Does an SD card have a chip?

Quick Answer

Yes, SD cards contain a small integrated circuit chip that stores data. The chip is what makes the SD card function and allows it to record and transfer information.

What is an SD Card?

An SD card, short for Secure Digital card, is a small removable flash memory card used for storing data in devices like digital cameras, smartphones, tablets, and more. The SD card is a storage medium that does not require power to maintain the data – it uses flash memory to retain information when not powered.

Components of an SD Card

An SD card contains the following key components:

  • Integrated circuit chip – Stores and transfers data, performs logical operations
  • Interface – Allows communication between the SD card and device
  • Connector – Physically connects the SD card to the device
  • Flash memory – Stores data on the card
  • Controller – Manages the transfer of data to and from the flash memory
  • Casing – Protective plastic casing around the components

The most important component that enables the SD card to function is the integrated circuit chip. This chip is what provides the ‘smart’ capabilities of the card and allows it to store and transfer data.

SD Card Integrated Circuit

The integrated circuit chip on SD cards is an extremely small, complex chip that is essentially a miniature computer system. It contains the following elements:


The microprocessor is the brain of the SD card. It executes software programs and controls the functioning of the card, including read/write operations, security features, and more. The microprocessor chip typically contains a simple CPU along with program memory.


The primary type of memory on SD cards is flash memory. This provides the storage capacity of the card, ranging from MBs to GBs on standard SD cards. The chip also contains a small amount of RAM to temporarily store data during read/write operations.


The chip includes input/output interfaces to communicate with the SD card host device. This includes SPI, UHS-I/II, and SD interfaces.


Specialized controllers handle the transfer of data between the microprocessor, memory, and interfaces. This includes the memory controller for the flash memory.


The chip runs firmware code that implements the SD card protocol and handles critical functions like wear levelling, error correction, security, etc.

Power Circuitry

Power regulation and voltage conversion circuitry supplies stable voltage to components.

Other Logic

Additional logic like data buffers, encoders/decoders, and security circuitry enable SD card capabilities.

Manufacturing Process

SD card integrated circuit chips are manufactured in semiconductor fabrication plants using a complex process involving the following steps:

Chip Design

Engineers design the layout and circuitry of the chip using CAD software and extensive expertise. The design is optimized for performance, reliability, and low cost.


The chip designs are printed onto silicon wafers using a process called photolithography. This transfers the detailed circuit patterns onto the wafer.


The silicon wafer is treated with impurities (doping) to change the electrical properties of the material and produce the transistors and components needed for the IC.


Areas of the wafer are etched away to leave only the desired circuitry behind. This removes excess material.


Alternating steps of material deposition and photolithography build up layers of circuitry on the wafer surface. Hundreds of intricate layers make up a complex IC.


Chips are tested at each stage of production and finally undergo full functionality testing when complete. Faulty chips are discarded.

Packaging & Assembly

The wafer is cut into hundreds of individual die, which are assembled into protective casings. Bonding wires connect the die pads to external pins.

SD Card Flash Memory

While the integrated circuit chip handles the operations of the SD card, the flash memory is where all user data is stored. Flash memory provides key advantages:

  • Non-volatile – Data is retained when power is removed
  • Re-writable – Flash cells can be erased and reprogrammed multiple times
  • Density – Flash stores more data in less physical space than other technologies
  • Shock resistant – No moving parts makes flash memory durable and shockproof

The flash memory is made up of interconnected floating-gate transistors that store data based on the amount of electrical charge. The SD card controller manages the writing (programming), reading, and erasing of data on the flash memory cells.

Types of Flash Memory

Common types of flash memory used on SD cards include:

  • SLC (single-level cell) – Each cell stores 1 bit per cell
  • MLC (multi-level cell) – Each cell stores 2 bits per cell
  • TLC (triple-level cell) – Each cell stores 3 bits per cell
  • QLC (quad-level cell) – Each cell stores 4 bits per cell

Higher density formats like MLC, TLC, and QLC allow for greater storage capacities but have slower write speeds and shorter lifetimes compared to SLC flash.

