PNY StorEDGE 128 GB review - SD card with a difference

Replacing the ExpressCard slot with an SD card slot was a good idea. That’s exactly what Apple did for its MacBook Pro, starting with the first Unibody model that launched five years ago now, in late 2008.

An SD memory-card slot may be less versatile than the old ExpressCard, those 34 or 54 mm-wide slot-in cards that were the successor to the original PCMCIA expansion card. They could take a number of expansion devices like eSATA, USB 3.0 and even solid-state storage. But there’s no denying how useful it can be to just pop an SD card into a neat slot, straight from a camera or smartphone into your laptop.

Unlike most Windows laptops though, where an inserted SD card lies flush with the body, Apple sets its SD card slot so that the card stands clearly proud when correctly seated. That makes it easy to pull out without fingernail fuss; but it also means you’d be unwise to leave a card in there while you’re travelling with the Mac. Damage to the card or worse, the laptop itself, would likely ensue.

Lopping off the end of an SD card to let it sit neatly in place without overhanging is a logical solution, although one we’re not aware of anyone offering until now. Enter the PNY StorEDGE SD card.

See also Storage and hard drive reviews

The PNY StorEDGE works with a MacBook with a card slot, and is available in either 64 or 128 GB capacities. There’s a plastic end cap that protrudes just 2 mm from the MacBook case, with an arc inset to make it easier to pull out with your fingers.

We can see how it’d be particularly attractive to MacBook Air users, since the Air until recently was sold with just 64 or 128 GB of storage inside. And while they will never have the same speed performance as an internal SATA or PCIe SSD, today’s SDXC cards are plenty quick enough to hold music or video files that otherwise eat up internal capacity.

How well the PNY StorEDGE SD card fits the MacBook actually depends on your MacBook model, as they vary in how the card reader is set inside. On our 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro (Mid-2012), the StorEDGE fits snugly against the chassis, with just a 1 mm gap between end cap and MacBook. For the Apple MacBook Air (Late 2012) it fits even better, snug right up to the case. But the Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, Retina, Late 2013) is not well matched. The StorEDGE card here protrudes by 5.6mm, and with that amount of overhang you might as well return to a regular full-size SD card.

See also: Which 13-inch Apple laptop? MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro comparative review

PNY StorEDGE 128 GB: Performance

As befits a company that specialises in flash memory and storage, the PNY StorEDGE 128 GB is a remarkably fast device. Compared to the older cards and readers which were lucky to hit even USB 2.0 speeds of 35 MB/s, this card could read and write sequential data at around double the speed.

Using QuickBench to benchmark the SD card on the 15-inch MacBook Pro (Mid-2012), we saw read speeds up 88 MB/s and write speeds not too distantly behind at 61 MB/s. These kinds of figures were found with data sized at 1 MB or greater.

At the small-file level, speeds did drop considerably though, particularly with random data instead of sequential. Averaged from 4 kB to 1024 kB, the card showed random reads of 43 MB/s, and random writes of 19 MB/s. Slowest of all were 4 kB random writes, dropping to just 0.9 MB/s, suggesting this card will slow to a crawl with such data.

However we put the StorEDGE card to task by installing a bootable OS on it. This is a prime example of much small-file juggling, with the operating system frequently reading and writing small changes behind the scenes.

We copied OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion from the MacBook’s internal SSD using Carbon Copy Cloner. Our review sample of the card then reported assorted file corruption and disk errors, which pointed toward a fault with the card itself.

A second sample of the StorEDGE SD card worked perfectly, initially at least. Set up thus with OS X 10.8 on the card, we were able to return to a quite usable laptop running Mountain Lion at anytime, long after we’d upgraded the main drive to Mavericks.

Subjectively the system did feel a slower – but not terminally so, closer to the original hard disk than the replacement Samsung EVO SSD installed inside. The biggest slowdown may simply be the absence of parallel data reads that we now take for granted from modern SATA and PCIe boot drives.

However even with a new card we experienced similar reports of disk corruption resulting an unbootable system. It seems the SD card is not well-suited as a boot drive as it picks up unrecoverable errors all too easily. You can reformat and start again, but based on our experience we wouldn’t advise using this card this way.

OUR VERDICT

The PNY StorEDGE is an SD card that makes good use of the SD card slot on modern MacBooks. Due to different slot configurations it won’t fit every model perfectly, but where it does it performs very fast for a small card. As a backup of the main OS, or to run another operating system such as GNU/Linux or Windows, we found it could prove problematic. But it’s well suited for offloading bulky music or video files from a cramped internal drive.

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