What’s the Buzz About the SD Card Slot?

SD Card

When I originally wrote about the introduction of the new 15″ MacBook Pro, I was curious as to if the newly featured SD card slot would support even newer SDHC cards. A little research later, I learned that the MacBook Pro does support this standard and has a few more tricks up its sleeve. So what’s all the buzz about the SD card slot?

Back to the Basics

SD (Secure Digital) cards are one of many competing formats for storing data onto flash-based memory cards (similar to how iPod nanos and iPod shuffles work). Among other competing formats, such as Memory Stick (Sony) or CompactFlash, SD has become one of the more popular types, found in newer digital cameras and camcorders.

Great. What’s This Mean for MacBook Users?

When Apple introduced Intel Macs in 2005, many were surprised to see that they could be booted from a USB drive in addition to FireWire, as had been the standard among PowerPC Macs. Many were surprised to find out last week that with the addition of the built-in SD card slot in these new Mac portables, they are also capable of being booted from this format. While this isn’t exactly feasible, as SD cards are still more expensive than optical media for comparable capacity, it really does speak highly for the robustness of the Mac platform. Of course, what would you expect? You can now pretty much boot a Mac from any device you can connect to it, from a FireWire hard drive, to an SD card, to your iPod. (Try that on a Windows computer!)

Hidden Secrets of the SD Card Slot

In addition to being able to boot from the SD cards, the new SD card slot supports most MultiMediaCards (MMCs) as they are physically similar to SD cards. Derivatives of SD card technology, such as MiniSD, MicroSD, MiniSDHC and MicroSDHC, can also be used with appropriate adapters.

What Doesn’t Work…At Least, That We Know Of

CES 2009 brought about the announcement of a newer format, called SDXC, which will allow for capacities up to 2TB in size. Due to the relatively recent announcement of this technology, and only one or two types of this card in existence, I am unaware if this card can be read by the new MacBook Pros.

Another implementation of SD technology, called SDIO (for Secure Digital Input Output) is incompatible with the card slot. This new technology is designed to combine the functionality of an input/output device, such as an ethernet or bluetooth adapter, with an SD card for greater functionality.

Will We See This Spread?

Apple stunned almost everybody with the announcement of a built-in card slot for the MacBook Pros. Card slots in general really aren’t something Apple has favored in the past (opting for devices like iPods and iPhones to have completely built-in memory). Even its reluctance to spread the technology to the 17″ MacBook Pro indicates that Apple is testing the reception of having this functionality built into its portables. During the keynote address, Phil Schiller mentioned that Apple knew that a very small percentage (less than 10 percent) of its users actually used the ExpressCard slot on its portables. If Apple is capable of tracking usage this accurately, then it stands to reason that if the SD card slot proves popular, it could be expanded to the other products as well.

SD technology is certainly very robust, and with newer standards and higher capacities around the corner, it is keeping up with changing times. This is the exact kind of stability Apple looks for when deciding to go with a new standard, such as including USB or adding FireWire 800 or gigabit ethernet to its products. With more and more consumer electronics using SD cards, the addition of a built-in slot is definitely a “win” for consumers.

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