SD cards have a limited life, and the more you read and write to them, the shorter their lifespan. In a Raspberry Pi this makes things a little tricky, the SD card gets a much tougher workout than it normally would in something like a digital camera.

A photo of a SanDisk extreme SD card installed in a Raspberry Pi.

Up until now, I have always just picked up a SD card that was sold bundled with a Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately these SD cards are often low quality and didn’t last very long, with some failing in as little as a month.

So now I get SD cards separately, and only ones that feature wear levelling. The cheap SD cards don’t have any wear levelling, and the Raspberry Pi gets into situations where certain areas on the SD card gets written to over and over again until it wears out and fails. The Pi then comes along and again tries to the use the same worn-out area, and promptly chokes. All despite other areas of the SD card being hardly (or not) used at all!

The more expensive cards with wear levelling won’t just keep pummelling the same spot on the disk over and over again. Instead, it will try and spread wear out over the whole disk. A little like rotating the tyres on a car, wear levelling ensures that each part of the disk decays at about the same rate.

An Illustration showing difference in SD card deterioration with and without wear levelling

I also get SD cards that have way more space than I need, at least 8GB. This further increases the longevity of the card by increasing the total ‘surface area’ that will eventually wear away. With wear levelling, more free space means a longer lasting SD card.

Some care needs to be taken when ordering SD-Cards for your Raspberry Pi. The older boards (Model A and B) take the larger SD-Cards, while the newer boards (Raspberry Pi 3 Model B) take smaller micro SD-Cards.

SD-Cards compatible with the Raspberry Pi 1 (Model B):

Micro SD-Cards compatible with the Raspberry Pi 1 (Model A+ and B+), Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, Raspberry Pi Zero and Raspberry Pi 3 Model B:

However, if you have more than $150 to burn, you can reach to the very top shelf and have a browse around Panasonic’s industrial grade SD cards (some feature RAID for even greater data protection).

The impressive range and features of the Panasonic industrial range has me a bit smitten for the Panasonic gold series. Some of that industrial goodness has to be rubbing off on the top-end of their consumer line, right?

For a host of other tips and tricks on how to extend the life of a SD card inside a Raspberry Pi, see this excellent thread on StackExchange.

Edits:

  • 2014/10/08 - Added MicroSD card list for the Raspberry Pi B+.
  • 2015/01/30 - Added MicroSD card list for the Raspberry Pi A+.
  • 2015/02/07 - Added MicroSD card list for the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B.
  • 2015/11/09 - Fixed typo, added larger resolution images.
  • 2015/11/26 - Added MicroSD card list for the Raspberry Pi Zero.
  • 2015/12/21 - Updated link to latest SanDisk Extreme.
  • 2016/03/02 - Added MicroSD card list for the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B.
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