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A 32gb SD card!

Every now and again I have one of those “It’s amazing what you can buy nowadays” moments, when I am confronted with some aspect of the modern world that is working really well. As parts of it most definitely are, even as other aspects of human civilisation remain shambolic or worse. So it was yesterday, when I saw and snapped this, through a rather grubby and blurry shop window, just across from the ticket barriers at Piccadilly tube station:


I know. 32 gigabyte SD cards have been around for months, and for many were no big deal in the first place. I actually seem to recall seeing a 64gb SD card yesterday also, somewhere in Tottenham Court Road, but for some reason this didn’t amaze me so much, probably because the price was so huge that I wasn’t so gobsmacked by it. It was the fact that the above 32gb SD card wasn’t just in existence, somewhere foreign and only reachable via the internet, but in existence right there in a pokey little shop window like this one that hit home to me. This was a 32gb SD card, and it was no big deal. That was why, for me, it is such a big deal. For me, all this is amazing. I can remember having a hard disc in my PC that was only 30 megabytes. SD cards matter to me a lot, because I like to take photos, such as the one above, and such as the one I posted at my personal blog yesterday, of a new tower at the Elephant and Castle to which the finishing touches are even now being put, or the snaps I took the day before yesterday of the Shard, another implausibly tall new London building, which is still going ahead now despite everything. Or just of strange things that I see around town.

Not so long ago, when out on one of my photographic rambles around London, I had to keep changing the SD cards in my camera, because they kept running out of space. Then came vast 2gb SD cards, vast when I first got one, and the changes became rarer. Now I have two 8gb SD cards, one of which comfortably lasted for an entire recent break in Spain which lasted for the best part of a week if you include all the travelling. Those 8gb SD cards can each store over two thousand of my snaps. And now, presumably for not a lot more than I paid for my 8gb SD cards, or before that for my 2gb SD cards, you can get a 32gb SD card. Amazing.

The point about quantitative leaps of this kind is that there comes a point when quantity becomes quality. 8gb SD cards meant that I no longer had to worry about running out of space, no matter how many snaps I snap. For me, taking still photos, 32gb would be overkill, unless I decide to investigate the world of RAW.

But imagine how much of a difference these cards are now making to those who like to make movies, as they roam about the world. Time was, I presume, and not so long ago, when taking enough footage – with enough takes, done often enough to be good enough – to make a reasonably good home-movie-type movie, as opposed to the sort of home movie I am used to, was just out of the question. But now …

In earlier times, what about that moment – which seemed only to be a moment, looking back on it – when fiddling about with photos on one’s home computer went from ridiculously time-consuming and cumbersome and hard-disc eating, to just plain easy? All because of quantitative things like speed and hard disc space. Then as now, idiot techy columnists asked: “Do we really need …?” – this much hard disc space, this much memory, this much space on a card, this much speed, this … much? Well, maybe “we” didn’t need such things then, but we soon found things to do with all this this-much-ness that meant that we did need it. Want it, anyway.

The point of this posting is not just to celebrate the seemingly endless creativity of capitalism, although I trust it does this. It is also to make a comparison between different ways of doing things. During the Cold War, it was possible to make starkly geographical comparisons between entire economic systems, between economic philosophies even, between moderately underanged, and totally deranged, in two instances (Germany and Korea) even between separated bits of the same countries. Although the catastrophe that is North Korea still staggers on, it is now harder to make such comparisons. But it is still possible. It is still possible to look at the rules governing how SD cards are made, and at the rules governing the management of state schools and NHS hospitals, to the extreme advantage of the former. Imagine a world in which healthcare was getting better as fast as digital photo storage space is now growing.

Strangely, I was yesterday looking for SD cards that were only 2gb sized. This is because I have a digital radio that records onto SD cards but only onto the primitive sort which are 2gb in size, maximum, everything bigger being “SDHC”. See the picture above. And it turns out that 2gb SD cards have actually got more expensive than when I last looked. This particular variant of the SD format has now arrived at the past-it-but-still-wanted-by-a-few-weirdos category. Supply and demand sometimes plays funny tricks.

46 comments to A 32gb SD card!

  • Tedd

    I can remember having a hard disc in my PC that was only 30 megabytes.

    Luxury! My first upgrade was to 20 MB — from no hard drive at all!

