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There was no such thing as a PDA with a hard drive until recently. It was all RAM and ROM memory, expandable with digital cards. But this kept storage capacity down. Even without a hard drive, PDAs were attractive for their durability. Then Palm came out with the Lifedrive Mobile Manager. The Lifedrive has 65 MB of RAM, and incorporates a Hitachi microdrive, similar to those found in some expansion cards. By the way, these card-based microdrives have been useable in Pocket PCs for years, effectively giving them similar capabilities to the Lifedrive.
The jury's still out on this innovation. The built-in storage capabilities are nice, especially for photos or MP3s. But for Palm addicts used to instantly accessing their information through RAM, it takes some getting used to the short delay of pulling it off a hard drive. Then there's the question of durability -- hard drives crash, especially under rough treatment.
Bottom line: The Palm Lifedrive brings a 4 GB hard drive to the PDA, but you'll trade speed and battery life for storage capacity.
While most of the ink devoted to new PDAs goes to Palm and Pocket PC models and the ongoing convergence with cell phones, there is a PDA model out there that's designed specifically for computer geeks. It's the Zaurus, from Japanese electronics giant Sharp. The Zaurus is the only Linux-Java-based PDA. This means it runs on open-source software and can be hacked and adjusted to do just about anything. It also comes with Wi-Fi for connecting to Internet hot spots. And it takes both SD cards and Compact Flash I and II cards.
So why isn't it better known? It's not super user-friendly and is really designed from the ground up as a PDA for computer geeks who want to spend lots of time programming it, rather than using simple, pre-determined programs.
Most PDAs store their core functionality in a read-only memory (ROM) chip and your data in RAM (random access memory). The data stays in the RAM because the PDA never really shuts down, even when you turn it off. That's why all your data is instantly available when you turn on the PDA. That's also why you'll lose all the personal data in your PDA if the batteries ever run out.
Instead of upgrading the RAM in your PDA, it's more efficient these days to replace it with a new PDA with more RAM.
There are less desirable -- and perhaps less trustworthy -- alternatives to buying a new PDA. If you Google PDA RAM upgrade, you'll see plenty of places that promise to upgrade your RAM, for a price. But these are unofficial hacks to the PDA. And if your PDA is still under warranty, it will be instantly voided if you -- or anyone else -- opens it up.
Many PDAs have expansion slots for expansion of storage capacity. You can use these to install programs and store data, which will increase the amount you can keep in the PDA, but it still won't increase the total amount of RAM available.
There's a lot to think about when buying a new PDA: Pocket PC vs. Palm? Smartphone? Internet-enabled? WiFi? Bluetooth? In terms of digital storage, here's a quick guide of what to look for when buying:
Palm devices generally use memory more efficiently than PDAs running Windows. The more you plan to do with your PDA, the more memory you'll need. And if you plan to do anything more than the basic contacts/calendar management, you're going to need a RAM upgrade and a digital memory card.
In terms of RAM, here are some basic guidelines:
* 16MB is adequate to store contact information and perform basic calendaring.
* 32MB is required to run additional programs such as PDA versions of Microsoft Office applications.
* 64MB is recommended to play audio and view video files.
To give you an idea of pre-installed RAM, new Palm devices range from 32MB to 128MB out of the box, while Pocket PC devices go up to 256MB of ROM and 64-128MB RAM.
If you want to use your PDA to listen to music, store images, or play video, make sure you get a model that has an expansion slot for a digital memory card. PDAs generally take CompactFlash (CF), Secure Digital (SD), or MultiMediaCard (MMC) memory card you may already use in your digital camera or MP3 player.
Handheld computers with PDA functionality are expected to grow to a $10 billion market by 2008. But a majority of this market is likely to be converged smartphones, which combine PDA and cellphone functionality. Within a few years, you can expect to see a PDA/cellphone/camera combination that can surf the Internet through a high-speed phone connection or WiFi and can communicate with other devices through Bluetooth.
On the storage front, the big question is going to be hard drive vs. digital memory card functionality. While the Palm Lifedrive brings a new paradigm to the PDA, it also has problems with speed, battery life and ability to withstand rough handling. Until the hard drive-based PDA can solve those problems, it may not be a big part of the future.
The choice of Palm vs. Pocket PC in the PDA world is even more confusing than the PC vs. Mac debate. PC won in the latter competition, even though the iPod has given Apple new life.
But Palm and Pocket PC are still battling it out for PDA supremacy. Palm was the early branding winner, but don't ever count out Microsoft in the long run.
In terms of storage capacity there are some differences:
* Palm PDAs are generally a little less expensive because they have slower processors and less RAM memory. But the Palm OS is very efficient and takes less power to run.
* Pocket PCs are usually mor expensive, and have faster processors. They need them because the OS has been less efficient than Palm and takes more power.
* Pocket PCs generally use compact flash expansion cards, while Palms usually use SD cards or MMC cards.
* Palm has the Lifedrive with a 4GB microdrive, but many Pocket PCs can use card-based microdrives, giving them similar capabilities.
PDA makers decide what type of memory cards to use for your machine. The choice then for consumers is which PDA to purchase and the storage capacity of the card. Palm PDAs generally use SD or MMC cards, while Pocket PCs generally use compact flash cards. Some new converged smartphones use the new mini-SD cards, which have all the capability of an SD card in a much smaller package. Once you make the decision on buying a PDA, you can then outfit it with a card. With SD/MMC and compact flash cards falling in price and increasing capacity, consumers can get more than 1 GB of extra space on PDAs for $100 or less.
PDAs help us with phone numbers, calendar listings, memos and other organizational tasks. Recent advances in digital storage allow them to do much more. PDAs now have expansion slots, allowing the use of digital memory cards. Palm recently released the LifeDrive Mobile Manager, a PDA that has an internal 4GB microdrive. PDAs have come a long way from the days when they used to run on ROM and RAM, with no digital storage.
Advances in digital storage space make your PDA more than a pocket organizer. PDAs now have digital camera and music capabilities; can play full-color games; and access the Internet.
Bottom line: PDAs are no longer just for organizing, with uses as calendars and personalized phone books. They have as many capabilities as your desktop or laptop.
Besides buying expansion cards, there are some basic ways to avoid the dreaded "out of memory" errors that can bring your PDA use to a quick halt:
* Know how much memory your devices need. How much RAM do you have? What's in your expansion slot? If you start with 1 GB flash card in your expansion slot, you're setting yourself up well.
* Look for warning signs. Your PDA will let you know when memory is in short supply long before it shuts you down. Warning signs include the following: slow response time, frequent freezes or resets. Avoid a memory crisis by paying attention to these early warnings.
* Manage your tasks. If you start adding lots of new programs or data to your PDA, check to see how much RAM you are using. Even better, install the new programs on your expansion card.
Newer PDAs have slots for expansion cards, usually Secure Digital (SD) cards, MMC cards, compact flash cards or Sony Memory Stick or Memory Stick Pro Duo.
Expansion cards let you upgrade storage capacity for MP3s or digital photos. The cards also let users transfer MP3s or photos to desktop or laptop computers.
Or you can expand the number of programs the computer can hold by installing programs directly onto the card, where the PDA can access its functionality. There is still the same amount of total RAM space for making the programs function, but a lot more space -- up to 6 GB-8 GB, depending on the price of the card.
Bottom line: If you're shoping for a PDA, it's worth making sure it has an expansion slot (SD/MMC or compact flash). This will allow you to increase storage capacity of the PDA and run programs off the card.