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10 key technologies you couldn't live without

The keys to a digital age in an analogue world

You probably don't spend much time considering Unicode, XML, and digital signal processing. Perhaps you should. Here are the 10 most important technologies that you use but never think about.

Nonvolatile RAM

Isn't it strange? Your pockets stay the same size, yet you can carry more and more in them every year.

In 1956, IBM's first hard drives used disks that were more than 60cm wide. It's hard to believe that today's microscale drives use the same technology, in essence.

Incremental advances, such as the discovery of giant magnetoresistance and the invention of perpendicular recording heads, have produced staggering results. Between 1990 and 2005, magnetic hard drives increased their storage capacity a thousandfold, putting even Moore's Law to shame.

But even with those astounding improvements, hard drives hit a wall when it came to portable devices. They were still too big and too fragile for many gadgets.

Enter solid-state drives based on non-volatile RAM. The technology has been used for storage since the 1970s, but it remained phenomenally expensive until manufacturing processes caught up with the demand. Now it is everywhere: in MP3 players, digital cameras, mobile phones, and even some laptops.

Manufacturers aren't sitting still; cutting-edge technologies such as 'racetrack memory' could lead to solid-state storage that is smaller, faster, and more reliable than ever.

NEXT PAGE: lithium ion batteries

  1. The keys to today's digital age
  2. Unicode
  3. Digital signal processing
  4. Managed code
  5. Transistors
  6. Why you couldn't live without XML
  7. Nonvolatile RAM
  8. Lithium ion batteries
  9. Voice over IP (VoIP) calls
  10. Graphics acceleration
  11. High-speed net access

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