Cheap SD Cards? Don't do it!

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I have recently been burning the midnight oil: copying files, formatting SD cards, visiting Android help forums. Hours of my life wasted because I forgot the dictum: " If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is."

When I think about it, about the first time that I ever ran into a rogue trader on ebay and felt moved to warn others, it was over fake memory. I'd bought a 4GB MP3 player: this was a few years ago when we had separate MP3 players, cameras, PDAs and 'phones. Most MP3 players were no bigger than 2 GB. How quickly things have moved on... anyway, the 4 GB device was really 2 GB with fake memory, which is how the lying toad who'd sold it to me could afford to send it from China for little more than the cost of a 2 GB player.

I thought I'd learned my lesson, but I'd ignored another golden rule: as consumers become more sophisticated, so do the the crooks trying to rip them off. I needed a couple of micro SD cards, so I checked the forums to see what brands were recommended and Samsung was highly rated. Since I use a Samsung 'phone, the choice was made.

I searched ebay for Samsung micro SD cards from UK sellers. No Chinese fakes for this savvy shopper, eh readers? I bought two of the cheapest that I could find, a 64 GB and a 128 GB card, from two different UK sources. I will not bore you with the details of the file transfers and errors, the key points are:
(1) Standard operating system tests on windows and linux machines may not detect defective SD cards.
(2) Defective SD cards will often appear to have been formatted correctly.
(3) Defective SD cards may have some useful capacity so that, initially, file transfers work. It's only when the size of the file system exceeds the working capacity of the SD card that it all goes pear-shaped.
(4) Typical errors are disappearing files and directories. If you've handled your SD card sensibly (unmounted, or ejected the drive before removing the card) and files have changed, or vanished, then the card is highly suspect.
(5) Don't waste your life trying re-formats, or copying your music collection over in small batches. Get hold of H2testw (windows) or F3 (linux) and check the card. It takes several hours to run these tests, so plan your time and let the test run on your computer while you go and do something useful (like sleep) and do not expect to be transferring files any time soon.

I "saved " about £25 on my two cards. It wasn't worth it and, since I ended up with duff SD cards, I still had to fork out full price on Amazon in the end. All of the time wasted on messing around with the problem, researching it on the internet, contacting eBay sellers, posting back dead SD cards... could have been saved if I'd simply paid the market price.

There are several sorts of duff cards, I believe.
Firstly, there are the out-and-out fakes where someone has deliberately made a card pretend to have a much higher capacity than it does in reality. This is why I'd never buy memory direct from HK or China. There may well be reputable sellers over there who provide high quality goods. If there are, they're having their trade ruined by pirates. Given the high probability of being sold a fake, the delivery time, the difficulty of returning defective items and the customs charges, I wouldn't dream of buying memory from outside Europe.

Secondly, there are cards that are genuine enough, but that haven't been through rigorous QC checking. The factories that churn out these little cards out will, inevitably, make some duff cards. The more testing of the finished product, the lower the chance of a dud getting through to Joe Q Public. Testing takes time and costs money and so one way for wholesalers to save money is to buy a bulk order of untested cards.

From the wholesaler's point of view, this can make a lot of business sense. Buy untested cards, sell them cheaply: the people who get working cards will be happy. Of those who get duds; some will not complain, others will not realize until it's too late, or will misattribute the failure to some other factor. If anyone does complain, you simply send them another card. Effectively, shift the burden of testing on to the consumer.

The third type of defective card is one that has started life as a perfectly good piece of kit but which has later developed errors, either because of misuse, or a latent defect, or a combination of the two. There will be a high proportion of these amongst 'customer returns' - another source of cheap bulk purchases for wholesalers.

I don't think that either of the UK sellers that I bought from were out-and-out crooks. I got my money back from one without question. I'm still in negotiation with the other and he's being very reasonable. I think they're simply in the business of selling cheap memory and, statistically, that's where most of the useless cards are going to be found. They understand this, which is why they refund or replace without a fight.

There are real bargains to be had on eBay, but in the case of SD memory cards at least, the cheaper the item, the higher the probability of buying a dud. By and large, you get what you pay for and, if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Buy from Amazon. They'll get the card to you in under 24 hours. Before you do anything else, run an F3 or H2testw test on the card. (Google these terms.) If your card passes, you can relax and know that it will work - or at least that you should look elsewhere for a solution to any problems. If it fails, Amazon will whisk the defective card away and send a replacement. Life's too short to approach this in any other way.
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