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The original PlayStation did not have any writable memory, so you had to buy "memory cards" that were plugged into the front in order to save game progress.

Sony sold official cards. But since they only held 15 "blocks", and some games took up an entire memory card for one save file, there was a huge market for third-party memory cards (some much larger than 15 blocks). My question is focused on the 15-block ones.

When I bought my first memory card, I went for a third-party one to save money. It just looked a bit uglier visually, but that didn't matter to me in those days.

When I saved Final Fantasy VII, turned off my PlayStation, went to bed, and woke up the next morning, there was no save file. I repeated this procedure one more day before concluding that the memory card consistently "forgot" save files if the PS was turned off. I ended up buying an original Sony memory card and it still has my FF7 save file on it to this day.

Judging by reviews and comments from others at the time, this was common, which baffles me. As I understand it, these memory cards were not battery-powered, and could not be opened up, but had some sort of persistent flash memory in them.

How they could fail at keeping data like this, on a technical level? And even if others' cards didn't erase data every night, but "only" sometimes, what could be the reason for that?

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  • It almost look as if they cheated and the card uses RAM...perhaps, if the manufacturer was more honest, battery backed with the battery going flat by the time you bought the card (battery backed RAM used to be quite common) - just a wild guess Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 7:37
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    You might just had bad luck. I own more than one third-party memory card of different sizes, and none of them showed this behavior. However, there are multiple possible reasons how to shoot yourself in the foot with non-volatile memory. Cheap memory cards might suffer from any of them. Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 10:34
  • Card sellers decades back told me of counterfeit cards that contain only a fraction of the stated capacity and modified electronics/firmware. They have enough to store the FAT (as they all were then) but not much more for files, nowhere near their rating. They return fake higher capacity. So it looks like files have been stored, until you go over their actual capacity. Dunno if your cards were anything like that.
    – TonyM
    Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 16:19
  • @wizzwizz4, I've reinstated the question to the form that was voted to be re-opened. You'd removed a lot of the OP's personal text, under "Trimmed question down a bit". This change does not benefit the question and removes the OP's phrasing unnecessarily. Correction of English and clarifications I value but site questions do not have to meet a preferred form that would warrant such large changes to the degree you'd made. Otherwise the site becomes a personal beauty contest, not free expression within guidelines. Other OPs are not having their questions chopped down by mods, rightly so.
    – TonyM
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 14:09
  • @TonyM Yes, they are. The kind of edit I just made is the kind of edit I make a lot. It's in everybody's interests if the question is clearer and easier to answer; “the form that was voted to be re-opened” is somewhat irrelevant. I'm going to put my foot down on this, but if you still disagree, feel free to take it to Retrocomputing Meta.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 14:26

2 Answers 2

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At a technical level, it could be anything, as these are just clones of the original product, perhaps made without a license.

All it takes is a single bit in flash memory to be mildly defective and store the contents poorly as it will corrupt the whole slot contents as then a checksum algorithm will notice that the slot contents is not OK. Even worse if the defect is in the directory area of the card.

Even if it is not the flash chip that is poorly holding information, but it might be the microcontroller that is between the flash chip and SPI interface that communicates poorly with the console. Maybe the clone card makers did not have official specs of the interface and did a poor job of reverse-engineering some aspect of the protocol.

The problem may just also be in quality control and testing, perhaps the cards were not fully tested to be working before ending up at shops.

Official cards are most likely required to be compliant with the specs and required to be tested for compliance before allowed to sell with official branding to avoid problems to users and shopowners and negative publicity to console maker.

So it basically means, buying an unofficial product is always a risk.

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A common problem with such kind of memory back in the days (in the 1980s at least) was that the data on it could get corrupted.

When you turn off the game system, its processor may act in erratic ways due to residue electric charge, including writing to the memory card "accidentally".

On the NES with a game supporting save states you had to keep the RESET button pressed while switching off the machine, which would call a function to lock the processor into some kind of "sandbox" and hence shut down in a more orderly way, but users of course would not always follow that instruction.

One solution for game developers was to write the save state redundantly, up to 8 times, and with checksums, but they would not always do that either.

I'm not certain this anwer is the issue for your specific case, and if this problem still retained in the 1990s with more advanced video game systems (but questionable 3rd party media), but it may be one explanation.

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