Its been 20 years since the SD Association (SDA) came on to the scene. Since then, the worlds technology has evolved feeding our insatiable thirst for better, faster, more efficient, more useful devices with massive storage capabilities either for personal or professional use. Throughout it all, the SDA has anticipated trends, as witnessed by the new SD 8.0 Specification for SD Express memory cards with blazingly fast gigabyte transfer speeds.

Among the considerations that faster speeds and greater capacities bring are not only better price points for external storage vs. internal storage but also greener approaches to product design.

Comparing Costs

The ongoing debate among consumers is often about manufacturers extolling the virtues of internal versus external storage. At the end of the day, it often comes down to cost and capabilities. Lets first look at cost.

In mobile computing, the costs among devices – even within a product line – vary significantly based on the amount of internal storage that is designed into the device. The price difference of a smart phone offering 128 GB of internal storage versus one that offers 512 GB of internal storage capacity generally ranges between $150-300 USD. Certainly internal storage offers convenience, but at a cost.

Compare those costs against the convenience of external storage. Today, the average price of a 512GB microSDXC memory card is about $80 and this card can often times be purchased for even less with promotions and sales. When mobile device manufacturers offer microSD equipped smartphones, users can expand to add more than 1TB of capacity on a card at a very small price. Consumers can also use numerous cards for an unlimited amount of storage gaining self-upgradeable convenience.

It has been widely accepted in the market that external memory, particularly SD memory cards, are almost always more cost effective than internal storage. The smart phone market reflects the cost differences that have evolved between embedded memory and external memory cards. The difference in cost has primarily been driven by sales/marketing strategies, i.e. charge more money for more internal memory, but it has been somewhat rationalized by device vendors’ concerns with possible interoperability issues as well as various performance levels of SD memory cards purchased from retail stores. However, this is easily avoided by buying memory cards with advanced features like Application Performance Class, higher level Video Speed Classes, and the forthcoming SD Express (SD7 and SD8) and microSD Express (SD7.1). SD Express opens new opportunities for all SD memory cards in various applications by utilizing solid state drive (SSD)-like performance between 10 times (SD7.x) to 40 times (SD8) when compared to existing SD UHS-I cards.

No Internal Storage?

There’s no doubt that SSDs have outpaced hard disk drives (HDDs) as the preferred primary storage option for many manufacturers. Even though some of the newest SSDs on the market today support the faster PCIe and NVMe protocols, as opposed to the older, slower and less efficient SATA interface—while fast, they still deliver maximum transfer speeds of only 2,500 or 3,000 MB/s. To be blunt, these SSDs are now outclassed by SD Express.

With lighting fast 4GB/s transfer speeds offered by the SD8 version for SD Express, the door is now open for a radical approach to internal device storage—eliminate it or limit it to just the minimal internal required storage. Device manufacturers can sell lower cost devices and give users the ultimate flexibility to manage their storage needs at any time.

Green Possibilities

For decades, one of the most efficient ways to improve the speed and performance of a computer system, has been to increase the random-access memory (RAM). With smartphones offering only internal memory, users are often faced with the frustrating decision of deleting pictures, apps, music, data, or buying a new device and throwing out your perfectly operational, but capacity constrained device. With the SD 8.0 standard, the cards gain advanced, low-latency memory access mechanisms with the NVMe protocol. SD Express now has the speed to act as a surrogate for additional RAM, and for other devices, providing the convenience of economical and fast storage upgrades. This provides a greener, more environmentally friendly, option for saving the earth’s landfills and other precious resources required to build new devices.

Portable gaming devices and systems can also see huge gains; particularly those that currently offer anemic onboard storage of as little as 32GB. Not only can storage options be expanded instantly, by multiplying the transfer speeds inherent in the new SD Express specification, gaming console and gadget developers can also present more robust offerings with faster loading times and smoother gameplay for their most demanding fans with external SD memory card storage.

Some industrial SD host products are using cards as semi-embedded SD memory cards. Industrial SD host products typically offer longer device usage lifetimes than consumer products. Semi-embedded cards are implemented in the host cabinet and replaceable through SD connectors by engineers, but not by consumers. Semi-embedded SD memory cards ultimately increase the device’s lifetime and maintainability of these products.

Evolution and Art

We’ve come a long way since the first 16MB SD memory card was released in the year 2000. The speeds and capabilities we are seeing today were nothing more than a mathematical dream 20 years ago. Pixar co-founder and former Disney animation Chief, John Lasseter said, “Art challenges technology, and technology inspires art.”

Evolving SD standards provide product designers with compelling device storage options. These options ultimately offer ample inspiration for all the gamers, designers, filmmakers, photographers, artists, storytellers and fans alike by giving them the most evolved tools with the best storage needed to bring their dreams to life.

Hiroyuki Sakamoto is president of the SD Association.He can be reached at

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