Saturday, January 1, 2000

Exploiting the TRGpro’s CompactFlash slot

PRODUCT REVIEW

By Jason Perlow

In the past, Palm devices just didn't have what it took to be viable alternatives to Windows CE in the vertical integration and corporate systems integration market. Offerings from Palm Computing, IBM, and Handspring just didn't cut the mustard when it came to storing large amounts of data. Until now.

TRG Products is an engineering firm with a proud history of making impossible things happen with Palm devices. For the last several years, their 4MB and 8MB memory cards for the PalmPilot and the Palm III were the only routes you could take once the limited storage capabilities of your devices were exhausted. The base 1MB and 2MB memory of the PalmPilot Professional and Palm III just couldn't handle the voluminous amount of inbox email, .DOC files, and data the typical corporate user dealt with.

The makers of Palm devices had grossly underestimated how much RAM corporate power-users really needed, and TRG profited greatly from their mistake by selling "SuperPilots" that had been beefed up with their 8MB memory expansion boards. Not to be outdone by TRG, however, Palm device creators eventually gave into your demands for more RAM and introduced the Palm IIIx and Palm Vx in 1999. TRG, unfortunately, found itself in the undesirable position of having to find a new market and a new product. Bummer.

Mega memory

As Bugs Bunny used to say, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" -- and join up TRG did. As a Palm Computing platform licensee, they introduced their very own Palm device, the TRGpro, shown in Figure A.

FIGURE A

Not long after the makers of Palm devices developed models able to supply more RAM, TRG introduced their very own handheld device, the TRGpro. (click for larger image)

While it closely resembles the Palm IIIx and can use existing Palm III peripherals (TRG actually uses most of the tooling and plastic parts from the IIIx), the TRGpro is unique. Unlike the proprietary Springboard flash memory technology that Handspring's Visor uses (and unlike the proprietary Memory Stick technology that Sony will use in its upcoming Palm device), TRG uses industry standard ATA CompactFlash (CF) memory. This is the same memory that digital cameras and some Windows CE devices already use.

CompactFlash cards can store a LOT of data. How much is a lot? Regular CF cards, shown in Figure B, from vendors like Kingston Technology and SanDisk Corporation start at 4MB and go all the way up to 128MB.

FIGURE B

The Kingston Technology CompactFlash storage card is just one example of the many different types of CF memory available.

Surprisingly, CompactFlash memory is also very affordable. Many 32MB CF cards from online vendors go for under $80, a great deal when compared with Handspring's own 8MB Flash Springboard module, which goes for around the same price for one fourth of the storage. The TRGpro is the clearly the way to go if you're suffering from RAM cram.