Who should get this?
If your camera uses SD cards but your laptop lacks a card reader (or it has one, and you're unimpressed by its speed), you'll need a separate card reader that hooks up to your laptop via USB-C or USB-A to transfer your photos and videos.
All of the latest MacBooks (including the 2016 MacBook Pro models) have only USB-C ports, and no SD card readers. Some new Windows laptops exclusively use USB-C ports, too, and others have a mix of USB types and no built-in SD card slot.
If you already own a card reader with a USB-A connection, you can get a USB-C–to–A adapter to use it with a new computer.
How we picked and tested
We tested 12 card readers to find the best SD card reader for most people. Photo: Kimber Streams
The most important features for an SD card reader are speed, physical size, and ease of use. Because most new laptops have at least one USB-C port—and some now have only USB-C ports—we focused on USB-C card readers for this guide. We also looked for readers that support both SD and CF cards to ensure compatibility with as many cameras as possible.
After researching all the USB-C SD readers available, we called in 12 models that met our requirements by accessories makers we trust. Then we plugged them into a 2016 MacBook Pro and a 2016 Dell XPS 13 and used AJA System Test and CrystalDiskMark to test their speeds with three SanDisk cards–one SD card, one microSD card, and one CF card.
Our pick: IOGear USB-C 3-Slot Card Reader
The IOGear USB-C 3-Slot Card Reader is the best SD card reader for most people. Photo: Kimber Streams
The IOGear USB-C 3-Slot Card Reader is the best SD card reader for most people because it's affordable (usually less than $20) and produced fast speeds during our SD, microSD, and CF tests, every single time.
In our SD card test, the IOGear had read and write speeds of 84 MB/s and 72 MB/s, respectively. When reading and writing to the microSD card, it had speeds of 85 MB/s and 64 MB/s, and in our CF card test, it had read and write speeds of 144 MB/s and 114 MB/s.
Unlike our other picks, the IOGear lacks an indicator light, so you can't see when your card is connected or a transfer is underway at a glance. We also found that the SD card slot was a bit too shallow. The IOGear reader is slightly bigger than our other USB-C picks, but it has the best warranty of its competitors, covering three years.
Runner-up: Transcend USB 3.1 Type-C Multi-Card Reader
The Transcend USB 3.1 Multi-Card Reader is a good second choice if the IOGear is unavailable. Photo: Kimber Streams
If our pick is out of stock or unavailable, we recommend the Transcend USB 3.1 Multi-Card Reader. It was as fast as the IOGear in nearly every test, except for its awful microSD write speeds on Mac. For more information on the Transcend's speed tests, please see our full guide.
The Transcend supports SD, microSD, and CF cards, plus it has a Memory Stick slot on its back. It also has an indicator light, and a two-year warranty.
A budget option: Cable Matters USB 3.1 Type-C Dual Slot Card Reader
The Cable Matters USB 3.1 Type-C Dual Slot Card Reader is less expensive than our other picks, but it doesn't have a CF card slot. Photo: Kimber Streams
If you use only SD and microSD cards, you should get the Cable Matters USB 3.1 Type-C Dual Slot Card Reader. The Cable Matters reader has similar speeds to the IOGear and Transcend readers, but it doesn't support CF cards. It's smaller, lighter, and cheaper than our other top picks, plus it has good speeds and an indicator light. It also comes with only a one-year warranty.
For faster SD cards: SanDisk Extreme Pro SD UHS-II Card USB-C Reader
The SanDisk is nearly three times as fast as our top pick, but it costs about twice as much. Photo: Kimber Streams
If you use a camera or cards that support UHS-II speeds, we recommend the SanDisk Extreme Pro SD UHS-II Card USB-C Reader. Although it costs more than twice as much as the IOGear, and doesn't have CF or microSD slots, the SanDisk had read and write speeds of 256 MB/s and 193.6 MB/s in our SD card tests, respectively—nearly three times the speed of our top pick. It also has a useful indicator light.
At $50, it might be more economical to buy our USB-A pick and a USB-C–to–A adapter if you want UHS-II–speed transfer rates, but that option is bulkier, heavier, and slower.
For traditional USB ports: Kingston USB 3.0 High-Speed Media Reader
The Kingston USB 3.0 High-Speed Media Reader is the best option for traditional USB ports. Photo: Kimber Streams
If you need a USB-A card reader, or a reader that can take both CF cards and high-speed UHS-II SD cards, the Kingston USB 3.0 High-Speed Media Reader is your best bet. The Kingston supports SD, microSD, CF, and Memory Stick cards, and it reliably transferred data at UHS-II speeds in our SD card tests. It also has a big red indicator light, and comes with a two-year warranty.
The Kingston had read and write speeds of 159 MB/s and 127 MB/s, respectively, during our SD card test. In our microSD card test, it had expected read and write speeds of 83 MB/s and 69 MB/s. It was a bit slower when reading and writing to a CF card, with speeds of 127 MB/s and 107 MB/s.
This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.
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