A memory card is an electronic data storage device used for storing digital information, typically using flash memory. These are commonly used in digital portable electronic devices. They allow adding memory to such devices using a card in a socket instead of a protruding USB flash drives.
PC Cards (PCMCIA) were the first commercial memory card formats (type I cards) to come out, but are now mainly used in industrial applications and to connect I/O devices such as modems. Since 1994, a number of memory card formats smaller than the PC Card arrived. In 1992, SanDisk introduced FlashDisk, a PCMCIA card and one of the first memory cards that did not require battery power to retain its contents. The first one was CompactFlash and later SmartMedia and Miniature Card. The desire for smaller cards for cell-phones, PDAs, and compact digital cameras drove a trend that left the previous generation of "compact" cards looking big. In 2001, SM alone captured 50% of the digital camera market and CF had captured the professional digital camera market. By 2005 however, SD/MMC had nearly taken over SmartMedia's spot, though not to the same level and with stiff competition coming from Memory Stick variants, as well as CompactFlash. In industrial and embedded fields, even the venerable PC card (PCMCIA) memory cards still manage to maintain a niche, while in mobile phones and PDAs, the memory card has become smaller.
Initially memory cards were expensive, costing US$3 per megabyte of capacity in 2001; this led to the development of the Microdrive, PocketZip and Dataplay. All three concepts became obsolete once flash memory prices became lower and their capacities became higher by 2006.
Since 2010, new products of Sony (previously only using Memory Stick) and Olympus (previously only using XD-Card) have been offered with an additional SD-Card slot. Effectively the format war has turned in SD-Card's favor.
Data table of selected memory card formats
This section needs expansion with: info on which of those are dead. You can help by adding to it. (December 2021)
|Name||Abbreviation||Form factor (mm)||DRM|
|PC Card||PCMCIA||85.6 × 54 × 3.3||No|
|CompactFlash I||CF-I||43 × 36 × 3.3||No|
|CompactFlash II||CF-II||43 × 36 × 5.5||No|
|CFexpress Type A||CFA||20 × 28 × 2.8||Unknown|
|CFexpress Type B||CFX||38.5 × 29.8 × 3.8||Unknown|
|CFexpress Type C||?||54 × 74 × 4.8||Unknown|
|SmartMedia||SM/ SMC||45 × 37 × 0.76||ID|
|Memory Stick||MS||50.0 × 21.5 × 2.8||MagicGate|
|Memory Stick Duo||MSD||31.0 × 20.0 × 1.6||MagicGate|
|Memory Stick Pro Duo||MSPD||31.0 × 20.0 × 1.6||MagicGate|
|Memory Stick Pro-HG Duo||MSPDX||31.0 × 20.0 × 1.6||MagicGate|
|Memory Stick Micro M2||M2||15.0 × 12.5 × 1.2||MagicGate|
|Miniature Card||?||37 × 45 × 3.5||No|
|Multimedia Card||MMC||32 × 24 × 1.5||No|
|Reduced Size Multimedia Card||RS-MMC||16 × 24 × 1.5||No|
|MMCmicro Card||MMCmicro||12 × 14 × 1.1||No|
|Nintendo Switch||NS||31 × 21 × 3||?|
|P2 card||P2||85.6 × 54 × 3.3||No|
|SD card||SD||32 × 24 × 2.1||CPRM|
|SxS||SxS||75 × 34 × 5||No|
|Universal Flash Storage||UFS||?||Unknown|
|microSD card||microSD||15 × 11 × 0.7||CPRM|
|xD-Picture Card||xD||20 × 25 × 1.7||No|
|Intelligent Stick||iStick||24 × 18 × 2.8||No|
|Serial Flash Module||SFM||45 × 15||No|
|µ card||µcard||32 × 24 × 1||Unknown|
|NT Card||NT NT+||44 × 24 × 2.5||No|
|XQD card||XQD||38.5 × 29.8 × 3.8||Unknown|
|Nano Memory card||NM Card||12.3 × 8.8 × 0.7||Unknown|
Secure Digital card (SD)
MiniSD Card with an SD card adapter
NM card (A proprietary memory card format created by Huawei) Electronic contacts compared to nano-sim card to the same scale.
Overview of all memory card types
- PCMCIA ATA Type I Card (PC Card ATA Type I)
- PCMCIA Type II, Type III cards
- CompactFlash Card (Type I), CompactFlash High-Speed
- CompactFlash Type II, CF+(CF2.0), CF3.0
- MiniCard (Miniature Card) (max 64 MB / 64 MiB)
- SmartMedia Card (SSFDC) (max 128 MB) (3.3 V,5 V)
- xD-Picture Card, xD-Picture Card Type M
- Memory Stick, MagicGate Memory Stick (max 128 MB); Memory Stick Select, MagicGate Memory Stick Select ("Select" means: 2x128 MB with A/B switch)
- Secure Digital (SD Card), Secure Digital High-Speed, Secure Digital Plus/Xtra/etc (SD with USB connector)
- Nano Memory (NM) card
- MU-Flash (Mu-Card) (Mu-Card Alliance of OMIA)
- SIM card (Subscriber Identity Module)
- Smart card (ISO/IEC 7810, ISO/IEC 7816 card standards, etc.)
- UFC (USB FlashCard) (uses USB)
- FISH Universal Transportable Memory Card Standard (uses USB)
- Intelligent Stick (iStick, a USB-based flash memory card with MMS)
- SxS (S-by-S) memory card, a new memory card specification developed by Sandisk and Sony. SxS complies to the ExpressCard industry standard.
- Nexflash Winbond Serial Flash Module (SFM) cards, size range 1 MB, 2 MB and 4 MB.
|Launched||2010 Q2||2011 Q1||2017 Q1||2018 Q2||2020 Q1||2016 Q2||?||2008 Q3||2012 Q3||2011 Q4||2014 Q1||2017 Q2||?|
|Bus||UHS-I||UHS-II||UHS-III||PCIe 3.0 x1||PCIe 4.0 x2||UFS 2.0||UFS 3.0||SATA-300||SATA-600||PCIe 2.0 x1||PCIe 2.0 x2||PCIe 3.0 x2||PCIe 3.0 x8|
|104 MB/s||156 MB/s||624 MB/s||985 MB/s||3938 MB/s||600 MB/s||1200 MB/s||300 MB/s||600 MB/s||500 MB/s||1000 MB/s||1970 MB/s||7880 MB/s|
Video game consoles
This section needs additional citations for verification. (December 2011)
Many older video game consoles used memory cards to hold saved game data. Cartridge-based systems primarily used battery-backed volatile RAM within each individual cartridge to hold saves for that game. Cartridges without this RAM may have used a password system, or wouldn't save progress at all. The Neo Geo AES, released in 1990 by SNK, was the first video game console able to use a memory card. AES memory cards were also compatible with Neo Geo MVS arcade cabinets, allowing players to migrate saves between home and arcade systems and vice versa. Memory cards became commonplace when home consoles moved to read-only optical discs for storing the game program, beginning with systems such as the TurboGrafx-CD and Sega-CD.
Home consoles now commonly use hard disk drive storage for saved games and allow the use of generic USB flash drives or other card formats via a memory card reader to transport game saves and other game information, along with cloud storage saving, though most portable gaming systems still rely on custom memory cartridges to store program data, due to their low power consumption, smaller physical size and reduced mechanical complexity.
Neo Geo 2KiB memory card
PlayStation 128 KiB memory card
PlayStation 2 8 MiB memory card
GameCube 512 KiB memory card
Xbox 360 memory card
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