.0 Full Speed and WHQL for Windows
Automatic system detection as a removable disk
Fully plug and play operation with no driver required
No separate power supply or battery required
KeySafe data security application support

What it is:
DiskOnKey operates as a secure, reliable, removable disk, using a standard Universal Serial Bus (USB) device interface. Your host computer immediately detects it, recognizing it as a supplementary removable disk and assigning it a drive letter. DiskOnKey supports complete and instantaneous plug and play interoperability on the latest Windows®, Mac®, OS and Linux® operating systems, with no software drivers required. Since DiskOnKey has its own central processing unit (CPU), it can directly support and run multiple applications, crossing the boundaries between a PC and a Macintosh.

DiskOnKey's new security application, KeySafe, ensures the confidentiality of private data by means of a user-defined password and internally-secured access verification. KeySafe is supported by the latest Windows operating systems.

What it can do for you:
Just plug DiskOnKey into the USB port on your laptop, PC or workstation, and start saving your important business and personal data. The size of a pen with the storage capacity of a hard drive, DiskOnKey gives you enough room to save documents, presentations, downloaded music and videos, high-resolution photographs, or whatever other files you would like to take with you. If you have a newer DiskOnKey model, you can use KeySafe to save all your confidential data in an off-limits, password-protected secure area.

Interface Universal Serial Bus (USB) 1.1
Power supply USB bus-powered
No external power required

Power Consumption Standby: 320 µA (typical), 500 µA (max)
Read/Write: 65 mA (typical), 94 mA (max)

Performance(read/write) 1MB/s data transfer rate

Operating Systems Supported Windows 98(1) Second Edition, Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows XP, MacOS 9.0 & higher, Linux 2.4.0

Capacity (MB) 8, 16, 32, 64 and 128 (2)

LED Indicator Slowly flashing: Connected and inactive
Quickly flashing: Transmitting/receiving data

Operating temperature 0° C to +45° C (32° F to 113° F)

Storage temperature -20° C to +60° C (-4° F to 140° F)

Environmental conditions Relative humidity during operation(Non-condensation): 10% to 90%
Relative humidity during storage: 5% to 90%.
Maximum wet bulb temperature: +38.7° C (101.6° F)

Dimensions 9.81x2.53x1.84 cm /3.86x0.99x0.72 inches (LxWxH)

Weight 20 grams (0.7 ounces)

Vibration Operating: 5 G, 10 to 500 Hz, 0.5 Oct/Min sweep rate
Non-operating: 5 G, 10 to 500 Hz, 0.5 Oct/Min sweep rate

Shock Operating: 10 G, 11 ms, half-sine.

Maximum Altitude Operating: 3,048 m (0 to 10,000 ft.)
Non-operating: 12,192 m (0 to 40,000 ft.)

Service 1 year full warranty

Certifications - USB Interface 2.0, Full Speed
- WHQL for Windows XP, Windows 2000,
Windows ME and Windows 98
- CE and FCC

Also meets the following universal standards:
- EN 55022 (CE)
- AS/NZS 3548 (Australia and New Zealand
standard)
- CISPR 22 (VCCI Japan and MIC Korea)
- BSMI CNS 13438 (Taiwan Inspection
standard)
- CFR 47 FCC (FCC)
- EN 55024 (CE and MIC Korea)

(1) Driver required for Windows 98
WIN98 (1st/ SE) Driver can be downloaded from DiskOnKey site or may be included with product

(2) Larger capacities expected in 2002"

A picture of the MSystems site from October 2002.
A picture of the MSystems site from October 2002.

In March 2002, M-Systems had struck a deal with both Compaq and HP involving the inclusion of DiskOnKey devices as part of a value-add option on both Compaq laptops and HP business PCs. In that same month, M-Systems revealed the first 256 MB DiskOnKey, and in June, the first 512 MB DiskOnKey. These devices were sold for $250 and $500 each, respectively.

By October 2002, MSystems stated the following in the "Corporate" section of their website:

"M-Systems develops, manufactures and markets innovative flash-based data storage products, known as flash disks. The company's leading product families, DiskOnKey®. DiskOnChip®, and Fast Flash Disk (FFD)™, meet the needs of a vast range of exciting markets, including mobile, connected devices, telecom, military, and aerospace.

The company is publicly traded on the Nasdaq (Nasdaq: FLSH).

M-Systems leads the market in flash-based, local data storage and was the first to introduce a complete flash disk on a single die, using our breakthrough DiskOnChip® Millennium technology. We have worked with the leading technology and electronic companies in the world to secure an extensive list of design wins that is impressive both in quantity and quality.

M-Systems continuously strives to create new standards in flash-based storage technology. About two years ago, in keeping with our core competence, the company developed DiskOnKey, a flash solid-state, ultra-portable storage alternative. With this brilliant move, M-Systems created the keychain storage market category. Together with its OEM partners, M-Systems has successfully transformed this market into one of the fastest growing consumer electronic markets.

