One key factor in owning, using, and enjoying a technological device is the storage. Because in all honesty, you won’t even have much use for the device if you can’t store personal files on it.
Toshiba must have been well aware of this when they invented the first memory card in 1987.
Phones and Cameras rank high amongst the most common digital devices today and even though most of these phones come with internal storage (usually expandable), cameras or camcorders have no storage and so a solution was found: SD cards!
A memory card or SD card is simply a digital storage device. It serves the simple purpose of storing information, data, photos, and videos. SD cards make life so much easier, don’t they? All those vacations you go on; all the parties; all the trips to the museum; you can take pictures and record clips of all these exciting moments and save them in your SD card! It’s terribly convenient, isn’t it?
Even better is the fact there are many types of SD cards and each of them has its own peculiarities. These features cut across size, format, speed, and compatibility with the digital device. Good knowledge of all these characteristics helps to decide which type of SD card is best for you, so it’s best you know a bit about them, don’t you think?
This article will explain in detail the types of SD cards, their peculiar features, what to expect from each type, and debunk some common myths and misconceptions about SD cards or memory cards. Some of these myths border on the ridiculous but that’s why they’re going to be dispelled before all is said and done!
Memory cards have various features that distinguish them from each other. However, when the types of memory cards are spoken about, we talk more about the form factor more than any other feature. But features such as speed classes and capacity can be used to classify memory cards too.
The world has seen its fair share of SD cards so don’t be surprised if the sheer number overwhelms you. This article will focus on the 10 most common types that people just like you all around the world use. At the end of this article, you should be able to identify them and assertively choose the one that is best for your phone or camera. Ready? Let’s dig in!
The Secure Digital cards were the first to be termed SD cards. They were jointly released by Toshiba, Panasonic and San Disk for use in small digital devices. The SD cards gained immediate recognition in the market and in no time became the standard storage device. It had a small physical size, with dimensions of 24mm width, 32mm length, and 2.1mm height.
This small size made it very cheap to manufacture and allowed many more improvements to the features using that same size. The limitations of the SD card did not take so long to appear. It could not carry more than 2Gb of data due to its file system and this gave rise to a need for better performing SD cards. The Secure Digital (SD) memory cards are now phased out and no longer in use.
On the introduction of the SD card, the parent manufacturing companies formed the SD card Association. The SD card association saw the insufficiency of the 2Gb limit of the Secure Digital memory card and had to come up with a new card that fit into modern-day specifications. The SDHC was developed in early 2006.
It has the exact same size as the SD card but it boasted of larger capacity (Up to 32Gb) and faster write speed. Devices with SD card firmware had to be updated to be able to use the SDHC cards. They are still quite common in the market today but are slowly being phased out by the larger capacity SDXC cards. By now, you’re asking what’s SDXC?
Again, technology advanced and there was a need for larger storage devices with better performance. The 32Gb data cap of the SDHC became a limitation and so there came the SDXC. The ‘X’ standing for ‘Extended’, this card theoretically could carry up to 2 Terabytes(2048Gb) of data.
The file system run by other SD cards was FAT 16 or FAT 32. Because of the size and capacity of this card, Microsoft developed the exFAT file system to match the specifications of this card. The newest SDXC memory cards allow speed classes of up to 624megabytes per second! They are easily the most commonly used SD card type today because they are the most compatible with modern devices.
This type of SD Card was born out of the need for mobile phones to use SD cards. The native SD cards were considered too big for the portable nature of the mobile phones. In 2005, the SD card Association announced the microSD form factor. Due to limitations on the SD card, they announced the microSDHC (FAT 32) and much later, the microSDXC card.
These cards were made small, with dimensions of 11mm width, 15mm length, and 1mm height. They are the smallest type of memory cards in the market today. microSD cards are also the ones with the greatest appeal as they have been adopted by major phones, tablets, and camera manufacturers. If you are buying a microSD card, the microSDHC and microSDXC cards are your best bet!
Sony, in a bid to gain a large part of the market share, introduced the Memory Stick in 1999. They made it an exclusive for their products as it was the major storage device for their cameras, camcorders, Computers as well as the PlayStation Portable (PSP).
Over time, they improved on the Memory Stick and developed the Memory Stick PRO which had an extended capacity and better speed. These cards had quite a large physical size with dimensions of 50mm width, 21.5mm length and, 2.8mm height. They were also very expensive compared to the SD cards. All these factors made them very unpopular and are now obsolete.
Learn more about What is a Memory Stick.
