Jan 17, 2017 : Lexar Endurance is now our alternative to the Transcend High Endurance.
Video Guide to SD Cards
What Type – SD or microSD?
There are two physical sizes, SD and microSD. We recommend the microSD size even if your camera takes the larger full size SD card. Nearly all microSD cards include a full SD adapter so it’ll work with your current camera. When you change cameras you won’t have to buy a new card as the vast majority of dash cameras use microSD cards.
How Much Space?
Next the amount of space. 32GB is the sweet spot for value. That’s 3-4 hours of 1080P recording which is more than enough for most drivers. Any less and you pay more money per gigabyte and save only a few dollars.
If you can afford it, 64GB size improves durability. For example, Transcend states their 32GB Endurance card lasts 6,000 hours of 1080P video recording before expiring. The 64GB card doubles this figure to 12,000 hours.
Professional drivers may want to use the larger 128 GB to 256 GB cards to answer any complaints about their driving. These cards are significantly more expensive per gigabyte and aren’t worth it for the average driver.
What Speed Rating?
Look for: “Class 10” OR “UHS-I U1” rated microSD card.
Slower cards can cause recording problems. See the symbols below for what to look for. Some cards have both ratings and that’s OK.
The speed class symbol represents the minimum writing speed to the SD card in megabytes per second. Class 10 is the highest speed at 10 megabytes/second.
UHS Bus & Class
UHS improves on Class 10 cards by providing a faster interface for compatible devices. Most dash cameras don’t use the UHS interface but UHS cards will still work properly. There are two separate ratings, the Bus & Class. The UHS Bus is the transfer speed and has two tiers: UHS-I (50MB/S) and UHS-II (156 or 312 MB/S). The UHS Speed Class also has two speeds minimum writing speeds: U1 (10 MB/S) and U3 (30 MB/S)
Faster SD Speeds Won’t Improve Performance
Currently 1440P is the largest resolution and only requires 1/3rd of the max transfer rate of Class 10 cards. Only 4K recording at very high bitrates will need an upgrade to U3 or UHS-II and that’s years away.
Picking the Right Memory TypeGet MLC memory cards for long term reliability.
One of the most important but least known characteristics of SD cards is the NAND type. The NAND type describes how the physical cells that store information were constructed.
TLC & MLC NAND Overview
Consumers typically see two types – TLC and MLC.
TLC is cheaper and less reliable. Manufacturers increased storage density by stuffing more information (3 bits/cell) into a memory cell but sacrifices durability. MLC costs more money and is far more durable because it stores less information per cell (2 bits/cell) so wear and tear is greatly reduced. If you want the science behind NAND cells read it here.
Flash Memory – It Eventually Fails
Writing data to a SD card physically and permanently damages the NAND chip. Overtime this causes the SD card to fail which can write lock the card preventing your dash camera from recording. TLC cards can overwrite itself 500 times before experiencing failures, a MLC card between 1500 to 3000 times.
Why this Matters
Your dash camera constantly writes to the memory card and adds a lot of wear and tear not found in other uses such as a secondary storage for your cell phone. MLC cards often have better error correction, wear leveling and controller chips which increase performance and lifespan.
Our SD Card Recommendations
We focus on MLC cards as it’s only a few dollars extra for significantly increased reliability and peace of mind.
Our top recommendation is Transcend’s High Endurance line. For 32GB cards they quote 6,000 hours of 1080P recording or 2,197 write cycles before experiencing problems. It’s an excellent balance between price and durability. Transcend also uses these cards for their own DrivePro dash cameras.
Transcend’s cards are also used by Novatek’s engineers when testing their image processors. Novatek processors are found in many popular cameras such as the G1W, A118C, Viofo A119 and the Street Guardian SG9665GC. I feel this adds greater assurances around compatibility and performance if you use a Transcend card over other brands.
Lexar has a lifetime warranty (vs 2-years on Sandisk/Transcend) on their 633x cards even when used in dash cameras. They have a great reputation in the dash cam community. While some publications have said it’s a MLC based card, due to its low price and no comment from Lexar we are unable to confirm its construction.
