Not all SD cards are created equal

Take a look at the two SD cards in the image below:

SD vs SDHC card

Besides the capacity (2 GB vs 8 GB) of the SD cards, do you notice anything different about them? Most people don’t.

But if you look closely, you’ll notice that the 2 GB card on the left is an SD card while the 8 GB card on the right is an SDHC. The extra HC on the 8 GB card stands for high capacity.

And it’s much more relevant than just a few extra letters and increased capacity.

The problem lies in that most devices that can read an SD card can’t read an SDHC card. But most consumers don’t know this. They think they are just buying the most storage capacity they can afford. And most retailers either don’t know or don’t care so they don’t bother asking you if your device can read an SDHC card when you buy one.

This leads to real-life scenarios like these that I have dealt with over the past few weeks:

1. Can’t transfer photos from a digital SLR camera to a computer

This client took a vacation to Africa and loaded up his digital camera with hundreds of pictures on his 8 GB SDHC card. The digital camera was pretty new and had no problem reading and writing to the SDHC card. The computer, on the other hand, was a few years old and could not read an SDHC card even though it fit perfectly in the SD card reader slot on his computer.

2. Nintendo Wii plays nice with some SD cards and not others

This client asked me why he could view pictures on his Nintendo Wii with some SD cards and not others. My first question was to ask him what the capacity was of the SD cards that wouldn’t work. His answer? 4 GB. And he confirmed that his 1 GB card worked just fine.

The lesson to be learned here is this. Unless your digital camera or other SD-card-reading device specifically says it can handle a SDHC card, you’ll have to stick with standard SD cards. And if you can’t remember which is which, use this simple trick. Most SD cards that are standard SD are 2 GB or less. Once you break the 2 GB barrier (ex: 4 GB or 8 GB), you enter the world of SDHC cards.

The solution

So what can you do if you are in one of these situations? Well, in the first situation, it is easily resolved by purchasing an external card reader than can read SDHC cards. Here’s an example of one such card reader which is available on Amazon.com for $12.74.

Kingston 19-in-1 USB 2.0 Flash Memory Card Reader FCR-HS219/1

With this reader, you simply plug the USB end into an open USB port on your computer and then stick your SDHC card in the appropriate slot on the card reader. There are other options available but I like the one above best because it not only allows you to read an SDHC card, but also 18 other formats. You can never be too prepared, right?

The situation with the Nintendo Wii is a little trickier. Your best bet here is to use your computer’s built-in SDHC card reader (or if you don’t have that, the same external card reader mentioned above) to transfer the photos to your computer. Then purchase a couple of 2 GB SD cards and transfer the photos back to these smaller capacity cards.

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2 Comments

  1. asudduth

    Also, there is now a newer format SDXC (eXtended-Capacity) that offer sizes of 32GB and larger.

    Again, newer cameras may support this but your SD or SDHC reader probably won’t.

    Another thing to point out in the picture above is the number in the circle (a 2 in both cases) and this is the class rating of the card that identifies its speed/performance.  Certain cameras and devices may benefit from a speed boost of a higher-class card.

  2. Patric Welch

    asudduth – Great follow-up information! I wasn’t aware of the SDXC format. Hopefully we are getting one step closer to laptop-ready solid state drives (beyond the puny ones they have now).