SD Cards – how long do they last?

advertise-here-275 SD Cards - how long do they last?

This came up on facebook the other day, how long do SD cards last?

First of all – I have found SD cards to be pretty reliable overall. Not as reliable as SxS cards or XQD cards, but pretty good generally. The physical construction of SD cards has let me down a few times, the little plastic fins between the contacts breaking off.  I’ve had a couple of cards that have just died, but I didn’t loose any content as the camera wouldn’t let me record to them. Plus I have also had SD cards that have given me a lot of trouble getting content and files off them. But compared to tape, I’ve had far fewer problems with solid state media.

But something that I don’t think most people realise is that a  lot of solid state media ages the more you use it. In effect it wears out.

There are a couple of different types of memory cell that can be used in solid state media. High end professional media will often use single level memory cells that are either on or off. These cells can only store a single value, but they tend to be fast and extremely reliable due to their simplicity. But you need a lot of them in a big memory card.  The other type of cell found in most lower cost media is a multi-level cell. Each multi-level cell stores a voltage and the level of the voltage in that cell represents many different values. As a result each cell can store more than one single value. The memory cells are insulated to prevent the voltage charge leaking away. However each time you write to the cell the insulation can be eroded. Over time this can result in the cell becoming leaky and this allows the voltage in the cell to change slightly resulting in a change to the data that it holds. This can lead to data corruption.

So multi level cards that get used a lot, may develop leaky cells. But if the card is read reasonably soon after it was written to (days, weeks, a month perhaps) then it is unlikely that the user will experience any problems. The cards include circuitry designed to detect problem cells and then avoid them. But over time the card can reach a point where it no longer has enough memory to keep mapping out damaged cells, or the cells loose there charge quickly and as a result the data becomes corrupt.

Raspberry Pi computers that use SD cards as memory can kill SD cards in a matter of days because of the extremely high number of times that the card may be written to.

With a video camera it will depend on how often you use the cards. If you only have one or 2 cards and you shoot a lot I would recommend replacing the cards yearly. If you have lots of cards either use one or two and replace them regularly or try to cycle through all the cards you have to extend their life and avoid any one card from excessive use which might make it less reliable than the rest.

One thing regular SD cards are not good for is long term storage (more than a year and never more than 5 years) as the charge in the cells will leak away over time. There are special write once SD cards designed for archival purposes where each cell is permanently fused to either On or Off.  Most standard SD cards, no matter how many times they have been used won’t hold data reliably beyond 5 years.


2 thoughts on “SD Cards – how long do they last?”

  1. I have wondered about the life expectancy of SD cards, and also if higher capacity SD cards are less reliable. I have SD cards that date back nearly 6 or 7 years, and haven’t had any data loss. That said, I rotate my SD card use frequently, and I suppose many of the cards have not had enough use to introduce “wear”. In retrospect, I should probably have written purchase date on my SD cards to track their age.

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