Physical memory cards might seem like antiquated technology in this day and age, but they’re still very much a relevant part of using gadgets. Whether you’re storing mounds of technical documents on a laptop or several gigabytes worth of photos snapped with a fancy digital camera, Secure Digital cards (commonly just referred to as SD cards) can facilitate in storing that data. And just like any other product, some perform better than others.
So we researched some of the best SD cards on the market, and put the cards through rigorous testing, to find the best SD Card to store your files. We found that the SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB(available at Amazon) was the best overall because it's the fastest at writing various types of files, including RAW images and JPEGs, Word documents, ebooks, and video. For about $22, the Extreme Pro also hailed the fastest write speeds. Perhaps the only bummer about this is that it doesn’t hold a full 32GB of storage space, though you’ll find that’s the case with all of the other SD cards tested.
Here is our ranking of the best SD cards, in order:
SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB
Fujifilm Elite Performance 32GB
Transcend 32GB SDHC Class 10 UHS-1
Lexar Professional 1000x 32GB SDHC UHS-II
PNY Elite Performance 32GB SDHC Class 10 UHS-I
Sony 32GB Class 10 UHS-1 SDHC
Kingston Canvas Select 32GB SDHC UHS-
Toshiba 32GB SD Card
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The SanDisk Extreme Pro is not only a solid performer, but it offers the fastest write speeds among the batch of SD cards we tested, making it a prime choice for shooting photos in rapid succession, recording video, or adding some extra storage to your computer. The card is capable of transferring more than 30 megabits per second of data to full capacity in under 23 minutes, so you won’t have to wait around for files to move over. What’s more: This SD card is available in a variety of gigabyte sizes, not to mention SanDisk offers a lifetime warranty.
You don’t have to spend a ton of cash to get a fast-acting SD card. The 32GB Transcend SD card is nimble, as its write speeds are only seconds behind the SanDisk Extreme Pro. It can write to its full capacity in under 24 minutes. This particular card offers a U1 rating, however, so it's not capable of handling 4K video like the SanDisk's U3 rating.
The 32GB Transcend SD card is worth considering for its extremely affordable price point if you don't plan on recording high-resolution video, as it's nearly $10 cheaper compared to SanDisk’s offerings. This memory card is good for computers, digital cameras, and any other device that relies on a standard Class 10 UHS-I SD card.
My name is Florence Ion, and I have been doling out professional tech advice as a tech journalist for about a decade. When I’m not helping you figure out what to buy, I’m shooting product photos with a Canon SL-1, archiving game data on the Nintendo Switch, and copying over files from a Chromebook to Android devices—all made possible by some form of SD card.
The Testing Process
I bundled together 29GB of varying file types, including RAW images, JPEGs, GIFs, ebooks, text files, Word documents, and videos of all sort. All of the memory cards tested topped out at 29GB of usable storage space, though most manufacturers list that caveat in the card's description. The test was split up into three stages: moving over 10GB of data, then 20GB, and then all 29GB. The tests were performed three times apiece, each time measured by a stopwatch, and each trio of numbers was averaged to determine each memory card's write speed.
To test each card’s read speeds, I used USB Flash Speed, a barebones desktop applet for Windows that measures the read and write speeds of any drive connected to your computer. I also used each memory card inside an entry-level Canon DSLR and shot several RAW photos in rapid succession to see if the numbers would immediately inform real-world performance.
What To Know When Buying SD Cards
There are different classifications of SD cards, some of which are specially refined to work with certain kinds of media. For most of us, s Class 10, UHS-I, U1 card is enough for shooting RAW digital images and 1080p video. If you want to shoot 4K video, however, you'll want to look for SD cards with the U3 rating (like our top pick). You'll also see SD cards that fall under the UHS-II and UHS-III (coming soon) classification, which both offer maximum read and write speeds that can only be utilized by compatible hardware.
Other SD Cards We Tested
Fujifilm Elite Performance 32GB (85 MB/s)
There's a reason that the Fujifilm name remains synonymous with photography. The 32GB Fujifilm Elite Performance SD card can keep the pace alongside the top SanDisk pick. Of the many cards we tested, the Fujifilm brand stayed consistent in its benchmark numbers, transferring over nearly 30GB of files in under 24 minutes. This SD card is just as capable when its embedded inside a DSLR or as external storage inside a laptop. Perhaps the only caveat is that it’s often on sale like SanDisk’s offerings, at which point you’ll have to ask yourself which brand you prefer.
This Lexar Professional SD card uses the UHS-II specification, which means it’s capable with a particular batch of digital cameras and other high-performance devices. Even with its specification, however, the Lexar Professional isn’t any faster than our top pick from SanDisk. It came in fourth in our manual data writing tests.
The PNY Elite Performance 32GB SD card is a real treat because it's an unexpected performer. If you’re in need of the physical storage space, it’s a worthy consideration.
The PNY Elite Performance card performed on par with the top picks. It also offers the most space out of all the SD cards we tested—about 29.8 GB. That’s incrementally more than what you’d get with the SanDisk Extreme Pro, which taps out at 29.7 GB. The number may seem minuscule in comparison, but if it’s a defining metric for you, then you’ll be happy to know that we found the PNY at a lower price than our budget pick from Transcend.
Sony’s lineup of SD cards are still kicking strong, but its write speeds were much slower than our top five picks. In our benchmark tests, the 32GB Sony memory card took over 10 minutes to write a mere 10GB of test files. The numbers get slower from there: writing over 20 GB and 29 GB of data took almost half an hour and nearly 40 minutes, respectively. That’s just too much time to wait for data to move.
Kingston is relatively well-known in the world of PC hardware, but its SD card offerings shouldn’t be your first choice when you’re shopping online. The 32GB Kingston Canvas Select performed at a snail’s pace compared to our top performers. It took almost 45 minutes to transfer over 29GB of files, which is a long time. If you can afford a few dollars more, our budget SD card pick is a much better consideration than this one, and it'll cut your write times in half.
The 32GB Toshiba SD card is the slowest of the U1-rated memory cards that we tested. Not only does it offer the slowest write speeds—it took 48 minutes to move over 30GB of files—but it was also dead last in its read speeds measured with the USB Flash Speed tool. It took over half an hour to transfer 20GB of data, and about 48 minutes to load it up to full capacity. And while the card didn’t feel slow shooting inside a DSLR, there was a beat in between shooting a photo and seeing the preview.
Florence Ion is a freelance journalist and prolific podcaster. She's written for Ars Technica, PC World, Android Central, The Verge, and Engadget. Her reviews and how-tos can usually be found on Lifehacker, Tom's Guide, and Reviewed. She can also be heard weekly on All About Android on the TWiT network and Material on Relay FM.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.