  • 20 meg, on an Amiga. It cost $2000 to go into a $2000 computer.

  • John

    The early IBM PC’s came with 512K of memory instead of the maximum 640K for, I supose, the same thinking.

    Oh, My God. Typing K rather than GB! I think I’ll lie down for awhile.


  • tomwright

    32 GB?

    Dude, that is so last year.
    64 GB is this years almost-over hotness.
    128 is here.
    What’re you, like, old?

  • Ian

    Whats an SD card? Is it like a USB?

  • Michael

    I remember when I got my first digital SLR (a Canon 300D, for almost a grand!) I got a couple of 512mb cards with it, but looked at the prices for the bigger cards, namely 4GB+. Ok, this was in Jessops, but even on a cheaper online store they were still over £100, and an 8GB card was over £200 IIRC!

  • You mean you don’t store all your digital photos on cassette tapes?

  • Brian, it is very likely that your digital radio can be upgraded to take SDHC cards. This is usually just a software upgrade.

  • Nuke Gray

    I still don’t know why they replaced the reliable quill and ink! They worked! None of these technical errors then!
    And what is wrong with a good abacus? Answer me that, you whippersnappers!

  • Alasdair

    I still have my original IBM PC – its BIOS could not support a Hard Drive … it was shipped standard with 16K upgradable to 64K on the motherboard … a single-sided full-height 5.25″ floppy drive … and, of course, the cassette port, for bulk data storage … RF modulator to allow it to connect to a TV … cost $3K …

    Then, the 256K memory upgrade was another $720 …

    I eventually added a 1200 baud modem (for BBSing) and ran with that until i got my first Cable Modem … (grin) … I can read at 1200 baud – I don’t type anywhere near that fast, not if I am trying to type accurately …

    Take *that*, you young whippersnappers !

    Oh – lest there be more confusion than is customary here, while I still have that original IBM PC, I use a much more up-to-date PC for daily stuff (like this) … (grin) …

  • West

    My first computer with a hard drive had a Seagate ST-225 20 Megabyte hard drive. I knew I’d never fill up all that space.

    I still have a 286-10 Megahertz IMB AT – that boots up windows 3.1 faster than my newest machine (Athlon 64 4000+, 2.41 Gigahertz) starts up XP. Go figure.

  • Spectre765

    What really boggles the mind is that the engineers who sent men to the moon were using slide rules and room-sized computers with only a fraction of the power of a current digital music player.

    My first computer was floppy drive only, and MS-DOS 3.3 is still the best operating system I ever used.

  • raptros-v76

    I’m holding out for 32 bit MicroSD. Now, that’ll be mindboggling. The sheer storage density!

  • John B

    The ability to process data is a profound blessing and a curse. The capacity to process everything that happens (including every move you make and perhaps even every thought you think?) comes closer to reality. What will happen then? It is, as you say, gob smacking. Quite an example of the results of human ingenuity.
    Yes. 25 KB hard drive. All that info! And then 125. That is only 20 years ago.

    But hey. You go walking around London takings pics and you are going to get arrested for something major! From what I hear 🙂

  • Adrian Ramsey

    I’ve got an old (i.e. obsolete) Palm PDA with a 16GB card in it. It should only take 2GB but some mad Russian developed SDHC drivers. That means I can carry all the music, videos, photos and e-books I’ll need to get me through a day or two away from home in something smaller than a paperback.

    I may need a 32GB card sometime, but not now. It’s good to know they’re there, though.

  • Current

    The first home computer I had was an Amstrad 464 with 64K of memory and a cassette drive. I still have it and it still works.

  • Ernie G

    Back in the day, I had an Osborne, CP/M, 64K, and 110K floppies. The local Osborne club met monthly in a classroom, and one night the president reported on the new hard drive: “It’s incredible, like a black hole of bytes!”

    Impressed, I ordered one and installed it myself. He was right. I was in heaven. I thought I’d never get the thing filled up.

  • Andrew Duffin

    “I can remember having a hard disc in my PC that was only 30 megabytes.”

    So can I, Brian, so can I.

    I also remember that it took up the whole of one ISA slot (remember those?) and half of the next one, and that it cost £230.

    Those were the days (not).

  • Bod

    IIRC my first hands-on experience of hard disks was a 5Mb Rodime drive (5.25in, full height) that was hooked up to an Apple IIe.

