Published on
Last update:

What is a card reader and how to use it on laptop / PC

Table of Contents

What is a card reader?

A card reader is a compact device used for fast reading from memory card, flash drive or other types of memory.

It is a very useful device for those who have a phone, a tablet, an iphone or other types of mobile devices. Here are three main functions of a card reader:

  • Having connected it to PC you can transfer files to an sd card or a compact flash drive in a very fast way.
  • If the data has been deleted from a memory card one can do nothing without a card reader.
  • Using a card reader you can make a backup copy of the most important files on a computer.

What does a card reader look like?

Built-in card readers are the most widespread. It is built into a laptop: the socket is on the front panel of a laptop (Windows PC) or at its side (Macbook).

An external card reader is a small box with a few sockets to plug in memory cards.

Types of card readers

There are a few types of card readers. Wikipedia gives its own classification on this subject. We wouldn’t get much into terminology and will divide card readers into two groups: external and built-in.

Is there a special card reader for a phone?

In fact, there are special card readers for phones, for example, flash driver adapter OTG Mobile Phone Connection. We won’t touch upon such specific devices since they are quite rare and not very convenient to use.

Built-in card reader

Built-in card reader in a laptop is the best option if you often copy files to and from an sd card. To read a memory card or a flash drive you don’t need to plug them through an USB port.

The vast majority of Windows laptops have a built-in card reader as well as in Macbook old models.

You can find out if your laptop has a card reader by either checking its sockets or by looking up in a documentation.

External usb card reader

An external card reader is a module connected to a PC through USB port. It will be a great solution if:

  • There is no card reader in your laptop.
  • You can a usual PC.
  • Your built-in card reader doesn’t work.

External card readers operate as flash drives: you plug them in and then data is transmitted to a PC using the USB protocol.

Wifi card readers

There are also wifi card readers. There are wireless which means you don’t need a wire connection to plug and read them. These devices are mobile and very convenient to use.

How to choose an appropriate card reader for a memory card?

Before you buy a card reader you need to specify the type of a memory card that is used or is going to be plugged to your PC or a laptop.

It is easy to do:

  1. Extract a memory card from your phone, camera, etc.;
  2. Read the type and format of the card on the label.

According to this information you will choose a card reader for sd memory.

By the way, there are a lot of simple and advanced card readers that support only certain types of memory. Among them you can find:

  • Compact Flash
  • Secure Digital
  • MMC
  • SDHC
  • Memory Stick

You can buy a multi-purpose card reader with several sockets, for example, a card reader that supports compact flash.

A tip. If you need a card reader to restore files on an sd card, we recommend to choose the right program to restore photos. You can find more info on how to restore photos here.

How to use a card reader

If there is a built-in card reader in a laptop:

  1. Insert a memory card into a socket - it will display as a separate disk.
  2. Insert an sd card into the card reader.

If you use an external card reader:

  1. Connect usb cable to PC socket.
  2. Insert a memory card into card reader socket.

What to do if a card reader doesn’t work

Usually it doesn't require any additional actions from a user. If a memory card hasn’t been identified you need to check if drivers for your external card reader have been installed or not.

Vlad Brown, USA, Buffalo, WY

Vlad is a professional writer. He has expert knowledge in data recovery with 15 years of experience. He started his career as a journalist by reviewing PC and mobile apps. His current responsibilities are to keep track of users' questions and answer them. 

His current responsibilities are to keep track of users' questions and provide answers to them, write proven manuals, be the website technical support and also run a Youtube channel.

Vlad's recent reviews: