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Miniaturization is evident in memory card creation; over time, the physical card sizes have become smaller
Memory card in a digital SLR camera

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.


The basis for memory card technology is flash memory.[1] It was invented by Fujio Masuoka at Toshiba in 1980[2][3] and commercialized by Toshiba in 1987.[4][5]

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. 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.[6] 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 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;[7] this led to the development of miniaturized rotating magnetic disk memory devices such as the Microdrive, PocketZip and Dataplay. All three concepts became obsolete once flash memory prices became lower and their capacities became higher by 2006.[6]

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.[8] Effectively the format war has turned in SD-Card's favor.[9][10][11]

See also: SD card § Markets

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
PS Vita PSV ? ?
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

Overview of all memory card types

Main article: Comparison of memory cards

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Standard SD UFS Card CFast XQD CFexpress
Version 3.0 4.0 6.0 7.0[13] 8.0 1.0 2.0 1.0 2.0 1.0 2.0 1.0 ?
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

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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.[14][15] 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.

Until the sixth generation of video game consoles, memory cards were based on proprietary formats; later systems have used established industry formats for memory cards, such as FAT32.

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.

See also


  1. ^ Micheloni, Rino; Crippa, Luca; Marelli, Alessia (2010). Inside NAND Flash Memories. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 2. ISBN 9789048194315.
  2. ^ Fulford, Benjamin (24 June 2002). "Unsung hero". Forbes. Archived from the original on 3 March 2008. Retrieved 18 March 2008.
  3. ^ US 4531203  Fujio Masuoka
  4. ^ "1987: Toshiba Launches NAND Flash". eWeek. April 11, 2012. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
  5. ^ "1971: Reusable semiconductor ROM introduced". Computer History Museum. Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  6. ^ a b "25 Years of CompactFlash: A Look Back at the Pioneering Format". PCMAG.
  7. ^ " - DataPlay Shows Breakthrough in Storage Media". June 8, 2001. Archived from the original on June 8, 2001.
  8. ^ Grunin, Lori (2010-01-06). "Sony does SD; Panasonic intros first SDXC cards | 2010 CES — CNET Blogs". Archived from the original on 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
  9. ^ "Format-Krieg entschieden: SD-Card setzt sich durch" ("format-war resolved: SD-card prevails"), Chip-online, 14. January 2010
  10. ^ "Camera trends come into focus for 2010", NBC News, 13. January.2010 "As much as the storage-format war cleared up a bit with Sony announcing that it would support SD and SDHC cards ..."
  11. ^ "FEATURE: Playing Your Cards Right at Retail" Archived 2013-06-17 at the Wayback Machine, Peter K. Burian, 4. June 2010. "Some industry observers have suggested that this development signals an end to the 'format war,' ..."
  12. ^ "SanDisk and Sony announce SxS memory card: Digital Photography Review". Retrieved 2013-01-07.
  13. ^ Pinto, Yosi. "SD + PCIe/NVMe card New Innovations in SD Cards Lead the Way to Mobile Everything" (PDF). Flash Memory Summit.
  14. ^ "The Official NEO-GEO Memory Card FAQ by Billy Pitt". Retrieved 2017-02-10.
  15. ^ "This Fall Everything Turns To Gold With Neo-Geo: The Player's Gold Card Keeps Them Coming Back For More". RePlay. Vol. 16, no. 2. November 1990. pp. 26–7.