Most people nowadays are familiar with memory cards when they are buying themselves a new camera or video camera. Flash memory in photography and video is without a doubt ubiquitous and plentiful. As such, the prices of such cards has continued to go downward as the capacities have continued to increase at a similar rate. When you consider that only 10 years ago we were paying over $100 for a 128MB SD card, 128GB seems absolutely astonishing.

As things have progressed with storage in the hard disk space, so has solid state flash memory in the SD card format. When SDXC (Secure Digital Extended Capacity) was announced the Secure Digital Association, stated that SDXC would be capable of capacities of up to 2TB. While we currently aren’t at 2TB capacity, we are rapidly approaching that capacity. Back in 2009 when SDXC was announced at CES the biggest cards available were 32GB. In only three years, we’ve already seen the capacity of SD cards triple. Next year, we certainly expect to see SDXC extend further into 256GB and beyond.

Now, with the Patriot 128GB SDXC Class 10 EP Series, Patriot is not only delivering greater capacities over their 32GB and 64GB capacities, but they’re delivering significantly higher speeds with their UHS-1 mode. Patriot states that this card complies with the SDA (Secure Digital Association) 3.0 specification which must also be accompanied by a compatible device, like our Nikon D5100. Patriot states that this SD card is capable of read speeds of 50MB/s and write speeds of 35MB/s. They also state that performance may vary (lower) depending on the host device (device containing the memory card). Since this card does over 20MB/s reads it classifies as a Class 10 speed SD card.

Today, we will be evaluating the Patriot 128GB SDXC Class 10 EP SD card, and checking out if the card lives up to Patriot’s claims and what kind of real-world performance we get. We will be doing our testing on a mixture of computers and on our Nikon D5100 DSLR.

Testing Set Up
In our testing set up, we will have two separate set ups using three different memory cards. We will be testing our Patriot 128GB SDXC card against Kingston’s 32GB SDHC UltimateX Class 10 memory card as well as Kingston’s 16GB MicroSDHC with an SD adapter. The MicroSDHC is a perfect solution for anyone that would like to instantly view their pictures on their tablet without having an EyeFi memory card.

Our first set up will consist of a USB 3.0 capable computer paired up with a Kingston USB 3.0 external media reader. This enables us to surpass the measly speeds of USB 2.0 which are generally capped around 30MB/s. If you don’t have USB 3.0 you probably shouldn’t be looking into high-end high-speed memory cards because you’re probably wasting your money.

In our other set up is our Nikon D5100 with SDXC support. This camera is approximately 1 year old now and has supported SDXC right out of the box, so we’re not concerned about support. When trying to find out if your camera supports SDXC, the best thing is to head over to the Canon or Nikon sites for your camera. Most DSLRs that have been released in the past year should support SDXC, smaller pocket cameras may or may not. The point of this test set up is really to examine real world performance rather than simple benchmarks.

Benchmarks

CrystalDiskMark
In CrystalDiskMark, we simply took each of our SD cards and placed them into our Kingston USB 3.0 media reader. We reformatted all of the cards into the exFAT format in order to be fair to all of the cards since the SDXC card will by default be running in exFAT.

Based upon the speeds we got with the three different cards we got some interesting results. Looking at the Patriot 128GB card we actually surpassed the numbers that Patriot stated by 28% on read and 14% on writes. The Patriot 128GB card did 64MB/s sequential read and 40MB/s sequential write, which ultimately is what matters the most when you consider the file sizes that are being dealt with in an SD card. Most photos range between 8MB and 25MB and video files get into the gigabytes, so 512K and 4K performance are almost irrelevant unless you plan on using them to store something other than straight media.

The Kingston 32GB SDHC memory card did less than half as good as the Patriot 128GB EP memory card coming in at 23MB/s sequential reads and 14MB/s sequential writes. These numbers come in much closer to the Class 10 specification. It also does much worse than the Patriot SDXC card in 512K file sizes as it only does 21 MB/s read and 0.455 MB/s write compared to the Patriot’s 54 MB/s read and 15 MB/s write.

