Memory Card Buying Guide
Introduction: Memory cards are everywhere today an...
Memory Card Buying Guide
Memory cards are everywhere today and there are so many types, brands and speeds that it can get confusing at times when one is looking to purchase one. They can be found in PDAs, Cellphones, Computers, Cameras, MP3 players, game systems and many other gadgets on the market today. The primary use for many types of memory cards is digital cameras with cellphones coming in a close second as more and more phones are coming equipped with a slot for them to let you expand your storage capabilities.
One important thing to know about memory cards is that not all cards are created equal, and that is in terms of quality and their transfer speeds, being a product reviewer, over the years I've had the chance to own and test many brands of cards, of course doing what I do I've got many gadgets and have purchased many memory cards as well.
From my experience it's often better to go with a name brand over a cheap inexpensive lesser known company when purchasing anything tech related, this I've found goes the same for memory cards, it might be cheaper but in the long run you'll regret purchasing it as it won't last as long and usually with cheaper cards they perform below their rated or advertised speeds.
Types of Cards:
Compact Flash: CF Cards were one of the first types of cards produced, and still are, they are a very popular memory card for digital cameras, the format has been around since 1994 and was first produced by SanDisk. There are two primary types of CF cards, Type I and Type II, TYPE I is a flash memory based card, where the TYPE II, also sometimes called Microdrive, is usually a miniature hard drive that offers a longer lifetime over it's flash based counterpart, but being a hard drive makes them more susceptible to shock and damage from vibration, they also draw more power that flash cards, so even if your device says CFII compatible it might not be compatible with Microdrive CF cards. Type II cards can also be flash based as well, but flash memory CFII cards are rare, so make sure you pay attention to the specifications of your device before purchasing this type of card.
SD or Secure Digital and MMC or Multi Media Cards are very similar, they're exactly the same size in fact, and are basically interchangeable. The major difference between them is the fact that you can secure, or write-protect the files or data on an SD card where you can't on an MMC card. These types of cards can be found in all sorts of devices, from older cellphones, to cameras, MP3 players and numerous other types of portable devices.
Mini, Micro and Reduced Size Cards:
There is a subdivision of SD/MMC cards as well, these are essentially the same but just smaller.
-Reduced Size MMC cards are half the size of MMC cards and not very popular anymore, they were primarily used in Nokia and Siemens cellphones a couple years ago but were replaced with the miniSD cards.
-MMCmicro Cards are very similar to microSD in size and appearance but they are not interchangeable, these cards can be found in cellphones primarily, but as of now the microSD format has overtaken it in popularity.
-miniSD Cards are SD cards but only smaller, here again these are primarily used in digital cameras and cellphones, but can be found in many other types of gadgets like MP3 players. miniSD cards are often confused with microSD cards by consumers who just aren't paying attention to what their specific device needs, so when purchasing make sure you are getting the correct card for your device.
-microSD Cards have almost become the standard for cellphones today, these can be found being utilized in almost every major brand of cellphone to allow consumers to add more storage capacity to carry more 'stuff' with them. Since many newer cameras today come with high resolution cameras that not only take stills but can take videos, the need to expand upon the built in memory has increased.
The introduction of the microSDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) card has come about to solve these capacity problems, but not all devices are compatible with these newer SDHC cards, so again you'll need to make sure your device can support this newer format before making a purchase. Another note about microSD cards is that they too come in different types or Classes of cards; as of now they are categorized by three classes, 2,4 and 6. The number corresponds to the speed of the card itself, 2MB/s, 4MB/s or 6MB/s, and not all Classes are compatible with all devices, so even if your device can use a microSD card that doesn't mean it can use all three Classes of cards, you'll need to make sure what Class of card is compatible with your device before your purchase.
xD cards are a proprietary memory card standard introduced by Fujifilm and Olympus in 2002 and is basically just for those brands of digital cameras and voice recorders. There are three types of XD cards, standard, Type H and Type M, newer cameras can use all three types of cards, but older cameras and devices cannot, you'll need to check compatibility to make sure what works with your specific device. The main difference between the types of cards is speed, Type H is the fastest of the three formats and of course the most desirable for it's speed and capabilities.
Memory Sticks are another proprietary memory card and can usually be found in and compatible with Sony branded devices. There are five types of Memory Sticks varying is sizes and uses: Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo, and Memory Stick Micro M2. If you own a Sony product chances are you'll have to buy one of these styles of memory cards for it as no other will fit. The major differences between the styles of cards is the rated speeds and capacity and of course compatibilities with Sony devices.
There are other types of cards out there besides those I've listed, but for the most part they've gone by the wayside and most are no longer even in production, as with all technology smaller, larger capacity and higher speeds dominates the industry. Depending on your device, you may need one of these older style cards, but chances are you'll have a tough time finding a card for it.
SmartMedia cards are one such type of card, chances are if you own an older Fuji or Olympus brand camera it uses one of these cards, as of about 2002 these stopped production altogether.
Basic things you should know about Memory Cards:
Erase/Write Cycles and Lifetime of cards:
All memory cards are rated for a finite number of times that they can be written to, and usually this is something that is found in the 'fine print' and not as well publicized as the cards other traits like capacity and speed, this basically means that you can record data to them only a certain number of times before it fails and basically won't work anymore.
Speed rating on cards can be very confusing, I've got a card that says 144X on it, what exactly does that mean to the average person you might ask? Most cards come with a speed rating on them, what most people don't know is that the advertised rated speed you see is for peak speed, not the average speed of the card. Most people think that seeing a higher number or higher speed is the better choice, but that's not always true, take CF cards for instance, they normally come in speed rating of 40x, 80x and 144x, unless you have a super high end camera you have no need for a 144X speed card. The average consumer camera works perfectly fine with a 40X card, there's no real reason to pay a premium for a faster card that your camera won't utilize. Always check the specs of your device, if your device is rated only at 40X transfer speed then even if you buy an 80X card it will only transfer at 40X speeds.
A note about counterfeiting:
When purchasing any type of memory card please only buy from a reputable source, there are many counterfeit memory cards on the market today that look exactly like their official counterparts, but they are sub-standardly manufactured, slower, low-quality and most likely just plain junk. You might think you're getting a great deal on a good card, but the old adage of 'if it's too good to be true then it probably is' stands true here, be suspicious of these great deals please.
Author: Kristofer Brozio