Lexar’s newly released high endurance cards are now our alternative to the Transcend Endurance. While they are not confirmed MLC their 12,000 Hour @ 26mbps lifespan rating means they have the lifespan of a MLC card. Lexar has better distribution than Transcend and is often much cheaper depending on which country you are in.
Sandisk has their own dash cam specific memory cards. The difference is that it has 20% less stated durability compared to transcend. As well they don’t mention any error correction code (helps to fix transfer errors) which is found on the Transcend Endurance.
Works Well with 1440P Cameras
Even with the highest bitrate dash camera, the 25mbps 1440P OPIA 2 all our recommended cameras have more than enough bandwidth. 25mbps (megaBITS) is 3.125 MB/s (megaBYTES) which is well under the 10MB/s the cards are rated for.
Don’t Buy Sandisk Ultra Cards
The Ultra series is a popular purchase because of their price and availability. They are not a good choice because of their high failure rates when used in dash cameras. As well SanDisk will not warranty any cards used in a dash camera unless you use their High Endurance lineup.
TLC cards like the Ultra can have worse controllers, error correction and wear leveling which reduces reliability in heavy use. It’s suspected that the Ultra’s controller chip has an especially hard time handling the constant rewriting of dash cameras.
The Ultra may also be overly aggressive in permanently write-locking the card when it detects bad sectors. This is a protective mechanisms found in many cards to ensure your data is saved when there are errors. The Ultra may be over-zealous and lock the card early.
Manufacturers Agree – Avoid the Ultra
Vicovation has a post advising users to avoid the Ultra series in their newest camera. After extensive testing they noted it’s significantly slower than other similarly rated brands.
Papago does not recommend Sandisk or Samsung cards because they cause disruption in their dash cameras
Cards We Don’t Recommend
While the Transcend Ultimate is both affordable and uses MLC-NAND you no longer get a warranty when used with dash cameras. See their limited lifetime warrarnty which explicitly denies coverage when used with “in-car recording devices”.Possible Problems with ADATA Premiere
From a trusted source who wishes to remain anonymous, ADATA’s budget premier series has significantly dropped in quality. One reason may be from moving their Taiwan factory to China. Their premier pro series is still a good choice if it’s available where you live
Companies Which Void SD Card Warranties for Dash Cam Use
Samsung – All Cards
Their cards are great but their policies prohibit use in a dash camera. For their MLC Samsung Pro/Pro+ it has this note beside their 10-year warranty. “Warranty is limited for any type of surveillance system.”
Reaching out to Samsung Service I received this response:
“Samsung SD Cards and Micro SD Cards are not intended to be used for continuous recording purposes for example, in surveillance systems such as a car-black box. The reason for this is because the card may fail with constant and obsessive reading and writing. They are not designed to be constantly and continuously written to.”
Second email to clarify if there is a warranty:
“It would be a case by case basis. If the card would fail within its warranty period we would have to review the case.”
Sandisk – Ultra & Ultra Plus
In their warranty it states:
This warranty does not cover use of the Product in connection with the following uses or devices (as determined by SanDisk): (ii) video monitoring, security, and surveillance devices
The response from technical support was different:
Thank you for your continues (sic) response. The warranty will be valid, if you use high endurance memory card in your dash camera or card recording devices. However, if you use SanDisk Ultra or Ultra Plus memory cards, then the warranty of the memory cad (sic) will be voided.
Get a Backup Card
How to Avoid Counterfeit SD Cards
Counterfeit SD cards are incredibly common if you don’t buy from reputable retailers. HappyBison.com released an extensive guide which shows the counterfeiters’ sophistication and ability to trick you in purchasing a fake SD card.
For your own protection avoid all Chinese based storefronts like Aliexpress. I would also avoid eBay. If you buy from Amazon check to make sure it’s sold by Amazon and not by a third party or “fulfilled by Amazon”. A cheaper company can become the default seller and sell you counterfeit items.
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