A memory card or memory cartridge is an electronic data storage device used for storing digital information, typically using flash memory. These are commonly used in portable electronic devices, such as digital cameras, mobile phones, computers, tablets, PDAs, portable media players, video game consoles, synthesizers, electronic keyboards and digital pianos.
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. 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 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 $1 per megabyte of capacity; this led to the development of the Microdrive, PocketZip and Dataplay. All three concepts became obsolete after flash memory prices became lower and capacities became higher.
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.
|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||CFX||38.5 × 29.8 × 3.8||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|
|Secure Digital Card||SD||32 × 24 × 2.1||CPRM|
|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
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|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|
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.
For example, the Xbox 360 allowed the user to operate proprietary memory cards in models produced until 2010 and a special hard disk to store data. Later, Microsoft allowed user to connect USB flash drives and USB HDDs to the system. The console initially allowed up to 16GB on any USB devices but further updates have removed this limit. Last models of the system (S, 2010-2013 and E, 2013-2016) no longer have slots for the memory cards.
Due to very high volumes of data, the new Xbox Series X system will (in addition to its internal 1TB SSD) have an ability to connect a special memory card which is a specialized very high speed SSD. Users are still allowed to connect USB storage devices but new Series X games cannot be run from a USB storage disk.