xD-Picture Cards

2002: All memory cards are not created equal. CompactFlash and SmartMedia have been duking it out over price, speed, size, and capacity for several years. Sony threw a wrench in the works with its Memory Stick technology (which hardly anyone except Sony uses), and just recently the tiny Secure Digital card has come into play with Minolta’s Dimage X.


Fujifilm xD-Picture Card

Now Fujifilm and Olympus are adding yet another memory card standard to the existing confusion. Is this a good move that provides something that the market needs – or is it just one more competing standard?

Olympus and Fujifilm have been wed to SmartMedia, a compact, inexpensive memory module with one significant drawback – it only supports up to 128 MB of memory, and some older cameras don’t even support that. While CompactFlash is available in sizes up to 1 GB (with prices to match!), it’s physically thicker and larger than SmartMedia. With the industry moving to smaller cameras, a smaller type of flash memory card is attractive.

Sony’s Memory Stick seems to have run into the same 128 MB barrier as SmartMedia, and vendors are simply not lining up to use Sony’s next “beta” standard.

Enter the MultiMedia Card [ancestor of the SD card], the smallest flash memory card available until new xD-Picture card ships. These tiny cards look a bit like the end of a Memory Stick, and capacity appears top out at 64 MB. Secure Digital is a secure version of MMC that’s 4 times as fast, and 128 MB SD cards are already available.

xD-Picture Card

The xD-Picture Card will be the smallest physically when it ships in September 2002 – and it’s memory potential is the greatest, with the possibility of supporting 8 GB on a single card, shattering the 128 MB barrier that SmartMedia cameras have had. xD-Picture was also designed to minimize power consumption and improve read/write speed.

Let’s compare SD and xD:

SD 1.0 xD
Dimensions 24 x 32 x 2.1 mm 20 x 25 x 1.8 mm
Volume 1,613 mm3 900 mm3
Capacity, today 128 MB 128 MB
Capacity, potential 1 GB 2 GB
Read speed 2.0 MB/sec 1.3/3.0 MB/sec
Write speed 2.0 MB/sec 5.0 MB/sec

Fujifilm already makes Compact Flash, SmartMedia, and Secure Digital cards. I suspect pricing of xD-Picture memory will be in the ballpark with the rest, so that won’t be a significant issue. Fujifilm is already quoting $89.95 for a 128 MB card.

I’m guessing that nobody has complained about the size of SD, so let’s not make an issue of one being visibly smaller than the other. I doubt there are any applications where that will really matter.

The great promises of xD seem to be speed and capacity. The 64 MB xD card reads 50% faster than SD – and writes are 2.5x as fast. On top of that, xD has a theoretical limit of 8 GB. I haven’t been able to find any information on a theoretical limit for SD or Compact Flash.

A couple really useful accessories that could help drive xD are adapters that allow their use with equipment designed to accept Compact Flash card or PC Cards. Very nice touch, Olympus and Fujifilm.

SD is just starting to get established, so the window of opportunity hasn’t closed. Although I haven’t been able to find current market share figures, based on what I can find, I suspect Olympus and Fujifilm account for 20-30% of the digicam market, which would be enough to make xD the front runner by Christmas.

Despite the hype about size, it’s probably the speed and capacity that will let xD become the new standard as digital cameras, MP3 players, and other devices keep getting smaller. If they can actually squeeze 8 GB into such a small card, this could eventually displace Compact Flash as the dominant memory card.

Changes Since 2002

SD Card

Secure Digital (SD) cards completely dominate the market. While the original SD specification was a big step forward from the MultiMedia Card, it only officially supported 1 GB cards, although some vendors devised ways to make and use 2 GB and 4 GB cards, which were not always backward compatible with older equipment. Revision 1.01 of the SD specification standardized 2 GB and 4 GB cards.

Next came SDHC (for High Capacity), which supports capacities to 32 GB and read/write speeds twice that of the original SD specification. This was followed by SDXC (for eXtended Capacity) and a maximum capacity of 2 TB. Bus speed was 2-4x that of SDHC, and later versions of the specification have further increased read/write speed.

The SDUC (for Ultra Capacity) increased the capacity ceiling to 128 TB and data throughput to 985 MB/s via the new SD Express interface.

Smaller versions of the SD card were introduced, starting with the Mini SD in 2003 and Micro SD in 2005, the latter specifically designed for the mobile phone market.

xD-Picture Cards

Fujifilm and Olympus pushed their smaller xD-Picture card for years, but the cards were more expensive than the CompactFlash and SD cards used by the competition, and eventually both Fujifilm and Olympus began using CF or SD memory cards, at first as an alternative to xD-Picture, but both companied finally gave up on xD-Picture and no current models use the card.