Sleuthing uncovers the mystery of Kingston MicroSD cards' crappy QA

When Bunnie Huang was in South China overseeing production on his versatile ChumbyOne device, he discovered a major quality issue with Kingston's MicroSD cards. At first, he assumed that he'd gotten a counterfeit batch, but further investigation proved them to be legit. Kingston wasn't willing to give Bunnie any details on its QA process, so Bunnie did some amazing engineer-sleuthing on Kingston and its competitors' MicroSD, and wrote up the results in a damning report that is one of the most fascinating accounts of everyday engineering I can remember reading. Bunnie Huang wrote the book on reverse engineering, literally, so he isn't afraid to start dissolving memory cards' encapsulant with acetone, or start comparing /sys entries to get comparative reads on the the electronic card ID data records. Posts like this make me want to be like Bunnie when I grow up.

Furthermore, the manufacturer's ID is 0×41 (ASCII 'A'), which I don't recognize (supposedly the SD group assigns all the MIDs but I don't see a public list of them anywhere). The OEMID is also 0×3432, which is suspiciously ASCII '42′ (one more than the hex value for the manufacturer ID). These hex/ascii confusions are possible signs that someone who didn't appreciate the meaning of these fields was running a ghost shift making these cards.

Armed with this evidence, we confronted Kingston -- both the distributor in China as well as the US sales rep. First, we wanted to know if these were real cards, and second, if they were real cards, why were the serialization codes irregular? After some time, the Kingston guys came back to us and swore these cards were authentic, not fakes, but at least they reversed their position on not offering an exchange on the cards -- they took back the programmed cards and exchanged them for new ones, no further questions asked.

However, they never answered as to why their card ID numbers were irregular. While I know chumby is a small fry customer compared to the Nokias of the world, I think it's still important that they answer basic questions about their quality control process even to the small fry. I had an issue once with an old version of a Quintic part being accidentally shipped to me, and once I could prove the issue to them, I received world-class customer service from Quintic, a full explanation, and an immediate and full exchange of the parts at their cost. That was exemplary service, and I commend and strongly recommend Quintic for it. Kingston, on the other hand, did not set an example to follow.

On MicroSD Card Problems


  1. To all those people who condemm government regulation of businesses this is an example of why we need it sometimes. Do you really think the average consumer is capable of reverse engineering like this? Kingston wouldn’t change its stance until it had this put in front of it.

    1. Ummm…well, I don’t see where you’re coming from.

      Do you think the average government regulator is capable of reverse engineering like this?

      You don’t need “the average consumer” to be able to engineer like this. All the “average consumer” has to do is be able to read a simple write up like this. Information wants to be free – all it takes is one person to reverse engineer it. You might note, this was done by a private businessman, interested in ensuring the quality of his product.

      But it’s silly to give that person the power to shut down production completely, or levy large fines that never get to the consumer anyway.

      What could be more damaging to a company than a story like this getting widely distributed? What could the government do that could even come close?

      I feel that the popularity and ubiquity of the Internet obsoletes many government regulations. As more and more people turn to the Internet to make purchasing decisions (including both end users and retail store purchasing agents), this type of “spontaneous regulation” will become more and more common, and more and more effective.

      This system of punishing bad companies by hurting their reputation and thus sales is transparent, fair, quick to react to changing conditions, bottom-up democratic, affordable, powerful enough to actually effect the bottom line of the largest corporations, and not prone to abuse.

      None of which apply to government regulations.

  2. It’s always amazing to me that otherwise quite bright people fail to realize that low cost and high quality compete. Further there are a million ways to cut costs that effect the end product adversely for the customer. Low cost providers seldom care and lip service is their best response. QA people call this “the tap dance” approach to marketing.

  3. My experience, stay away from Kingston. There was a short period of time where they were producing quality memory. It seems to be in the past, never to be repeated. The best crash on memory purchased after the downturn wiped the MFT on a Windows XP system causing much hatred and discontent recovering data.

  4. Wow, and here I thought Kingston was good. I have purchased SD cards from them in the past and haven’t had any issues with them so far (knocks on wood) but to be fair its been a few years since I last purchased a Kingston product.

  5. I’m a Chumby owner, and i regularly read Bunnie’s blog. I wish i was as brilliant as he is lol. But this whole issue with Kingston is rather disconcerting, and if i recall correctly he was complaining that most flash cards he was testing were too prone to failing.

  6. Kingston was the best in the days of SIPPs and early SIMMs. Not since.

    Go SANdisk brand for SD cards, and get regular SD not SDHC, you won’t regret it.

  7. I bought a 16GB micro SD card made by Kingston and have had nothing but problems with it. I tried moving a bunch of music over to it and half the files changed the name to a slew of characters. It even changed the name of the card. I’ve tried reformatting the card and just sincing it to Windows Media Player but it just errors out on most of the files…once again renaming the “drive” and putting a bunch of crap on the SD card that can’t be erased. I have another card, made by another company, that hasn’t had any problems using the same card reader.

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