With Sony still trying to compete with the SD cards, they improved on the Memory Stick to give the Memory Stick Duo series. These cards had a smaller dimension compared to their predecessor (20mm width, 31mm length, and 1.6mm height) and boasted of a higher speed class and data capacity.
Sony however failed to gain a reasonable market share with the SD cards as the Memory Stick Duo card was a bit too expensive compared to the SD Cards. They still manufactured the cards for their products and to date, only Sony products support Memory Stick cards. Memory Sticks are now very rare as SD cards are the major memory card types in the market.
Compact Flash was introduced by San Disk in 1994. It became popular because of its performance and strength compared to the memory cards available at the time. It was said to be more resistant to bending and breaking than other cards. This allowed it to be embraced by manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon as memory cards for their products. The CF-I is the most common as it was the one adopted for these devices. The dimensions of the CF-I are 42.8mm width, 36.4mm length, and 3.3mm height. The limitations of the CF-I were a large size and the fact that it used the slow Parallel ITA/IDE bus. This bus is one of the major reasons it was left behind as a memory card. Even with improvements to other aspects of the card, the bus was a drawback on the overall productivity of the CF-I.
Dig deeper into What is Compact Flash
The CF-II was produced to make memory cards to be used as card readers (adapters). In size, they differ from the CF-I only in the height, being 5mm opposed to the 3.3mm on the CF-I. The idea of card readers and micro drives did not get popular acclaim and so CF-II cards are out of vogue and now obsolete.
As the major limitation of the CompactFlash series was the Parallel ITA/IDE bus, the manufacturers decided to improve on that flaw. They did this by developing the CFast. The CFast was a Compact Flash alternative that used the Serial ATA bus (a faster one) instead of the Parallel ITA/IDE bus. The first version CFast 1.0/1.1, boasted of very fast speeds even up to 300mb/s.
In 2012, a better and faster version was released and called CFast 2.0. This one makes use of the Serial ATA 3.0 bus and boasts of speeds over 500mb/s. However, the industry did not catch on the CFast train as swiftly as it should and it has been phased by the newer and faster CFExpress and XQD cards. They are not so popular on store shelves and even if you see them, do not buy them!
While CFast was getting adopted rather slowly, some memory card manufacturers were working on a card that would further slow the acceptance of this card. In 2010 San Disk, Sony and Nikon introduced the XQD memory card. This card was more outstanding than other cards produced before it, as it works on the PCI Express interface.
All these made it to be accepted by the Compact Flash association for further development. It is physically smaller than the CFast and Compact Flash cards as its dimensions are 38.5mm width, 29.8mm length and 3.8mm height.
XQD cards are of stronger build and do not have pins that can easily break. The latest generation XQD cards have boasted of 440mb/s read speed and 400mb/s write speed. They have replaced Compact Flash and CFast cards and are so the new form factor for memory cards. With its also very slow rate of adoption, it is predicted to be replaced sooner or later by the CFExpress cards.
If you’ve read up to this stage, you’ll have observed that there has been a continuous improvement over the years on memory cards. In 2016, the CFExpress was released and it was touted to be able to push data transfers at speeds of up to 2Gb per second.
It has been seen to use the form factor XQD but the device or host must have a CFExpress reader and/or writer. Major camera brands such as Nikon have provided support for these cards on their products. The technology on these cards is what makes it the prime frontrunner for future devices. It is currently the fastest and most efficient card on the market today!
Just like every tech device, there would be opinions and myths surrounding the use and efficiency of the product. The fun part, however, is that not all of these are true. Let us look at a few of the common myths about memory cards and see how true or false they are!
This myth is false. Memory cards' read/write speed is independent of the space used in its storage. If a card becomes slow, it may be losing or have lost compatibility with the host device.
This myth is also false. Memory cards are simple storage devices and so if there’s a need to delete anything (like all storage devices allow), no problem should arise. Your memory card getting corrupted is as a result of malware or virus exposure, not deleting.
This myth is very true. It is advisable to safely eject memory cards from host devices before removing it. Damages occur to the cards if a process is using them and they get yanked out of the device. So, take care in this regard!
Formatting your memory card will lead to permanent loss of data previously stored on the card. However, no damage occurs on the card itself if it is formatted properly. Damages can also be seen on the card when the host system goes off during the formatting process.
Your data, photos, videos, and other information deserve to be in good hands. ‘Good hands’ in this case is a good, efficient, fast, and capable memory card. By now, you should know what card your phone, camera, camcorder, and even your personal computer needs to get the best performance. Wishing you the best shopping!