avatarby Jonathan FeistAugust 21, 20160 comments

SD Cards

Do you remember the days when 2GB was the size of the best SD cards around? If so, you’ll be happy to know that 2GB is the new 256MB, you can still find them, but it’s probably less expensive to buy a modern 8GB or larger card. Now that the SD standard has been updated to support cards as large as 2TB in size, you know what we need around here – here is our list of the best SD cards on the market today.

Our usual caveats apply, our focus will be on the best bang for the dollar, not necessarily on the absolute theoretical best that exists. More to the point, if you can’t buy these things at a normal retailer in retail packaging, it’s not on our list.

What is an SD card?

SD Cards

Before we look at the options, a quick word on what we’re dealing with. Let’s see how simple I can make this. First off, SD stands for Secure Digital and is a non-volatile storage type, meaning it retains data without an active power source.

There are three main types of SD cards, of which we will focus on just one today. The first, and largest, card size is known simply as the SD card. The next down is the Mini SD card and the smallest is the one you’ve had in your smartphone, the microSD card. In all fairness, you’re not likely to come across a device that needs the mini SD card, as SD and microSD are by far the more popular in electronics today.

Now, there are several factors to SD cards that make a huge difference to their capabilities. For starters, you’ll hear about the SD Standard that a card operates on, you’ll hear about the speed classes they can operate at, you’ll hear about capacity, of course, and you may hear about Input/Output capabilities, but we’ll largely ignore those here today.

SD Cards Standards

SD Cards

The main reason you want to pay attention right here and now is that the standard in use on a card largely determines the capacity of the card. Early cards came with the straight up SD standard, able to handle capacities from 1MB up to 2GB. There were some exceptions to this rule, but mainly you’ll find a 2GB max.

What followed was called SDHC, where HC stood for High Capacity. Unfortunately, the standard was a little short-sighted in its name, handling capacities from 2GB up to 32GB.

Finally, where we are at today, the SDXC standard, for eXtended Capacity, is made to handle the 32GB up to 2TB card capacity.

Beyond the SDxx standards you’ll find UHS, or Ultra High Speed, SD cards. While these designations pertain to the file systems and capacities of cards as well, for our purposes today, we’ll focus on UHS in terms of speed capabilities below.

It is extremely important to note that your device needs to be able to support the various standards for the cards to work. At the very least, this should partially explain why many mobile devices, Android tablets particularly, only support up to 32GB of external storage. And I know what you’re thinking, if the SDXC standard starts at 32GB and goes up to 2TB, my Android phone that can support 64GB microSD cards should be able to take a full 2TB card, right? I wish we had the time to geek out and get into the details, but no, there are other factors at play in the actually capability of the phone or tablet that create these limitations, sorry.

Speed class

SD Card speed classes

Now that you know what card standard you’ll be looking for, let’s look at the speed factor, after all, your 4K camera is wasted if your SD card can’t handle it.

There are a few factors at play when we talk speed, in the early days things were clocked as a comparison to CD-ROM drives. Simply put, a “100x” card was 100 times faster than the base speed of a CD-ROM – and to spoil my next paragraph, that about the speed of a C10 card.

Speed ratings were later replaced by a classification system. You may have seen C2, C4, C6, C10, U1 or U3 on your cards. Ignoring the BUS speeds in the backend, a C2 card is able to read and write data at at least 2MB/s. Similarly, a C4 works at 4MB/s and so forth. C10 and U1 both offer 10MB/s, but U1 has added file size benefits. If 4K is what you want, the U3 at 30MB/s is your friend.

I know you know that there are cards able to operate at speeds far above what is listed above, keep in mind that the above are minimums. There are also standards and classes beyond U3, but we’ll just save those until they release to the general market. But if you are looking into the future already, you’re going to want a 60MB/’s card to play 8K content on your next TV.

What card do you need?

I cannot rightly tell you what card you need to tackle your tasks, but I can tell you how I handle things for myself. Buy a C10 or higher card and get twice as much storage as you think you’ll need, up to the limit of your device. It’s really that simple for me. Particularly as we present price options for you below, you’ll see it is well worth the couple extra dollars to go for the next size card up, which will be double the size of the card before it.

Just remember, these cards are made to carry forward to future devices, I have a microSD card that has been in 3 phones and two tablets now. It was an early U1 card with 32GB of storage – it was pricey to buy then, but if I’d have purchased a low grade card then, and again for each subsequent device, my accumulative total would now be triple what I paid and I’d have 4 cards collecting dust.

The obvious question that follows, how do I know which card to buy now? There we have it, the reason for this article today, let’s explore the best SD cards on the market.

Note: Please remember that the standard capacity measure for SD cards is in the same binary/hexadecimal numbering that you may be accustomed to from most other units of measure around computers. That is, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 and beyond.


SanDisk Ultra

SanDisk Ultra SD card

Available in 16GB up to 128GB models, the SanDisk Ultra SD card is a Class 10 UHS-1 card capable of speeds up to 80MB/s. While not the fastest card on the market, this card is ready to rock all of your Full HD video content and clocks in with a highly affordable price.

At $8.05 for the 16GB model, prices less than double each hop up to the $42.99 for the 128GB model on Amazon.

