What Is Memory Card Speed?

In a few short years since the launch of the first 4Mb flash memory card, the number of flash memory cards available for digital cameras and other devices has exploded with a number of different formats and speeds of memory card.

It’s no wonder the average person is totally baffled by this plethora of memory cards.

Not only are there different shapes (the format) and sizes such as Secure Digital (SD) Compact Flash, Memory Stick etc, but also different speed ratings.

Memory card speed is the card’s performance with regard to how quickly data can be transferred to or from it. The card speed is often stated in ‘Times’ ratings i.e. 12X, 40X etc (just as the speed of recordable CD’s and DVD’s is measured), and sometimes more specifically in megabytes per second (Mb/s).

By today’s measure, sub 20X represents a standard speed, 20X to 40X is mid-high speed and over 40X is high speed. The chart below shows the relationship between the two figures.

  • 8X = 1.2 Mb/sec
  • 12X = 1.8 Mb/sec
  • 20X = 3.0 Mb/sec
  • 25X = 3.8 Mb/sec
  • 30X = 4.5 Mb/sec
  • 40X = 6.0 Mb/sec
  • 60X = 9.0 Mb/sec
  • 66X = 10.0 Mb/sec
  • 80X = 12.0 Mb/sec
  • 90X = 15.0 Mb/sec
  • 133X = 20.0 Mb/sec

Why do we need different or higher speeds cards?

This is mainly due to the advancement of our digital devices, especially digital cameras, camcorders and music devices. As manufacturers develop higher and higher spec devices (i.e. higher resolution cameras and more intense multi-media functions), they are creating increasingly larger amounts information to store pictures, movies, music and so on.

This in turn takes longer to record onto the memory card. For example if you have ever used a high megapixel camera with a standard speed card you may have noticed the time lag between pressing the shutter button and being able to take the next picture.

This lag or delay, in most cases is caused by a slow write speed, similarly copying your photos to your PC could take time too and is caused by a slow read speed.

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