Now that many modern laptops lack an SD card reader in the ongoing quest for ultimate portability, it's time to reinstate it with one of the best memory card readers.
There’s no shortage of USB card readers out there, from budget-friendly and highly-portable models so tiny you could mistake them for a USB flash drive, through to larger models that will live on a desktop right by your computer, with transfer speeds to max out the performance of the best memory cards.
We’ve assembled a selection of quality card readers for you to find the one that suits you. Many of our options also cater for other card formats CompactFlash, CFexpress, XQD and CFast, so there should be something for everyone.
The best memory card readers
So what's the best memory card reader? Right now, we think it's ProGrade Digital's USB 3.1 Gen 2 Dual-Slot Card Reader: it's not cheap, but it's the fastest card reader you can buy for SD and CFast 2.0 cards.
Want something a little easier on the pocket? Hama's diminutive USB 3.1 Type C UHS II OTG Card Reader is ideal for keeping things compact without sacrificing speed, while the SanDisk ImageMate Pro Multi-Card Reader feels and performs well beyond its price tag.
Here are the best memory card readers you can buy right now...
ProGrade Digital is a relatively new brand with a focus on high quality kit. To that end this is one of a rare breed of card readers to be USB 3.1 Gen 2 compliant, which means it can transfer at theoretically double the speed of a USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen 1 reader.
In practice even the fastest UHS-II SD card won’t get anywhere near USB 3.1 Gen 2’s 1250GB/s theoretical bandwidth limit, but the benefit is this reader can unleash every last drop of performance from any SD or CFast 2.0 card.
We clocked this card reader at a maximum video read/write rate of 264MB/s and 232MB/s respectively, fully exploiting the claimed 260MB/s read and 240MB/s write figures of our UHS-II SD card. Image transfer rates of 202MB/s read and 103MB/s in our testedwrite were just as impressive.
Our UHS-I test card was equally well catered for, with its claimed 95MB/s / 90MB/s read/write speeds fully realised at 99MB/s and 88MB/s.
It may be a fairly cheap card reader, but the ImageMate Pro feels like a quality product, as it’s well built and weighty enough to sit securely on a desk. And this is where it belongs, as at 122 x 58 x 17mm, it’s big by card reader standards.
A trio of card slots are spread neatly across the front, with CF, UHS-II SD, and MicroSD to choose from. A detachable USB Type-A cable is provided, so you will need an adapter if you intend to plug in to a USB-C port.
Testing with a UHS-II SD card yielded highly respectable video transfer speeds of 252MB/s read and 210MB/s write - not far off the much more expensive ProGrade Digital USB 3.1 Gen 2 Dual-Slot Card Reader. 202MB/s read and 107MB/s write figures in our testing when shifting images are also superb.
When it comes to UHS-I SD cards, maximum sustained transfer speeds of 96MB/s read and 83MB/s write aren't quite class-leading, but not to the extent that you’d really notice in real-world use.
Hama’s entry doesn’t look like much, measuring a tiny 34 x 40 x 9.7mm. It’s partly intended to add an SD port directly to a tablet or smartphone, hence the built-in USB Type-C plug - no cable required. It’s also just the ticket for complimenting the newest generation of ultra-slim laptops that only sport Type-C ports.
Despite the compactness and reasonable price, this is still a UHS-II SD reader, so can max out the very quickest SD cards. We found it impressively fast, peaking at 260MB/s when reading video and 195MB/s reading images. Write speeds with video are slightly less remarkable, as the 199MB/s figure we achieved is nothing special, though the Hama bounces back with a winning 118MB/s performance when writing images.
Performance with UHS-I SD cards is just as stellar, with a great 99MB/s maximum read rate and 85MB/s write speed.
With the latest laptops like the MacBook Pro ditching every port other than Thunderbolt/USB Type-C, it isn’t just your memory card that you may be struggling to connect.
Kingston’s Nucleum is a premium, metal-encased hub containing SD and MicroSD ports, plus two conventional USB Type-A ports, a full-size HDMI socket, and two USB Type-C ports, one of which is used as a power socket to connect your MacBook’s charger. There’s a short hard-wired cable terminating in a USB Type-C plug, and all this from a device no larger than some standard card readers.