    It had a pretty red thumbwheel on the side that wasn’t mentioned in the documentation, so I did what any good geek will do – I ratcheted it clockwise by about 30 degrees. Amazing! the drive stopped working! Crank it back 30 degrees! Wow! Started working again!

    Drive recalibration, with a thumbwheel. Those were the days.

  • Bod


    The 30Mb Western Digital Pluscard was their second-generation version of the 20Mb, IIRC. Both were utter dogs.

    I’m sensing an imminent break-out into ‘Four Yorkshiremen Mode’.

  • David Gillies

    At any given moment I am walking around with 42Gb of storage on me (16 GB iPod nano, 16 GB USB stick, 8 GB, 2GB SD card in the camera.) My phone is ancient and only has 7 MB of RAM but when it’s upgraded that will no doubt add 16 or 32 GB to the total. If I have my laptop with me that adds 3/4 of a terabyte to the equation. This means I am carrying storage of the order of 10¹². We only need 13 or so Moore’s Law doublings to get up to 16th order of magnitude, which is by some estimates the raw storage capacity of a human brain. That’s less than 15 years out (storage Moore’s Law has a shorter time constant than processor power.)

  • Sam Duncan

    raptros-v76, I bought my first MicroSD card yesterday. Holy moly, those things are tiny! It’s only 2GB, because it’s for a phone and I’m a skinflint, but my first 2GB hard drive doesn’t seem all that long ago – like everyone else, I recall wondering how I was ever going to fill all that echoing, cavernous space, and unlike almost everyone else, I don’t think I ever did; Amigas don’t need a lot of storage – and now it’s on something I’m scared to handle in case I drop it and can’t find it again.

  • Over the holidays my twelve year old niece was showing off her first cell phone with the same pride I must have displayed at that age with my first BB gun. Here’s a transcript:

    Me: you have a cell phone in middle school? I didn’t even have a cell phone when I was in college!
    Her: *blank stare*
    Me: .. because they hadn’t been invented yet.
    Her: I know; I didn’t want to point out you are old.

    She’s old enough to be polite instead of precocious.

  • Andrew

    What’s really amazing are microSD cards – they’re borderline microscopic, about the size of your pinky nail. Not that expensive either (a tenner for 8gb, £30 for 16gb).

    As a result, my phone now has more storage (and expandable too!) than my main PC did a few years back.

  • zx-81 fan

    Luxury. (in Yorkshire accent)

    I can remember borrowing a 32kB RAM pack for my ZX81 for one night only. I then had to type all of the BASIC lines of a game in from a computer mag before I could play it.

    It is truly startling that this SD card is about 1% of the physical volume of that RAM pack and 1,000,000 times bigger in storage.

  • Sam Duncan

    Heh! I had a 32K ZX81. I felt like the king of the world among all my mates with 16K.

    And in 1995 or thereabouts, I splashed out on 32Mb for my Amiga. Like the 2GB hard drive, it never used half of it, even with a web browser and email program open. ‘Course, the browser didn’t have javascript or CSS…

  • I came here to post this link. Crake beat me to it. But it bears repeating: http://xkcd.com/691/

  • Jim A.

    A hard disk? I rember loading the operating system from a floppy every morning after I turned the machine on. I poo pooed whether putting a hard drive on the machine was worth the cost to save me from this 3 minute task every morning.

  • OK, how long before someone tells us how they walked to school everyday, snow or shine, uphill both ways?

  • Rich Rostrom

    I once paid $35 for a 4K memory board. The extra RAM let me complete a BASIC program that wouldn’t fit in the 32K RAM I had.

    “Imagine a world in which healthcare was getting better as fast as digital photo storage space is now growing.”

    I can’t. Any more than I can imagine a world in which transport speed was improving that fast, or food quality, or housing… all areas that are largely private-sector.

    Microelectronics is the field that at this time is far and away the most subject to rapid technical improvement. Nothing else matches it, because nothing else is in that technical sweet spot.

    Compare automobile engines to hard disk drives. It woud be nice if a car engine was the size of a cigar box and put out 2,500,000 hp. But the laws of physics don’t allow it. Ford and Toyota didn’t come any closer to that than Lada or Trabant.

    And it would be nice if medicine could cleanse the whole body of a serious disease in a few seconds. But biological systems are several orders of magnitude more complex than disk drives.

