SD card storage has expanded dramatically from 32 megabytes in 1999 to 1.5 terabytes today. While technology can further increase this to a theoretical 128 terabytes, economic and practical constraints make this unlikely any time soon. Meanwhile, shifts to cloud and embedded storage solutions, along with new physical formats like XQD and CFexpress cards, could represent the future of data storage.
In johnny mnemonic the eponymous cyberpunk messenger has a hard time fitting 320GB of data in his head in the “future” of 2021. My Nintendo Switch has a tiny 512GB microSD card. But how big can we go?
What is the largest SD card size you can buy?
As of June 2023, the largest commercially widely available microSD cards tip the scales at a whopping terabyte. This is a huge leap from just a few years ago, when 512GB SD cards were considered groundbreaking.
It’s interesting to see how quickly this technology has spread since the first SD card was introduced in 1999. Back then, the first version had just 32 megabytes of storage. We are now storing thousands of times more data in a similarly sized packet.
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The SDXC (SD Extended Capacity) specification technically supports up to a maximum capacity of 2TB. However, as of this writing, there are no 2TB cards for sale.
In June 2022, Micron announced a 1.5TB microSD card that became available through wholesalers in early 2023. In late 2022, Koxia announced a prototype 2TB microSD card
However, bigger is not always better. These high-capacity cards are priced high, making them less affordable for the average consumer. That 1.5TB Micron card is priced well over the $400 mark!
The theoretical size limit of SD cards
SD cards come in three main types: SD (up to 2 GB), SDHC (up to 32 GB), and SDXC (up to 2 TB). But what about beyond that? Is there a theoretical size limit to the amount of information these compact storage solutions can hold?
The SDUC (SD Ultra Capacity) specification expands the maximum potential capacity of SD and microSD cards to a staggering 128TB. The SDUC uses the same physical form factor as previous SD cards, but employs a different file system (exFAT) and different data bus interfaces to handle this higher level of storage.
However, as of 2023, there are no commercial SDUC cards available. It’s challenging to pack so much storage into such a small form factor. In addition to technical issues, there are also economic considerations. With the high cost of manufacturing such dense storage devices and relatively low consumer demand for high-capacity cards, it’s unclear when or if we’ll see SDUC cards on the market.
What comes after SD cards?
While we marvel at the impressive advances in SD card technology, it’s also worth looking to the future. What technological marvels could top these ubiquitous little storage devices? Well, even as you read this, the successors to the SD card are shaping up in intriguing ways.
The first transition we’re seeing is the move toward onboard storage—memory that’s soldered directly onto the device’s circuit board. This trend has become quite apparent in the realm of smartphones and tablets, where SD card slots are starting to feel like relics from a bygone era. My current iPhone includes a terabyte of storage, so I haven’t felt the need for storage like I did in the days of 128GB or 256GB phones.
But perhaps the most profound change is the move towards cloud storage and streaming services. As the speed of the Internet increases around the world, the reliance on local storage has been reduced. With services like Google Drive, Dropbox and Apple’s iCloud, a world where storage is predominantly in the cloud seems less and less far-fetched.
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However, this does not mean that the physical format will become extinct. The new successors to the throne of SD cards are already making their presence felt. A good example is the XQD card, used in professional level cameras, and the CFexpress card. These high-speed, high-capacity cards are tailored for high-definition video recording and rapid-fire photography.
And in the distant future, we are seeing the exciting promise of DNA storage. This technology encodes data in synthetic DNA, offering a potential storage solution that could dwarf current capabilities. While this may sound like science fiction, research on DNA storage is ongoing, although commercial viability is still a few years away.
So for now, we won’t be able to recommend any exotic SD card with hundreds of terabytes of storage for you. But we’ve got some great selections of top-tier SD cards and microSD cards for you to explore.