All About Micro SD Cards and Dash CamsCategories Tech Talk
Update (September 2018): The current recommended budget card for dashcams is Sandisk High Endurance. You can buy them on Amazon US (also Amazon Canada or Amazon UK).
I’ve been asked this question a few times this week so I wanted to clear up some of the confusion around micro SD cards. There are a few points that this video covers:
- Transcend High Endurance cards are the current recommended cards
- MLC cards are best
- Do not use Sandisk Ultra cards in your camera
- Lexar 633x are decent cheaper cards but not MLC
- If a card doesn’t advertise MLC it probably isn’t
- Avoid knockoffs by ensuring you are buying from a legit retailer
Where to buy:
Recommended SD card USA | Alternative MLC SD card USA
Recommended SD card Canada | Alternative MLC SD card Canada
See the full list of recommended micro SD cards here.
Micro SD cards are a fairly confusing topic when it comes to dash cams because there are so many options available.
The best cards for dash cams currently available are the Transcend High Endurance cards. These cards are well reviewed in terms of speed and reliability and are recommended on several dash cam enthusiast websites. Unfortunately I don’t have one myself as they’re a bit difficult to get in Canada at a reasonable price so I just printed out this picture of one for you to see. Also, I recommend getting a minimum of 32GB, and 64 if your camera supports it.
I’m going to get into some technical info about SD cards but the main point of this video is don’t cheap out. It was a mistake I made when I first started buying dash cam gear: when I got my dash cam, I also bought a Sandisk Ultra card. These things are cheap for a reason, and are unreliable in dash cams, to the point where Sandisk no longer warranties the cards if they are used in dash cams. I thankfully caught when the card started to have errors but there are countless stories of others who thought their cameras were working, only to find that their cards had no data on them. To understand why these cards are unreliable let’s take a look at the underlying technology inside of a micro SD card.
There are two common types of micro SD cards currently available for consumers: MLC or multi level cell and TLC or triple level cell. Data in a card is stored as a bit, located in a physical cell. The key difference between MLC and TLC is the number of bits per cell. In a TLC card, each of the storage cells can contain 3 bits of data. In an MLC card it is typically 2 bits. Most of the cheaper cards available are based on TLC because, well, think about it this way – if the cells are the same size, and you can squeeze 3 bits into the same area you would normally get 2 bits, that means a TLC card can have 1.5x the data storage that an MLC card can have. This is why it is a commonly used technology: todays applications demand more storage in these tiny cards. The trade-off for jamming more bits into a cell is that TLC storage does not last nearly as long as MLC. The lifespan of a TLC card can be as low as 1/3rd that of a MLC card because each cell is used more when data is written to a memory card.
A TLC card in itself isn’t inherently a bad thing and for most applications they work great. Dash cams, however, are quite the demanding application. We write data to the entire card over and over again, meaning that in a TLC card each cell wears out far faster because more data needs to be written to each cell.
All of these cheap cards over here are based on TLC flash. And even among these cheap cards there are differences. Different cards offer different speeds. Different cards have different warranties. Some cards offer features such as error correction. And others, well, they just straight up die one day. I do not recommend in any case using cheap SD cards because they are often not fast enough to keep up and they are nowhere near as reliable. That rules out this pile here.
Thing is, there are some cheap TLC cards that people use in dash cams and they work fine. MLC cards currently cap at 64GB so if TLC cards are required for more storage. I personally used these Lexar 633x cards for a long time and they didn’t fail me. If you’re going to buy one of these, grab yourself a 128GB. They’re around $43 and have a warranty that is not voided in dashcam use. They’re about the only cheap ones I can recommend off hand though I am sure there are some others that are ok too. Information about these cards from other manufacturers is scarce, and many manufacturers void the card warranty if they are used in dash cams.
That’s why I generally recommend the Transcend High Endurance cards over any of the other cheap cards. They are well – designed for dash cams. I don’t even recommend other Transcend cards because their warranty is void if you use them in dash cams. There are other brands with MLC out there – Kingston Industrial is more expensive and Adata Premier Pro is dirt cheap, but I haven’t tested it yet and I can’t find much in the way of reviews out there so it’s hard to say if it’ll be reliable.
In conclusion, buy cards designed for dash cams and buy them from a reliable retailer. Avoid Sandisk (even their high endurance lines!), Delkin, silicon power. Also keep in mind that MLC is a bragging point. If a card doesn’t advertise MLC, chances are is isn’t. Don’t waste your money on cheap cards because they might fail you when you need them most.
Thanks for watching! I hope this cleared things up for you. If you have any questions please ask in me in the comments.