    That’s not the fault of the NHS (or the Mayo clinic).

  • Yes, well I used a cardboard box…. for storage.

  • Nuke Gray

    Alisa, I walked to school every day, AND I walked back home as well! Honest! And if we’d had snow in Australia, I’d have walked through that as well!

  • Spectre765

    If you haven’t played a primitive computer game on a black and white TV. or pried off a ROM chip and replaced it with one that improved your computer, or adjusted a DIP switch (remember those?), or fried a hard drive because you tried to “hot swap” it and plugged the power connector in backward, or wiped the boot sector clean by erasing a bunch of 0’s and 1’s, then you are too young for this comments section.

  • I did too Nick, and we did have snow. It was a level plane though:-)

  • Damn, how could I forget the ‘barefoot’ part? Nick, did you walk to school every day, uphill both ways, barefoot??? Because if not, then you are not a real oldtimer!

  • I still own my 5Mb Hard Disk, my first one bought for and via work, when I was a rich employee of a “firm”, and others would willingly pay for this stuff for me.

    I think it is an ESDI (anyone remember that?) and cost about $16,000. It is as large and as heavy as my main biochemistry textbook of about the same vintage.

    I think it still works and I have the controller card(s) and all the ribbon-cables for it (there are four to my certain knowledge for that’s what came out), but there is no machine on which to test it.

  • We had it tough…
    We used to DREAM of having a Sinclair ZX81 and didn’t BELIEVE such a thing as a “Spectrum” even existed.

  • Alisa, are rubber boots count? If they were your only defense against bottomless depths of black liquid mud passing for roads in Tatarstan?
    Every building’s entry was equipped with a rusty metal container filled with water and a wooden stick with cloth, all dirty, for cleaning up your boots before going inside. I suppose they still do…

    Oh, and not to pass on the topic: all your gargantuan memory storage from the times passed was still bigger than mine: I had zero! Absolutely none – since the 1st time I saw a live computer 18years ago, already in NY.

  • Joel

    Has it only been 30 years since I bought my first computer, a DUAL floppy TRS 80 from radio shack, for about $3,000? (I am fuzzy on pricing here.) I later bought a used 3 meg harddrive from them, and wondered how I would ever fill that up. Really, that had the storage of 20 floppy discs!!!!! I got tired of tape cassettes fast.

    Well, I do know this. When we need to find an old phone number or recipe, it is written down on paper somewhere.

    And, computers have now become the black hole of money, wherein IT departments shovel in megamillions with very little to show for it.

  • Fred the Fourth

    I got stories too, but more to the point:
    Back in about 1975 I was at UC Berkeley, doing physics and computer engineering. My father was testing autopilot systems, and the upcoming systems were planned to include elevation data for every square KM on the planet. After some lengthy discussions, I finally boiled down my advice this way: the designers should assume there will always be more memory than they can imagine, for free. (Of course, a significant factor was that autopilots take years from concept to commercial acceptance, which magnifies these effects.)

    OK, story: I almost worked on one of the first Terabyte storage systems. The prototype (a few GB) was about 4 meters long, 2 wide, and 2 high. It had a laser in it that must have weighed 20 kilos, and thousands of aluminized glass plates in a jukebox arrangement. Estimated retail price US $ 500 000 1986 dollars. The other day I paid US $ 295 for a 1.5 kilo netbook with 250GB, and on the way out I noticed 1 TB USB drives for US $ 99.

  • Trawling for a 32GB USB stick recently I found this(Link). Now THAT is a small USB stick, in fact it is little more than the connector with the memory embedded.

    Michael Jennings: “Yes, well I used a cardboard box…. for storage.”

    Cardboard box? You were lucky! I kept my 77K floppies in a paper bag!

  • pst314

    “And what is wrong with a good abacus? Answer me that, you whippersnappers!”

    Abacuses? You had abacuses? We only had bardic poets, and they couldn’t memorize anything unless it rhymed. Do you realize how hard it is to make accounting data rhyme??

  • pst314

    Seriously, the first PC I worked on was an IBM PC-AT, with a 10GB hard drive and a 6 MHz I-286 processor. If you wanted to do a mass-build of all your EXE’s and DLL’s you fired off a batch job and went away for a few hours.

  • Technology leads us to a new way every time. This generation laughs when somebody talk about first room sized silicon tube PC. We are witnessing a wonder here.