Background Info:

  • Copying some .bin files to an SD card (to be read by an embedded device, no filesystem)
  • Commissioning the card requires some segments to be wiped (i.e. zero'd), and others to have binary files copied to them
  • Calling dd from a python script using subprocess module (as the dd operations involved are triggered by a sort of configuration script that needs to be parsed and validated first, I also make the user confirm the operation, as they might wipe out an important disk that is mistaken for the SD card)


Writes to the SD card are slow with bs=512. For large spans, bs=8M is much faster.

Is it possible to somehow 'bs=512 seek={n_small_blocks}' and then change to 'bs=8M' for the actual write (once I've seek'd to the correct position)?

I found the following resource: http://www.delorie.com/gnu/docs/textutils/coreutils_65.html

But it's not clear to me why 2 invocations are required, and how they're working together to accomplish what the guide claims they will.


Found the answer here:


See my full solution below



dd if='input_file.bin'           \
   of='/dev/sd{X}'               \
   bs={desired write block size} \
   seek={start offset in bytes}  \
   count={write size in bytes}   \
   oflag=seek_bytes              \

From the man page:

    treat 'count=N' as a byte count (iflag only)


    treat 'seek=N' as a byte count (oflag only)

This does seem to slow down the transfer a bit, but at least puts it in MB/s, instead of kB/s. Also, be sure to check the man page on your system, as it seems the ones available on the web (i.e. googling 'man dd') don't include these options.

  • As an additional note, I've found that it's possible to wipe an SD card even faster in SPI mode using CMD32, CMD33, and CMD38. This is because a native clear command is always faster than manually transferring that many zeros. With that said, the state of a block is indeterminate (some manufacturers clear to 0x00, some to 0xFF). As long as you use CRCs on each block, the likelihood of mistaking either sort of clear for usual data is mitigated automatically. – user373884 Oct 10 '14 at 16:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.