SD Card Connector

The connector on SD cards provides the physical and electrical interface between the card and device. It consists of several contact pads arranged in a specific pinout pattern. Key contacts include:

Contact Description
DAT2 Data Line 2
CD/DAT3 Card Detect / Data Line 3
CMD Command Signal
VDD Supply Voltage
CLK Clock Signal
VSS Ground
DAT0 Data Line 0
DAT1 Data Line 1

When inserted into a host device, these electrical contact pads interface with the SD card slot to transfer commands, data, and power between the SD card and device.

SD Card Sizes and Capacities

SD cards come in a variety of physical sizes and storage capacities. The main sizes are:

  • Standard SD – 32 x 24 x 2.1 mm
  • MiniSD – 21.5 x 20 x 1.4 mm
  • MicroSD – 15 x 11 x 1 mm

MicroSD cards are the smallest and are used extensively in mobile devices.

Typical SD card storage capacities include:

  • SD – 1GB to 2TB
  • MicroSD – 16GB to 1TB

Higher capacity cards continue to be released as flash technology evolves. The maximum capacity is determined by the card specification and SD controller used.

SD Card Speed Classes

SD cards are classified by speed classes indicating their minimum guaranteed performance:

Class Minimum Speed
Class 2 2 MB/s
Class 4 4 MB/s
Class 6 6 MB/s
Class 10 10 MB/s
UHS Class 1 10 MB/s
UHS Class 3 30 MB/s

Higher speed class cards have faster write performance and are better for recording high-resolution videos and images.

SD Card Interface Protocols

The IC chip uses various protocols to interface with host devices:

  • SPI – Serial Peripheral Interface Bus – Simple 4-wire bus (CLK, MOSI, MISO, CS)
  • UHS-I – Ultra High Speed Phase I – Faster SPI operating up to 104 MB/s
  • UHS-II – Ultra High Speed Phase II – Extra row of pins for faster 312 MB/s speed
  • SD/SDIO – SD MMC Interface – Improved protocol with clock and command signals

Cards indicate which protocols they support by markings on the card body. Host devices use the supported protocols listed to communicate with SD cards.

SD Card File Systems

The flash memory on the SD card is formatted with a file system that organizes data into files and folders. Common file systems include:

  • FAT32 – File Allocation Table – Compatible standard used on most SD cards
  • exFAT – Extended FAT – Optimized for large storage devices
  • NTFS – New Technology File System – Advanced file system used on some newer SDXC/SDHC cards

SD cards are typically pre-formatted with FAT32 for maximum compatibility with devices, while exFAT and NTFS support larger capacities and file sizes.

SD Card Security

SD cards include security and anti-piracy features to protect user data:

  • Hardware encryption – Encrypts contents for confidentiality
  • Access control – Locks writes/reads with password authentication
  • Digital rights management – Controls copying and usage of copyrighted data
  • Unique IDs – Each SD card contains a unique card serial number

Higher-end SD cards aimed at enterprises may include enhanced security capabilities such as on-card biometric authentication and secure elements.

SD Card Use Cases

Some common applications and use cases for SD cards include:

  • Digital cameras – Extended storage for photos and HD video
  • Smartphones – Storage expansion for apps, media, data
  • Tablets – Memory card for additional capacity
  • Handheld gaming – Stores games and save data
  • DAPs – Music players use SD for songs
  • Dashcams/CCTV – Loop recording footage
  • SD adapters – Access SD cards via USB or other ports

Their small size, ease of use, and plug-and-play functionality have made SD cards ubiquitous for portable consumer storage needs.


In summary, SD cards do contain an integrated circuit chip, which enables them to store, protect, and transfer data. The chip incorporates flash memory, a microprocessor, interfaces, and control logic. It connects via an exposed connector to SD card slots on host devices to add removable data storage. The chip is manufactured using sophisticated fabrication techniques to produce the components of the SD card at a tiny scale. Continual improvements in the memory, controller, and flash technologies used in SD cards have allowed their capacity to grow while size has decreased. SD cards have become an essential storage component across many consumer electronics devices.