Why the SD Card Reader on Your Laptop Can Be Poor

Bethany Walsh

Jul 28, 2022

A laptop featuring a Micro SD reader is ideal for multimedia makers. Certain users only consider laptops if they possess a reader. That decision presupposes that almost all SD card ports are the same. They're not, as we've shown through our investigations. It's also hard to tell how quick your laptop's SD card reader is. An external reader with properly labeled specifications is your best option if SD card speed is important to you. Four brand-new laptop SD cards were put to the test. For this task, we focused on:

  • Dell XPS 15 9500
  • Gigabyte Aero 17
  • XPG Xenia 15
  • Dell G5 15 SE

The efficiency of the SanDisk Professional UHS-II USB 3.0 SD card scanner connected to the Dell G5 15 SE ports was also recorded for comparison. SanDisk Extreme Professional 128GB SD card was utilized since a fast SD card was required for this test. The card is a UHS-II card, which means it operates on the Super High-Speed II bus and has a second line of connection pins on the rear to meet the interface's higher performance requirements. In full mode, the UHS-II bus can provide 312MBps, while in half-duplex mode, it can deliver 624MBps. The card was formatted using exFAT, which has reportedly become the norm for formatting large-capacity SD storage. The SanDisk Extreme Professional SD Card has read and write performance rated at 300MBps & 260MBps, respectively, at the upper end of UHS-II.

Why Don't We Use UHS-III Instead?

Suppose you're asking why we're not utilizing a faster SD card with the newer UHS-III bus. In that case, we could not locate a card supporting the latest interface, which increases speeds to 315MBps in full duplex state and 625MBps in half duplex mode. We looked for a UHS-III card on Amazon.com only a few days ago and couldn't find anything.

(Also, don't mistake the U3 mark with the bus's UHS-III designation.) The "UHS Speed Class" label on the card for video display of a lens and card is referred to as "U3." Yes, the terms "U3" and "UHS-III," which are not interchangeable, exist. The older "U3" video speed class mark has mostly been replaced with the more recent and somewhat simpler "V" video speed category mark.) We spoke with SanDisk about the absence of a UHS-III bus card. The SD Express protocol, which has a maximum speed of 3,950MBps, is the company's primary focus, according to company executives.

A Laptop's Ability to Read SD Cards

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We used the default serial read check from Crystal Disk Mark in our first test to evaluate how the four laptops fared. The XPG Xenia 15 & the Dell G5 15 SE are much behind the Dell XPS 15 9500, but the Gigabyte Aero 17 is not far behind. It’s great news for the Aero 17 and XPS 15 9500 owners, but you're probably wondering why the Xenia 15 & G5 SE 15 are stumbling along at such a snail's pace. This is why, as you may deduce from the laptop labels in the photo: It's mostly because of the card reader & also the interface it's attached to.

The USB 2.0 port on the Dell G5 15 SE, our weakest performance, is almost certainly a gate. In other words, USB 2.0 can theoretically reach 480Mbps (60MBps). Once overhead is taken into consideration, the actual data transfer rate is often much lower. XPG Xenia 15, the next-best performer after the Dell, achieves read speeds of roughly 91MBps, more than double the G5 15 SE's. The host card reader's rating is just as important as the interface when it comes to a laptop's SD card reader, as the Xenia 15 shows.

We couldn't discover anything further about the Xenia 15 USB 3.0 card reader. Considering USB 3.0 can theoretically achieve 5Gbps or 625MBps, we know it's not the interface. Only a UHS-I reader with a transfer rate of 104MBps may be used in the Xenia 15. We assume this since the Aero 17 USB 3.0 reader can attain 262MBps read rates. The SanDisk Extreme Professional UHS-II reader, which serves as our benchmark, is likewise capable of reading at 246MBps. In this competition, Dell's XPS 15 9500, with its own PCI-enabled Realtek card reader, comes out on top, but not by the edge you'd expect. However, our testing of the XPS 15 9500 seems to be hampered by the reality that we only possess accessibility to a UHS II card.

Real-World Tests

Most individuals don't use their laptops to write to an SD card. This is the most typical approach for capturing images or video and then transferring them to a laptop for modification in the field. A folder containing 266 JPEG and RAW data totaling 3.4 GB, taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, was used to approximate that. We evaluated the time it took each laptop to transfer the data to its Windows desktop. We ran the experiment three times, each time rebooting the OS to eliminate the effect of OS caching. Additionally, we manually trimmed the laptop's internal SSDs before to do any tests on it.

Utilizing Crystal Disk Mark 7, we were able to get similar findings. They're all within a second of each other in terms of speed, with the Xenia 15 clocking a respectable 48 seconds and the G5 15 SE strolling right by. We recorded a nine-minute film using the EOS 5D Mk IV's 4K video mode. The camera output a 34GB file using the obscenely wasteful MJPEG codec at a bit rate of 500Mbps. In the same way, as with our test of still images, we take approximately of many runs that have been carefully timed, with restarts in between each one.

Because of the size of this file, it's clear why having a fast memory card reader is so important. The XPS 15 9500 and Aero 17 can transfer a 34GB file to the desktop in a little over two minutes. An extra five minutes of time is needed to replicate the Xenia 15 over. The same procedure is completed in an agonizing 15 minutes by the Dell using a card reader connected via USB 2.0. Also, keep in mind that although 34GB may seem to be a hefty amount, 90GB of media files would likely take 45 minutes to stream. That's the time you'll have to spend editing.


Final conclusions

Not all laptop Micro SD readers are made equal, is the first lesson from this experiment. Even though the laptops we examined are all current versions from this year, their performance differences are striking. The second thing to remember is that USB card readers aren't a bad idea. We've spoken to content makers who don't want to purchase a laptop because it doesn't have an inbuilt SD card reader. Even with brand-new computers, you never know what kind of card reader you'll receive. So get a proven external reader and don't think twice about it.

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