What is a Memory Card?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Memory cards are one option for the storage of various types of electronic data. Sometimes referred to as a flash memory card, the standard card is capable of storing a wide range of data files, such as audio and video clips, images, and text documents. In general, it makes use of flash memory in order to maintain the integrity of the files loaded onto the card, but there is research into other possible means as well.

Digital cameras utilize memory cards to store images and videos.
Digital cameras utilize memory cards to store images and videos.

The main function of this type of memory is to provide a simple method of data storage without a great deal of trouble. In general, these cards have a high amount of capacity, which makes them ideal for storing larger data files. There are many different variations on the market today, and some of them are somewhat specialized in their applications and the type of data that can be stored in the memory of the card. Among the different types of devices available are the secure digital card, the memory stick, multimedia cards, and the SmartMedia card.

Computers utilize memory cards to store and transfer data.
Computers utilize memory cards to store and transfer data.

In actual configuration, just about any memory card will use nonvolatile memory. Essentially, this means that the data stored on the device will be stable and is not subject to corruption or loss in the event of a power failure. There is also no need to refresh the stored data from time to time, as it will remain intact.

Memory cards may be found in cell phones.
Memory cards may be found in cell phones.

There are no moving parts in a memory card, which helps to minimize the chances that the device will malfunction. While its storage capacity tends to be compared favorably to the total capacity on a standard computer hard drive, the amount of memory found on some cards is truly impressive. In order to accommodate varying consumer needs, different variations feature a range of capacities, and generally, more memory or capacity available on a given card will mean a higher price tag. Many of the lower priced units have enough data storage capacity to accommodate personal use, making it relatively affordable for nearly any home computer user to also afford one.

MP3 players utilize memory cards to store audio files.
MP3 players utilize memory cards to store audio files.
A SD card.
A SD card.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments


@pleonasm -- I can see how cloud storage can be a good thing, but it also makes me a little uneasy as well. I keep some things stored in the cloud like music and photos, but never anything that is personal.

It seems like we store more and more information on our electronic devices and using something like the cloud is a convenient way to store large amounts of it. Even so, I still make sure I have photos that are really important to me backed up somewhere else. I don't think memory cards are going away any time soon, but do think more people will start using the cloud to store information.


A few years ago I bought one of those turntables where you could convert your old music albums to a CD or to a memory card. I have a lot of memories from my old albums and thought this was be a great way of storing the music so I could play it easier. At first I thought I would get rid of the albums after I converted the music, but I haven't been able to do that. I will say it is nice to be able to stick the memory card in my computer and listen to those old songs as I work online.


I have a lot of text documents saved on memory sticks. Having lost all of my information before when my hard drive crashed, I now make sure and back up all my important information. I have quite a bit of personal and business information stored on my computer that I don't want to lose again.

External memory cards and sticks like this are so economical that there should really be no excuse for someone not to have a way to back up their information if they need to. For most people, it is just a matter of getting in the habit of doing it.

I usually look for a SanDisk memory stick but haven't really found a difference in brand names. What really matters is how much memory you can store on one.


What a difference using a memory card with a digital camera has made. I remember the days when we used a manual camera and had to carry around rolls of film. Now I just need to make sure I have enough room on my memory card or have more than one memory card with me.

Using a memory card also makes it so much easier to get copies of your prints. You can either upload copies from your memory card to your computer or stop at a photo center at a retail store and immediately get copies of prints from your memory card.


@pleonasm - I like to think they could figure it out. I can see why modern data storage seems a bit of a gamble, but it's not really. If anything it's better than storing things on paper which can burn or fade or rot. Data storage means that information can be sent all over the world, be stored everywhere and, in theory, live forever.

I mean, if the Library of Alexandria had access to memory cards we would never have lost those books, because even though they burned, they would have lived on in a computer. I think digitizing the whole works of human kind is an amazing endeavor and one that we take too much for granted.


@browncoat - Actually that worries me sometimes. I know people are all excited over cloud storage and the massive external hard drives and things you can get. I mean, really, a 4GB memory card costs so little these days and only a couple of decades ago it would have been the size of a house and cost millions of dollars.

But, I can't help feeling that maybe it's a mistake to put everything into digital form like that. Physical form seems so much more reliable. I mean, not only because it's actually there, but also because it's more accessible. If something happened and our civilization was wiped out, the next one could probably eventually translate our books, but could they really figure out how to use our memory cards?


@jonezee - I sometimes get confused with the different kinds of measurement used for data storage as well. It doesn't help that often they won't convert it so you get used to thinking of things in GB (gigabites) and then come across some article or something that says everything in MB (MegaBytes).

But the quick way to figure it all out is to find out what a GigaByte means to you, i.e. maybe it means 200 songs on your iPod or 1000 pictures, or whatever. Then, if something uses MB instead of GB you can go to Google and type in "how many GB in 1000 MB" and Google will bring up a converter for you.

It's something we all have to get used to, though since we use memory cards and other data storage devices all the time in our lives.


Does an 8mg HCSD card hold more data than a 8mg SD card?

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