Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Genealogical Technological Retrospective

I have been reading about the new memory storage breakthrough from Micron and Intel called 3D XPoint (say "cross point"). Most of us are familiar with the now ubiquitous flash drives or thumb drives which many genealogists carry around their necks on lanyards. The new 3D XPoint memory is proving to be over 1000 times faster and more durable than the NAND memory used in the current flash drives. The terms used by Micron are lower latency and exponentially greater endurance.

Intel calls the product Intel® Optane™ technology. Intel has produced a fact sheet called "Fun Facts: How Fast and Robust is 3D XPoint™Technology?" Here are some quotes:
3D XPoint technology is up to 1,000x faster than NAND.
  • The average daily commute of Americans would reduce from 25 minutes in traffic to 1.5 seconds. 
  • Traveling by plane from San Francisco to Beijing could happen in about 43 seconds, instead of the 12 hours it takes now. 
  • The Great Wall of China could have been built in 73 days instead of 200 years.
To illustrate the endurance of this new technology, Intel uses the following examples:
3D XPoint technology has up to 1,000x the endurance of NAND.
  • If 3D XPoint technology were your car’s engine oil, you would need an oil change a lot less often: once every 3,000,000 miles – the equivalent of driving around the world at the equator 120 times, or close to once around the sun. 
  • If your car got 1000x the gas mileage, the average driver would fill up once every 25 years.
You might get the idea that this new technology is a huge advance from these examples, not just an incremental step in increasing performance.

It is breakthroughs like this that fuel the changes we see in everyday electronic devices. Flash drives have been struggling to move past an economical 1 TeraByte drive. Right now, the only real 1 TB flash drive is the Kingston DataTraveler HyperX Predator 1TB USB 3.0 Flash Drive (DTHXP30/1TB) that sells for $691.57 on It now seems that the original claims about speed and endurance were overstated, but the technology is still a huge improvement over existing storage devices.

Genealogy is now almost entirely computer based. The number of holdouts still insisting on doing everything on paper are decreasing rapidly from my personal experience in dealing with people almost every day, day after day. Like it or not, this is the reality. Huge amounts of genealogically important data are being constantly migrated to online databases. Increases in the capacity of nonvolatile memory storage will only increase the movement to digital record storage.

If this were the only new technology perhaps things would not change that much, but this new storage innovation is only one of the factors pushing us further along the road to digitization. For example, camera technology is changing to the point that smartphone cameras are making serious inroads into the professional SLR, high end camera market. Genealogists can now use their smartphones to digitize documents and other valuable objects without carrying a separate camera device.

Just reviewing all of the changes and listing all of the huge increases in online database expansion takes long lists that appear almost daily from the larger genealogy companies. In the last two or three days, alone has added millions of new records.

Truthfully, we may not be able to see very far on the road ahead, but it is certain that we are moving down that road at a breakneck speed and the is more to come.

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