BARCELONA—SanDisk’s new MicroSD card will make next year’s phones feel like they have hundreds of gigs of internal storage.
We’ve seen 400GB cards before, but this is the first one with the new A2 spec for adoptable storage. That’s faster than any mobile phone today can handle, according to Western Digital, SanDisk’s parent company.
Western Digital bought SanDisk in 2016, and integration between the two companies was a little choppy for a while. This is the first Mobile World Congress that I’ve seen the new WD team really embracing innovation in mobile device removable storage, and they’re doing so wholeheartedly.
MicroSD cards are like headphone jacks, in that Apple and Google try to act like they’re obsolete, but a lot of people love them. Beyond phones, they’ve become critical storage for a lot of cameras and drones, and they need higher and higher speeds as those devices shoot higher-resolution video.
The new A2 application performance specification focuses on a mix of random and sequential reading and writing to a MicroSD card, to simulate running the card not just as photo storage, but with a mix of applications running directly from the card. Current A1 cards, such as the SanDisk Ultra 400GB MicroSD, can do 1500 read and 500 write IOPS per second, with IOPS defined as the number of 4KB read/write commands that can be executed per second. A2 boosts that to 4000 read and 2000 write IOPS—more than doubling the speed.
SanDisk’s new Extreme, 400GB MicroSD is capable of running at A2 speeds. According to WD, that means if you use adoptable storage, which makes your MicroSD card look truly like internal storage to your Android phone, you won’t feel any slowdowns even when playing intense games off the MicroSD. The company showed us a PC running CrystalDiskMark, testing the MicroSD card at 167.3MB/s read and 93.74MB/s write.
But there’s a twist: no phones are yet capable of the A2 speeds, according to WD’s Brian Pidgeon. Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 845 chipset doesn’t support them. So we may have to wait another year for mobile phones with that kind of MicroSD performance.
Photographers and videographers working with huge files look for truly extreme data rates, and in a corner of the WD booth, the company was showing them off. An experimental PCI-E SD card (above) was cranking 900MB/sec read speeds on CrystalDiskMark, as fast as a premium SSD.
The PCI-E SD card interface is a few years away from commercialization, Pidgeon told us. But it shows how SSD-speed storage could become portable and commoditized. SD cards are much less expensive and physically smaller than SSDs. You could even create a physically tiny RAID array of fast SD cards with the right controller, WD confirmed. Pidgeon said WD would still need to get the PCI-E SD interface standardized and have mobile device developers adopt it, which is part of why it’s going to take years.