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Samsung’s new microSD card is faster than a SATA SSD

Samsung has made an SD Express microSD card with a sequential read speed of 800MB/s, but it won't be that fast on the Valve Steam Deck.

Samsung 256GB SD Express microSD card

MicroSD cards are about to get a whole lot faster, as Samsung has just announced that it has a tiny slice of storage in the works that’s significantly quicker than a SATA SSD. But hold on before you make plans to slot one into your Steam Deck, or any current handheld gaming device for that matter, as there’s a big catch.

While many of the best handheld gaming PC options have a high-speed NVMe SSD as standard, they also usually have a microSD slot to expand storage. Likewise, while the original entry-level Steam Deck had an eMMC storage drive, it also had a microSD slot to expand storage further. That slot is good for easy expandability, but even the best microSD cards top out at around 200MB/s.

Comparatively, Samsung claims its new card can hit a sequential read speed of 800MB/s, which on the surface makes it look like an ideal handheld upgrade. To put that figure into context, even the fastest 2.5-inch SATA SSDs top out at around 550MB/s. The speed of Samsung’s new microSD card is what we’d expect from a low-end PCIe 3 NVMe SSD, or an external USB 3.2 Gen 2 drive.

The problem is that this new Samsung microSD card uses the SD Express interface, and this requires your host device to also support SD Express in order to get those faster speeds. SD Express basically gives you a lane of PCIe bandwidth for your SD card, and the latest version uses the PCIe 4 interface, theoretically giving you around a maximum of 2GB/s of bandwidth, with around 1GB/s on the previous PCIe 3 bus.

SD Express has been doing the rounds as a standard for years, but few devices have been released that support it. Indeed, like most devices with microSD card readers, the Steam Deck, Asus ROG Ally, and Lenovo Legion Go don’t support SD Express, and instead use the older UHS-II interface, which tops out at 312MB/s. That doesn’t mean you can’t use this new Samsung microSD card on these devices, but it won’t perform any faster than a top-speed UHS-II drive.

That’s a shame, as the burgeoning handheld market is making it increasingly clear that there’s now a need for high-speed storage that you can easily slot into your machine. It’s difficult to justify an 800MB/s drive for your digital camera, but it’s absolutely justifiable for a games console. You can upgrade the NVMe SSD in your Steam Deck, of course, but only if you’re prepared to take your handheld apart. It would be really handy to be able to just slot in a card that runs at 800MB/s.

Samsung hasn’t revealed a price or release date for its new SD Express microSD card, but it says it will have a 256GB capacity and will be “made available for purchase later this year.”

In the meantime, if you’re looking to get a deck for yourself, make sure you read our Steam Deck OLED review, and also check out our guide to the best Steam Deck accessories, where we cover SSD upgrades, microSD cards, and a whole lot more.