Secure Digital Card

From Academic Kids

16Mb SD Card
16Mb SD Card
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1 GB SD Card

Secure Digital (also known as SD) is a flash memory memory card format. SD cards are based on the older Multi Media Card (MMC) format, but add little-used DRM encryption features, allow for faster file transfers over the initial MMC speed, have small switch one the side that can stop the card from being overwritten, as well as being physically slightly thicker). Standard SD cards measure 32 mm by 24 mm by 2.1 mm. There are two main types available, ones that run at regular speeds, and high-speed cards that have higher transfer rates. High-speed cards are needed by some digital cameras to record higher quality video smoothly.

Devices with SD slots can use the thinner MMC cards, but SD cards won't fit into the thinner MMC slots. SD cards can be used in CompactFlash slots directly with a CF adapter or with PC Card slots with an adapter for it. MiniSD (and MicroSD) can be used directly in SD slots with a adapter. There are adapters that allow SD to be used in a 3.5" floppy disk drives. There are some SD cards that have a USB connector built in, and there are readers that allow SD to be used with many connection standards such as USB, Firewire, Parallel, etc. SD cards can be used a floppy disk drive with a FlashPath adapter.


Description and Market Penetration

Typically, an SD card is used as storage media for a portable device, in a form that can easily be removed for access by a PC. For example, a digital camera would use an SD card for storing image files. With an SD reader (typically a small box that connects via USB or some other serial connection), a user could copy the pictures taken with the digital camera off to his or her computer. Modern computers, both laptops and desktops, often have SD slots built in.

SD cards are currently available in sizes up to and including 2 GB as of 2005, and are used in almost every context in which memory cards are used. SD support is nearly standard in PDAs, with models from Dell, palmOne, HP, Toshiba, Sharp, and others including SD slots in all of their PDAs.

In the field Digital cameras SD has managed to supplant SmartMedia as the single largest format used. In 2001 SmartMedia had achieved nearly 50% use, but by 2005 SD/MMC had achieved over 40% of the digital camera market and SmartMedia's share had plummeted. As of 2005, the product of lines of the two biggest sellers of digital cameras as of 2004, Kodak and Canon, both mostly support SD cards, and even Sony (number three seller as of 2004) has offered dual support of SD and Memory Stick on some cameras. HP, Nikon, and numerous other makers also have at least some cameras that offer SD support.

However, Olympus and Fuji use xD cards, and Sonys almost always offers support for Memory Sticks; they favor their own proprietary formats. Also, SD support is not as deep among professional cameras, which tend to support CompactFlash (exclusively or in addition to SD/MMC or other formats). Either way, SD cards can be used in a device that is intended to support CF with a adapter. SD cards can also be found in many flash-memory-based mp3 players, GPS receivers, the occasional cell phone, and some portable game systems.

The "Secure" in Secure Digital comes from their origin. To create the SD card, Toshiba added encryption hardware to the already-extant MMC card, to allay music industry concerns that MMC cards would allow for easy piracy of music. (A similar scheme is the MagicGate standard used in Memory Sticks.) In theory, this encryption would allow for DRM schemes on digital music to be easily enforced, but this capability is little used.

A recent development, are SD cards with built-in USB plugs, to eliminate the need for an SD/USB adapter or SD slot on a PC though at higher intial cost. One design pioneered by SanDisk featured a folding flap to expose the plug. Although SanDisk was not first to come out with a USB enabled SD card, the move did spawn other manufactures to follow suit.

The signature "SD" logo was actually developed for another use entirely: it was originally used for "Super-Density Optical Disk", which was the unsuccessful Toshiba entry in the DVD format wars. This is why the "D" looks so much like half of an optical disk.

Openness of standards

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MMC cards work SD slots

Like most memory card formats, SD is covered by numerous patents and trademarks, and licensing is only available through the Secure Digital Card Association. The SD Card Association's current licensing agreement doesn't allow for open-source SD drivers, a fact that generates a fair amount of consternation in the open-source and free software communities. The usual workaround is to develop an open-source wrapper for a closed-source SD driver available on the particular platform, but this is far from ideal. Another common workaround is to use the older MMC mode, which all SD cards are required to support by the SD standard.

This means that SD is less open than CompactFlash or USB flash memory drives, which can be implemented for free but require licensing fees for the associated logos and trademarks, but far more open than xD or Memory Stick, where no public documentation nor any documented legacy implementation is available.

Technical Explanation

All SD memory and SDIO cards are required to support the older SPI/MMC mode which supports the slightly slower 4 wire serial interface (clock, serial in, serial out, chip select) that is compatible with SPI ports on many microcontrollers. Many digital cameras, MP3 players, and other portable devices probably use MMC mode exclusively. Documentation for this mode can be purchased from the MMCA for $500; however, partial documentation for SDIO is free and there is free documentation available for memory cards as part of some manufacturers datasheets.

MMC mode does not provide access (and the free documentation does not document) the rarely used (and generally undesirable from a consumer perspective) proprietary encryption features of SD cards.

There are three transfer modes supported by SD: SPI mode (separate serial in and serial out), 1 bit SD mode (separate command and data channels and a proprietary transfer format), and 4 bit SD mode (uses extra pins plus some reassigned pins) to support 4 bit wide parallel transfers.

Low speed cards support 0 to 400 kbit/s data rate and SPI and 1 bit SD transfer modes. High speed cards support 0 to 100 Mbit/s data rate in 4 bit mode and 0-25 megabit per second in SPI and 1 bit SD modes.

Royalties for SD/SDIO licenses are imposed for manufacture and sale of memory cards and host adapters ($1000 per year plus membership at $1500/year) but SDIO cards can be made without royalties and MMC host adapters do not require a royalty. MMC cards had a 7 pin interface, SD and SDIO expanded this to 9 pins.