Buy the SanDisk Ultra SD card now

SanDisk Extreme Pro

SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card

Quite literally taking things to the next level, the SanDisk Extreme Pro is a U3 class card for your 4K video, able to process transfers up to 95MB/s. The price is a little higher, as is expected, and additional capacities are available. You’ll be able to save as little as 16GB or as much as 512GB with this card.

Prices start at $16.49 for the 16GB model, jump up to $63.49 for the 128GB model and almost double each step from there, with the 512GB card costing you $417.62 on Amazon.

Buy the SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card now

Lexar Professional

Lexar Professional SD Card

Holding onto the old ways, this is a 1000x card, with the UHS-2 standard and a U3 class rating, you’re looking at speeds of up to 150MB/s in a card that is offered from 16GB up to 256GB in size. I must admit that I have, personally, had a bad track record with Lexar cards, experiencing more than one card failure due to file corruption, but I must assume that the card and brand is not at fault, as my other Lexar cards have been flawless and a 4.4 star rating on Amazon suggest the same.

Pricing starts in at $15.95 for the 16GB model, $59.95 will get you the 128GB model and 256GB will run you $129.95 on Amazon.

Buy the Lexar Professional SD Card now

PNY Elite Performance

PNY Elite Performance SD Card

Keeping things in the UHS-1 standard, this U3 class PNY Elite Performance SD card offering will get you up to 95MB/s transfer speeds and capacities ranging from 32GB up to 512GB. As with most other SD cards on the market, these are also magnet-proof, shock proof, temperature proof and waterproof. Just don’t push them too hard – the proof may be in the pudding, but that’s still not a good place for your SD card.

Bad jokes aside, the PNY Elite Professional SD card will keep your 4K video clocking along for $12.99 on the 32GB model, $44.99 on the 128GB model and just $199.99 for the 512GB card on Amazon.

Buy the PNY Elite Performance SD Card now

Sony

Sony SD Card

There are no flashy names brandishing this card option, Sony just puts out a solid Class 10 card with up to 70MB/s speeds and sizes ranging from 8GB up to 256GB. This is just a 1080p video capable card, but like the SanDisk that started us off today, the price is where it’s at.

With an entry price of $6.71 for the 8GB card, you’d almost be silly to not go for the 16GB card for $7.19. However, if the sale price is still in effect when you read this, the 32GB card is just $7.99 itself – that is the most cost effective option of all of our offerings today.

Jump up to $34.99 for the 128GB model and $79.99 for 256GB of storage on Amazon.

Buy the Sony SD Card now

Transcend

Transcend SD Card

On a tight budget for your SD Card purchase? Taking things as low as they go on this list today, these Transcend SD cards clock in at just 30MB/s as Class 10 cards. I use the 32GB card in my camera, able to record 1080p video, but it would be silly to say that it does so with ease. Transcend does make better cards, and the smaller sizes here are comparable in price to the faster cards listed above, but this is the only 128GB card offering under $30 here.

You’ll be looking at $5.99 for the 16GB model, $20.93 for the 64GB model and just $29.99 for their 128GB offering on Amazon.

Transcend SD card

Honorable mention: microSD cards!

Remember when I told you that the microSD card was a member of the SD card family, this can work in your favor today. With the use of a fairly standard adapter, you can purchase a microSD card with similar speed and capacity offerings for roughly the same price. You may spend a few dollars more this way, but the fact of the matter is that you can use a microSD card with adapter in any SD card slot of the same classification. This immensely increases the number of ways you can use the card.

Here’s our pick for a microSD card but for a further in-depth look, check out the best microSD cards roundup on our sister site Android Authority.com.

Samsung Evo and Samsung Pro

Samsung Evo microSD Card

There are different variations of these two lines, but we are essentially looking at the slowest and fastest cards from Samsung here. The Samsung Evo line of microSD cards are my number one choice for shooting up to 1080p video in my camera. With a U1 classification and transfer speeds up to 48Mb/s, these cards are inexpensive and have proven very versatile. I pretty much have an Evo card in all of my microSD electronics and several in use for my camera.

Starting at $6.99 for the 16Gb model, it is just $9.99 for the 32GB model right now, $19.99 for the 64GB, but the 128GB card still commands $39.99 on Amazon.

Buy the Samsung Evo microSD card now

Samsung Pro Select microSD Card

Samsung’s Pro line includes the Pro Select which are U3 cards rated for 95MB/s read speed and 90MB/s write. Your 4K video is stored handily in the 32GB, 64GB and 128GB offerings and a 10 year warranty should provide some peace of mind.

While not a bargain, you’re looking at $24.99 for the 32GB model up to $89.99 for the 128GB Samsung Pro Select microSD card on Amazon.

Buy the Samsung Pro Select microSD card now

I hope you have found what you are looking for here today, there are so many types, sizes, capacities and varying prices for SD cards out there. Just remember, for the best overall price for the history of your purchase, try to get at least a Class 10 card, or a U1 if the price is right, and go for the highest capacity of card that your intended device is rated to handle. Consider a microSD card to extend your usage.

Perhaps the best piece of advice I can give, keep track of the price of a specific card for a while before you purchase. Sales and deals are very common on SD cards, you should not have to wait long before snagging that card for a few dollars less.

Do you have a favorite SD card or microSD card that lives inside your devices? Let us know in the comments below! If you’re in need of something for your portable devices, be sure to check out our best microSD card roundup!