Finally, the 16GB MicroSDHC card really didn’t fare off much worse than its 32GB SDHC full size SD brother, and actually outperformed it in some of the smaller file sizes. This may be due to the fact that this card was primarily intended to be put into smartphones and tablets where smaller file sizes are more prevalent and more speed is needed.

In-Camera Real World Testing
For real world testing, we wanted to see exactly how many photos and how many hours of 1080P video we could cram onto one card. We also wanted to test the real world performance of the memory card in capturing rapidly shot photos.

In our testing, we shot in 16MP RAW + Fine JPEG mode. This resulted in two different images and yielded approximately 3,700 images on a single memory card. This means that you would have to capture more than a photo every single minute of the day in order to fill this memory card up in a single day. Granted, if you had a larger resolution sensor, say like the Nikon D800 with a 36 Megapixel Sensor you could probably dip below the 2400 photos in a single day if you captured a shot every minute at full resolution. You would without a doubt run out of battery before you ran out of memory card capacity. Then again, if you nix the RAW + JPEG mode and go just RAW you’re looking more at 5,300 which amounts to more than 2 frames every minute in a single day.

For video, we captured a 10 minute long video at 1080P resolution at 30 frames per second (18mbps). Since the D5100 is capped at 20 minutes per video (due to EU regulations). We took a video which was exactly 10 minutes and then took the size of that video and divided the overall capacity of the memory card by the size of the file generated by that 10 minute long video. What resulted was a measured capacity of 9.75 hours or 9 hours and 45 minutes of HD video footage per 128GB SDXC card.

You can compare our actual measurements against what Patriot reports in their charts, admittedly our camera is different from what they used to measure, but our measurements are much more real world and accurate, in our opinion.

Finally, we tested the three different SD cards we had in our camera using the same settings as our capacity test, but instead we were testing the real world write speeds of the memory cards. What we did was set the camera to capture the same image continuously for exactly one minute. After that minute we would count exactly how many shots had been captured within that minute. Initially, all three of the cards did pretty well, but after about 3-5 seconds the camera’s processor and the memory cards began to choke.

Looking at our results, you can see that the Patriot SDXC card delivered 55 shots in 60 seconds while the Kingston 32GB SDHC UltimateX delivered 34 shots and the Kingston 16GB MicroSDHC delivered a slightly lower 32. When you consider that these cameras are billed as 4 frames per second, many people forget that their memory cards and the camera’s processor are also bottle necks and realistically continuous shooting is limited by these two things. If you improve the memory card’s write speeds like we did with the Patriot 128GB EP, you nearly double the amount of shots you get in a single minute.

Value
The price of the Patriot 128GB SDXC Class 10 EP Series will retail for $189.99 which is easily within the range of many other cards. There are other competitors’ 128GB SDXC cards out there, but all of the 128GB SDXC cards we’ve seen have all been slower than the Patriot card even though they are currently retailing between $175 and $200. So, admittedly, there are cheaper cards out there with the same capacity, but they are also slower. Based on these current market conditions we can confidently say that the Patriot 128GB SDXC card is a very good value considering that all the other cards its competing against are priced almost the same but don’t perform as well (on paper).

Conclusion
The Patriot 128GB SDXC EP Series memory card is without a doubt an awesome memory card for anyone who is a photographer that also likes to shoot video. This card enables you to easily drain both of your DSLR’s batteries (like we did) and still have plenty of capacity to work with. In addition to that, having a faster SD card means that you have to wait less in order to get your photos back and having a faster SD card also means capturing more photos when you need them most. We can’t wait for Patriot to come out with a UHS Class 2 card to see what kinds of speeds they are able to get.

Even though the Patriot 128GB SDXC card is admittedly pricey, there is no doubt that it wins our editor’s choice for prosumer as it brings us into a new age of big and fast memory cards. That is, until a faster 128GB SDXC card comes out…