The SD slot is UHS-II compatible, but sadly it couldn’t do justice to our UHS-II test card, achieving relatively slow video read/write speeds of 189MB/s and 179MB/s respectively. 164MB/s read and 97MB/s write rates for image transfers are ok, but still underwhelming. Fortunately if you’re using UHS-I SD cards, 96MB/s and 83MB/s read/write figures are much more respectable.
Sandisk's Extreme Pro CFexpress card reader set a new benchmark for memory card performance in our test lab, hitting a sustained 718MB/s read speed when transferring one large 4K video file. Image read/write rates of 534/410MB/s are just as incredible, easily eclipsing even the fastest UHS-II SD cards. The only slight disappointment is that CFexpress cards are capable of even higher transfer speeds - up to 1700MB/s. The bottleneck here is likely the reader's USB 3.1 Gen 2 connection, which though very fast, can't keep up with the blistering performance available from CFexpress cards. But if you can live with that, this Sandisk CFexpress reader is a superb - if quite pricey - choice.
Despite being cheap as chips (well, quite a few portions of chips, but still) this little reader is a pleasingly capable device, able to achieve speedy data transfer rates thanks to its USB 3.0 connection. It doesn't cover all the card types, most notably missing out on XQD, CompactFlash and UHS-II SD (though it does UHS-I), however this isn't a problem for you, the Anker USB 3.0 Card Reader will get the job done quickly and efficiently.
It's also so tiny that you can take it anywhere, measuring 5.3 x 2.7 x 1.1cm and weighing a tiny 16g, and there's also an 18-month warranty to give you peace of mind. Need something simple and straightforward? This little reader is a solid buy.
XQD card readers aren’t all that common, or in this case, cheap. Frustrating, as Sony’s lightweight build doesn't make the MRW-E90 feel like a quality product.
We tested the MRW-E90 with a Sony 64GB XQD card boasting claimed max read/write speeds of 440/400MB/s. However we could only manage 311/173MB/s in a best-case scenario of transferring one large 4K video file. This is likely due to the reader’s fairly slow USB 3.1 Gen 1 interface, which though theoretically capable of up to 625MB/s, is much slower in practice.
The MRW-E90 also packs a UHS-II SD slot, but it only gave middle-of-the-road 221MB/s read and 202MB/s write speeds in our video transfer test. Moving multiple image files was more satisfying, as 201MB/s read and 112MB/s write rates are pretty good.
UHS-I SD performance is also decent, with the Sony managing reasonable 93/83MB/s read/write speeds in our testing, coming close to the claimed 95/90MB/s max speed of our SD test card.
This card reader sports the classic combo of SD and CompactFlash slots, both being the fastest of their type - UHS-II, and UDMA 7. You can use both simultaneously, and the case’s design means a card of each type can be stored inside the reader, protected by a hinged rubber door that closes around them.
The 90cm USB Type-A lead is hardwired to the reader, so while you won’t lose it, it can be slightly awkward for transportation, and you’ll need an adapter to connect this reader to a laptop like the current MacBook Pro.
Speed wise, we could only extract a max video read speed of 223MB/s and 198MB/s write rate from our UHS-II SD card - not awful, but some way shot of some other readers we've tested. Image transfer performance is worse still, with 152MB/s read and 98MB/s write speeds being slower than average. Even with a UHS-I SD card the Delkin reader struggled, as 87MB/s read and 82MB/s write speeds are down - albeit not by much - on what rival readers were capable of extracting from our test card with its 95/90MB/s max read/write rates.
5 things to look for in a card reader
1. Connection type
Many card readers now connect to your computer using a USB-C plug, but adapters are readily available to convert to normal USB.
2. USB speed
USB 3.1 Gen 2 is twice as fast than Gen 1, but few readers use it, and even fewer memory cards are fast enough to exploit Gen 2.
3. UHS-I vs UHS-II
UHS-II SD cards are faster, and all the readers here are compatible. UHS-I card readers will read UHS-II cards, just slower.
4. Wire it up
Some readers use a USB cable that’s hard-wired to the reader body, which can be problematic if the cable ever gets damaged.
5. Extra ports
With fewer and fewer ports on the sides of modern laptops, a card reader hub with extra USB sockets may be just the ticket.