See Legitimacy of Standards for background info.


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A camera that uses the SDIO interface

SD slots can actually be used for more than flash memory cards. Devices that support SDIO (typically PDAs, but occasionally laptops or cell phones) can use small devices designed for the SD form factor, like GPS receivers, WiFi or Bluetooth adapters, modems, barcode readers, IrDA adapters, FM radio tuners, RFID readers, or digital cameras.

A number of other devices have been proposed but not yet implemented, including RS-232 serial adapters, TV tuners, fingerprint scanners, SDIO to USB host/slave adapters (which would allow an SDIO-equipped handheld device to use USB peripherals and/or interface to PCs), magnetic stripe readers, combination Bluetooth/WiFi/GPS receivers, Ethernet adapters, cellular modems (PCS/CDPD/GSM/etc), and APRS/TNC adapters.

Different Types of MMC/SD cards

The SD card isn't the only flash memory card standard ratified by the Secure Digital Card Association. Other SD Card Association formats include miniSD and microSD (formerly known as TransFlash before ratification by the SD Card Association).

These smaller cards are usable in full size MMC/SD/SDIO slots with an adapter (which must route the electrical connections as well as making physical contact). It should be noted, however, that it is already difficult to create I/O devices in the SD form factor and this will be even more impractical in the smaller sizes.

As SD slots still support MMC cards, the separately-evolved smaller MMC variants are also compatible with SD-supporting devices. Unlike miniSD and microSD (which are sufficiently different from SD to make mechanical adapters impractical), RS-MMC slots maintain backward compatibility with full-sized MMC cards, because they RS-MMC cards are simply shorter MMC cards. More information on these variants can be found in RS-MMC.

Technical comparison

Type MMC RS-MMC MMC plus SecureMMC SD SDIO miniSD microSD
SD Socket yes mechanical adapter yes yes yes yes electromechanical adapter electromechanical adapter
pins 7 7 13 7 9 9 9? 9?
form factor thin thin/short thin thin thick thick narrow/short/thinnarrow/short/extrathin
width 24 mm 24 mm 24 mm 24 mm 24 mm 24 mm 20mm 11 mm
length 32 mm 18mm 32 mm 32 mm 32 mm 32 mm+ 21.5mm 15mm
thickness 1.4 mm 1.4 mm 1.4 mm 1.4 mm 2.1 mm 2.1 mm 1.4 mm 1 mm
SPI mode optional optional optional required required required required?required?
1 bit mode yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
4 bit mode no no yes  ? optional optional optional optional
8 bit mode no no yes  ? no no no no
xfer clock 0-20 MHz 0-20 MHz 0-54 MHz 0-20 MHz? 0-25 MHz 0-25 MHz 0-25 MHz? 0-25 MHz?
Max XFER 20 Mbit/s 20 Mbit/s 416 Mbit/s 20 Mbit/s? 100 Mbit/s 100 Mbit/s 100 Mbit/s 100 Mbit/s
Max SPI XFR 20 Mbit/s 20 Mbit/s 54 Mbit/s 20 Mbit/s 25 Mbit/s 25 Mbit/s 25 Mbit/s 25 Mbit/s
DRM no no no yes yes n/a yes yes
user encrypt no no no yes no no no no
Simplified Spec yes yes no not yet? yes yes no no
Memb cost $2500/yr (not required)$1500/yr (appears required)
Spec cost $500  ?  ? member member member member
Host license no no no no $1000/yr+memb
Mem card royalties yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
i/o card royalties n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a $1000/yr+memb n/a n/a
open source compatible yes yes yes? yes? SPI only SPI only SPI only SPI only

Table data compiled mostly from simplified versions of MMC and SDIO specifications and other data on SD card and MMC association web sites. Data for other card variations is interpolated.

Capacity limit in all SD/MMC formats appears to be 128GB in LBA mode (28 bit sector address).

Most, possibly all, current MMC flash memory cards support SPI mode even if not officially required as failure to do so would severely affect compatibility. All cards currently made by SanDisk, Ritek/Ridata, and Kingmax digital appear to support SPI. Also, MMC cards may be electrically identical to SD cards but in a thinner package and with a fuse blown to disable SD functionality (so no SD royalties need to be paid).

MMC defined the SPI and 1 bit MMC/SD protocols. The underlying SPI protocol has existed for years as a standard feature on many microcontrollers. From a societal perspective, the justification for a new incompatible SD/MMC protocol is questionable; the development of a new incompatible and unnecessary protocol may help trade associations collect licensing and membership fees but it raises the cost of hardware and software in many ways. The new protocol used open collector signalling to allow multiple cards on the same bus but this actually causes problems at higher clock rate. While SPI used 3 shared lines plus a separate chip select to each card, the new protocol allows up to 30 cards to be connected to the same 3 wires (with no chip select) at the expense of a much more complicated card initialization and the requirement that each card have a unique serial number for plug and pray operation; this feature is rarely used and its use is actively discouraged in new standards (which recommend a completely separate channel to each card) because of speed and power consumption issues. The quasi-proprietary 1 bit protocol was extended to support 4 bit wide (SD and MMC) and 8 bit (MMC only) transfers for more speed while much of the rest of the computer industry is moving to higher speed narrower channels; standard SPI could simply have been clocked at higher data rates (such as 133 MHz) for higher performance than offered by 4 bit SD - embedded CPUs that did not already have higher clock rates available would not have been fast enough to handle the higher data rates anyway. The SD card association dropped support for some of the old 1 bit MMC protocol commands and added support for additional commands related to copy protection.

External links

de:SD Memory Card ja:SDメモリーカード pl:SD (karta pamięci) fi:Secure Digital


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