At M-Systems, we focus on quality, reliability, customer satisfaction, and an innovative product line that meets dynamic and growing market demands. Our wide range of products are marketed through offices in the United States, Japan, Taiwan, China, Israel and Europe."

A picture of DiskOnKey 2.0 devices. The different colours indicate different storage capacities.
A picture of DiskOnKey 2.0 devices. The different colours indicate different storage capacities.

DiskOnKey 2.0

In November 2002, M-Systems had released the DiskOnKey 2.0- the first USB flash drive compatible with USB 2.0. Their site had the following regarding this product:

"Your favorite device just got faster!

The new DiskOnKey 2.0 gives you all of the great features you love on the DiskOnKey at a transfer rate up to 3 time faster than before:

portable

pocketable

high capacity: up to 512MB

fast USB interface

great applications:


MyKey personalized interface

KeySafe security


Please visit our where to buy section to purchase
the DiskOnKey 2.0 through any of our worldwide partners.

- In "Technical Specifications" of above:

Power Supply
USB bus-powered
No external power required

Power Consumption
Standby: 790 µA (typical), 980 µA (max)
High-speed: 160 mA (typical), 165 mA (max)
Full-speed: 135 mA (typical), 137 mA (max)

Performance(read/write)
High-speed: Read: 3.1 MB/sec, Write: 0.95 MB/sec
Full speed: Read: 1 MB/sec, Write: 0.85 MB/sec write rate

Operating Systems Supported
Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows XP, MacOS 9.0 & higher, Linux 2.4.0

Capacity (MB)
32, 64, 128, 256 and 512

LED Indicator
Slowly flashing: Connected and inactive
Quickly flashing: Transmitting/receiving data
Orange pulse: Indicates high-speed data transfer rate
Green pulse: Indicates full-speed data transfer rate

Operating temperature
0° C to +50° C (32° F to 122° F)

Storage temperature
-20° C to +60° C (-4° F to 140° F)

Environmental conditions
Relative humidity during operation(Non-condensation): 10% to 95%
Relative humidity during storage: 5% to 95%.

Dimensions
9.81x2.53x1.84 cm /3.86x0.99x0.72 inches (LxWxH)

Weight
22 grams (0.78 ounces)

Vibration
Operating: 5 G, 10 to 500 Hz, 0.5 Oct/Min sweep rate

Shock
Operating: 55 G, 11 ms, half-sine.

Random
Non-Operating: 10-500Hz, 0.051 g²/Hz (5.0g rms)

Maximum Altitude
Operating: 6,096 m (0 to 20,000 ft.)
Non-operating: 12,192 m (0 to 40,000 ft.)

Service
2 years warranty

Certifications
WHQL for Windows XP, Windows 2000 and Windows ME
CE and FCC
Also meets the following universal standards:
EN 55022 (CE)
AS/NZS 3548 (Australia and New Zealand standard)
CISPR 22 (VCCI Japan and MIC Korea)
BSMI CNS 13438 (Taiwan Inspection standard)
CFR 47 FCC (FCC)
EN 55024 (CE and MIC Korea)"

A picture of DiskOnKey Pro devices.
A picture of DiskOnKey Pro devices.

DiskOnKey Pro

In November 2002, the DiskOnKey website had the following concerning the DiskOnKey Pro, released that same month.

"DiskOnKey Pro has all the exciting capabilities offered by DiskOnKey, plus a whole new suite of applications - all in a sleek new package.

The easiest way to carry files and back up data when you're on
the move.

Up to 256MB storage capacity. Take your presentations,
documents, e-mails, photos, music, videos…

Our 32-bit ARM7 processor lets you run applications straight
from the device. Play MP3s and digital videos, use KeySafe to
protect privacy, or Upgrade to remotely update the software
version of your DiskOnKey.

The DiskOnKey, being driverless and platform independent,
means that you can just plug it in and start dragging and
dropping files - from any computer. No special software or power
source required.

Cross-platform support for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux; mounts
without installing any drivers*.

And more…

* Drivers required for Win98 (SE) and Win NT.
- In "Technical Specifications" of above:
Interface
Compliant with Universal Serial Bus (USB)
1.1 and USB 2.0 full-speed devices

Power Supply
USB bus-powered
No external power required

Power Consumption
Standby: 372 µA (typical), 500 µA (max)Read/Write: 42 mA (typical), 50 mA (max)

Performance (read/write)
Read: 1MB/s
Write: 0.85 MB/s


Operating Systems Supported
Windows 98 SE(1), Windows NT4.0(1), Windows 2000, Windows Me, Windows XP,
MacOS 9.0 & higher, Linux 2.4.0

Capacity (MB)
8, 16, 32, 64, 128 and 256

LED Indicator
Slowly flashing: Connected and inactive
Quickly flashing: Transmitting/receiving data

Operating temperature
0° C to +50° C (32° F to 122° F)

Storage temperature
-20° C to +60° C (-4° F to 140° F)

Environmental conditions
Relative humidity during operation (Non-condensation): 5% to 95%
Relative humidity during storage: 5% to 95%.

