There was a point not so long ago where the good old card reader looked like becoming a niche product. Laptop and desktop computers almost entirely sported an SD slot, leaving only rarer card types requiring a separate card reader. But in the last couple of years the drive towards super-slim laptops has meant the chop for the built-in SD slot on devices like the MacBook Pro.
Fortunately there’s no shortage of USB card readers available. From budget-friendly and highly-portable options that are so small they resemble a USB flash drive, through to the usual desktop-based solutions that connect via a USB cable, the best of which offer transfer speeds to match the capacity of the best memory cards.
We’ve assembled six quality card readers that all boast a fast UHS-II SD slot. Many of our options also offer slots for other card types like CompactFlash, XQD and CFast, but we’ll be primarily testing SD performance, due to the format’s widespread use.
To ensure each reader is tested to the max, we’ve benchmarked them with a top-class Toshiba Exceria Pro UHS-II SD card, and a SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-I SD card. We’re also using a high-end computer equipped with a blazing-fast m.2 SSD and USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports that prevent any file transfer bottlenecks.
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...
1. ProGrade Digital USB 3.1 Gen 2 Dual-Slot Card Reader
It’s not cheap, but this is the best SD reader you can buy
Card types supported: UHS-I & UHS-II SD, SDHC, SDXC, CFast 2.0 | USB speed: USB 3.1 Gen 2 | Connection type: USB Type-C, Type-A
ProGrade Digital is a relatively new brand developed by ex-Lexar employees with a passion for quality kit. To that end this is one of a very rare breed of card readers to be USB 3.1 Gen 2 compliant, which means it can transfer at theoretically double the speed of all the other readers here.
In practice even a UHS-II SD card won’t get anywhere near USB 3.1 Gen 2’s 1.25GB/s bandwidth limit, but the benefit is this reader can unleash every last drop of performance from any SD or CFast 2.0 card.
With maximum video read/write rates of 264MB/s and 232MB/s respectively, only the ProGrade could fully exploit 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 write were closer to other readers n the group, but no less 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.
2. SanDisk ImageMate Pro Multi-Card Reader
A great all-rounder best suited to desktop use
Card types supported: UHS-I & UHS-II SD, SDHC, SDXC, microSDHC, microSDXC, CompactFlash | USB speed: USB 3.1 Gen 1 | Connection type: USB Type-A
It may be the cheapest reader here, 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 the largest reader here.
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 reader. 202MB/s read and 107MB/s write figures when shifting images put the SanDisk pretty much in a tie with the Hama, ProGrade and Sony readers for top honours here.
When it comes to UHS-I SD cards, maximum sustained transfer speeds of 96MB/s read and 83MB/s write are fractionally slower than the Hama and ProGrade, but nothing you’d notice in real-world use.
3. Hama USB 3.1 Type C UHS II OTG Card Reader
Our budget choice – a pocket rocket and great laptop companion
Card types supported: UHS-I & UHS-II SD, SDHC, SDXC | USB speed: USB 3.1 Gen 1 | Connection type: USB Type-C
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; just fractionally behind the record-setting ProGrade reader. 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 remarkable, with a 99MB/s maximum read rate just outdoing even the ProGrade reader, and the 85MB/s write speed being only 3MB/s off the top spot.
4. Kingston Nucleum USB Type C Hub
Great value and versatility, if slightly lacking in the speed stakes
Card types supported: UHS-I & UHS-II SD, SDHC, SDXC, microSDHC, microSDXC | USB speed: USB 3.1 Gen 1 | Connection type: USB Type-C
With the very latest laptops like the newest 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 the SanDisk card reader on test.
The SD slot is UHS-II compatible, but sadly it couldn’t do justice to our UHS-II test card, achieving the slowest video read/write speeds here of 189MB/s and 179MB/s respectively. 164MB/s read and 97MB/s write rates for image transfers at least on par with the Delkin reader, but still underwhelm. Fortunately if you’re using UHS-I SD cards, 96MB/s and 83MB/s read/write figures put the Nucleum near the top of the pack.
5. Sony MRW-E90 USB 3.1 Gen 1 XQD/SD Memory Card Reader
A fairly good reader, but only worth buying if you need XQD
Card types supported: UHS-I & UHS-II SD, SDHC, SDXC, XQD | USB speed: USB 3.1 Gen 1 | Connection type: USB Type-A
The XQD format is gaining ground in high-end cameras, but XQD readers aren’t all that common, or in this case, cheap. Frustrating, as Sony’s lightweight build makes the MRW-E90 feel less substantial than the bargain SanDisk reader.
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 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 place the Sony at the top of the pile.
UHS-I SD performance isn’t quite so admirable, although the Sony’s no slouch, managing reasonable 93/83MB/s read/write speeds.
6. Delkin Devices USB 3.0 Dual Slot SD UHS-II and CF Memory Card Reader
Not a bad reader, but it’s outclassed by many rivals
Card types supported: UHS-I & UHS-II SD, SDHC, SDXC, CompactFlash | USB speed: USB 3.1 Gen 1 | Connection type: USB Type-A
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 new 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 the Hama, ProGrade and SanDisk readers. Image transfer performance is worse still, with 152MB/s read and 98MB/s write speeds being the slowest of the group. Even with a UHS-I SD card the Delkin reader struggled, as 87MB/s read and 82MB/s write speeds also trail the pack.
7. Dynamode USB-C XQD & SD Card Reader
A bargain, high-performing XQD reader, but SD performance disappoints
Card types supported: UHS-I SD, XQD | USB speed: USB 3.1 Gen 1 | Connection type: USB Type-C
XQD card readers are still a relative rarity, and therefore not cheap. Until now. Dynamode's XQD reader can be had for less than half the cost of Sony's MRW-E90 XQD reader, yet you still get an SD slot, and even a USB Type-A port, which can be very useful if your laptop only has USB-C ports.
The reader itself connects to your computer via a short 11cm-long hardwired cable terminated by a USB Type-C plug. The 60 x 45 x 14mm reader body is compact and very light.
Testing with the same Sony XQD card as used to benchmark Sony's MRW-E90, the Dynamode achieved video read/write speeds of 323/175MB/s when transferring a single 4K video file - marginally faster than the 311/173MB/s achieved by the MRW-E90. Multiple image read/write performance of 293/160MB/s is also none too shabby.
However, this isn't the card reader to buy if you'll regularly use it with SD cards. The SD slot is UHS-I only, which is stingy when most equivalently-priced SD card readers are now UHS-II. Unsurprisingly performance suffers, peaking at 91MB/s for video read speed, and dropping to 77MB/s when writing a folder of images.
Remember, while cameras with UHS-II SD slots are still quite rare, you can still use a UHS-II SD card in a UHS-I camera and benefit from the extra card speed when transferring your shots to your computer. But not with this Dynamode reader.
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.