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How Do I Choose the Best Memory Card Reader?

Memory card readers can read flash memory cards and transfer their contents to a computer.
A memory card reader must be compatible with the connectors on the host device with which it will be used.
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  • Written By: Marty Paule
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2014
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Thanks to their portability and ability to store large quantities of data, memory cards, also sometimes called flash memory cards, have become an essential component in media storage. These cards are available in a wide range of proprietary formats and storage capacities. Over time, people who use personal computers, digital cameras, and other devices that accept memory cards may end up with numerous cards that have different formats. Fortunately, most of the memory card reader models available today are both inexpensive and capable of accepting different types of cards. When shopping for a memory card reader, make sure that it is compatible with both the flash memory cards you use, as well as any computers, printers, and digital media devices to which you plan to connect it.

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Some personal computers, printers, scanners, and audio-visual equipment have an internal memory card reader built into them. If the card reader becomes inoperative, it is usually less expensive to purchase an external memory card reader as a replacement rather than to replace the original internal card reader. In either case, be sure that the card reader that you purchase is compatible with the connectors on the host devices with which you plan to use it. The vast majority of card readers have a Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 connector, while some older flash memory cards and internal card reader slots use the older and slower USB 1.0 protocol. If you have a mixture of cards that use both USB protocols, check to see that the memory card reader is backward-compatible and can read and write to the older cards.

A well-designed and versatile memory card reader offers enough card slots and connectivity options to be compatible with a wide range of digital equipment. Many inexpensive models offer six or more slots and can support dozens of cards simultaneously. A built-in USB cord can be convenient and card readers that have ports to accept all of the different USB connector types offer the greatest flexibility. Some professional audio-video equipment uses the FireWire interface protocol due to its high-speed data transfer rate and FireWire-compatible card reader may be harder to find. Since computer desks can become crowded with equipment, look for a card reader that balances a small case design with maximum versatility and connectivity.

While the USB interface is extremely commonplace and is theoretically compatible with all major personal computer operating systems, it is best to confirm compatibility with your computer's operating system. This is especially true if you use the Macintosh, Unix, or other operating systems. Most memory card readers do not require special drivers to be installed in the host computer, but, just in case, look for models that feature plug-and-play installation.

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