Dimensions
7.29x2.1x1.35 cm /2.87x0.827x0.531 inches (LxWxH)

Weight
15 grams (0.53 ounces)

Vibration
Operating: 5 G, 10 to 500 Hz, 0.5 Oct/Min sweep rate

Shock
Non-Operating: 55G, 11 ms, half-sine.

Random
Non-Operating: 10-500Hz, 0.051 g²/Hz (5.0g rms)

Maximum Altitude
Operating: 6,096 m (0 to 20,000 ft.)
Non-operating: 12,192 m (0 to 40,000 ft.)

Service
2 years warranty

Certifications
USB Interface 2.0, Full Speed
WHQL for Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows ME and Windows 98
CE and FCC
Also meets the following universal standards:
EN 55022 (CE)
AS/NZS 3548 (Australia and New Zealand standard)
CISPR 22 (VCCI Japan and MIC Korea)
BSMI CNS 13438 (Taiwan Inspection standard)
CFR 47 FCC (FCC)
EN 55024 (CE and MIC Korea)"

On December 2002, the following was claimed on the "Keychain Storage" page:

"The explosion of the computer industry and the Internet in office and home marked the "coming of age" of personal, digital information. Over the past few decades, the ever-increasing pool of digital information that users want to access anywhere, anytime, has shaped generations of digital storage devices.

In 2000, M-Systems introduced and patented its DiskOnKey®. Its innovative technology gave users the perfect device to store, access, transport and share information, while creating a new data storage category, keychain storage.

DiskOnKey is all about M-Systems' core competencies - reliability, security, and innovative technology. It packages them into the leading keychain storage devices in the industry. But don't just take our word for it.

"Your stuff is incredible!

As a systems analyst for a division of a Fortune 500 company by day, and a web developer and private consultant on the side, I live a pretty busy life - I have a 64MB DiskOnKey that I purchased…for keeping my most confidential information close at hand and "behind" a password.

Imagine my dismay when I looked into the washing machine to see my DiskOnKey sitting at the bottom in a puddle of water.

I figured I had to give it a shot, though, so I suspended it in front of a small desk fan to dry it out.

After an hour, I decided it was time to take the risk - and I plugged it in. It worked like charm - everything still intact, all my data still there.

Absolutely stellar product. Thank you!"

Darryl Hadfield


DiskOnKey's innovative technology, attractive design and wide functionality made it the product of the year for 2001, chosen by leading industry publications PC Magazine and Electronic Products. It also won numerous editorial choice awards including: Fortune Editor's Choice Badge, CNET Editor's Choice Award, MacWorld Eddy Award, and the Computer Shopper Top 100 Products of 2001.

DiskOnKey's success and leadership are no accident. Its parent company, M-Systems, has been developing technology-leading flash storage products for the past 15 years. Its new technologies are implemented in applications ranging from cell phones and Set-Top Boxes (STBs) to automotive information and entertainment."

The Products section contained the following regarding DiskOnKey:
"So many uses - so easy to use.

DiskOnKey operates as a secure, reliable, removable disk, using a standard Universal Serial Bus (USB) device interface. Your host computer immediately detects it, recognizing it as a supplementary removable disk and assigning it a drive letter. DiskOnKey supports complete and instantaneous plug and play interoperability on the latest Windows®, Mac®, OS and Linux® operating systems, with no software drivers required*. Since DiskOnKey has its own central processing unit (CPU), it can directly support and run multiple applications, crossing the boundaries between a PC and a Macintosh.

Smart, removable data storage for business and personal use
Highly reliable data retention using M-Systems patented technologies
Available in 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 and 512MB capacities
Multiple certifications, including USB 2.0 Full Speed and WHQL for Windows
Automatic system detection as a removable disk
Fully plug and play operation with no driver required
No separate power supply or battery required
KeySafe data security application support"



In December 2002, M-Systems partnered with Verbatim to distribute DiskOnKey devices on the European market- rebranded as the "Store n' Go". In May 2003, M-Systems reached an agreement with Taiwanese company Apacer, concerning USB drive technology. In September 2004, M-Systems and SanDisk signed an agreement concerning the creation of "next-generation flash drives".

M-Systems site in November 2006.
M-Systems site in November 2006.

SanDisk / M-Systems

SanDisk was a US-based company manufacturing various data storage devices including memory cards for cameras. M-Systems was sold to them for 1.6 billion USD in 2006. Since at least since 2004, SanDisk and M-Systems had been co-operating in many fields concerning DiskOnKey.

By September 2004, Kingston was manufacturing its DataTraveller USB flash drives. Dov Moran, President of M-Systems later stated in an interview that M-Systems was a public company and therefore sold it to SanDisk to take care of investors.

Today, major manufacturers of USB flash drives include SanDisk, Verbatim, Kingston, Toshiba, Sony, TDK and Imation. But all of these devices utilize a combination of USB and flash memory technology- a combination that can historically be claimed as being discovered by M-Systems.

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