Putting ProGrade’s 512GB V60 and V90 UHS-II SD cards to the test – Are V90 cards always worth it?
In November, ProGrade Digital announced the largest SD cards to date in their Gold V60 UHS-II lineup. With the data storage needs of video shooters today, such large cards are in high demand – especially at reasonable prices. So, we took the new $199 ProGrade Gold 512GB V60 UHS-II card and put it through speed tests to compare it with ProGrade’s $499 Cobalt 512GB V90 UHS-II SD card.
While there is a little difference in the maximum hypothetical read speed of the card (250MB/sec vs 300MB/sec), they offer minimum sustained write speeds of 60MB/sec and 90MB/sec, respectively. For many of us, this may not matter. 60MB/sec equates to 480Mbps – more than plenty for most cameras on the market – but is it worth getting the V90 card (720Mbps) if you don’t really need it? Let’s find out.
The speed tests were performed five times in AJA System Test with 16GB files using two different card readers. One is the ProGrade PG08 dual UHS-II SD card reader. This is a USB 3.2 Gen 2 card reader, allowing you to transfer two cards over to your computer simultaneously at the full read speeds of both cards. The tests were also performed using ProGrade’s PGM0.5 mini UHS-II dual SD/microSD card reader. While this reader has a built-in Type-C plug, it’s only capable of USB 3.2 Gen 1 speeds.
In theory, this shouldn’t present an issue for single card transfer speeds as USB 3.1 Gen 1 exceeds both the V60 and V90 specifications. But, it does mean that the PGM0.5 would potentially be slightly slower than the PG08 using USB-C if one were transferring data from both slots using SD and microSD to the computer simultaneously due to the extra speed of USB 3.2 Gen 1. To even things out a bit, though, tests performed with the PG08 were done twice – once using USB 3.2 Gen 2 over USB-C and once with USB 3.2 Gen 1 over USB-A.
Before we get into the speed tests, though, there is something I want to commend ProGrade on. They’ve entirely ditched the plastic packaging. Gone are the familiar old plastic clippy cases that SD cards have been sold in for the last couple of decades. You know, the one that we promise ourselves we’ll use to keep our cards safe when not in use but then inevitably give up on or just lose after a week or two? Yeah, those.
Now, they’ve been placed in moulded paper/card-type cases. They’re surprisingly firm and hold the SD cards safely and securely inside their retail packaging. As they’re not plastic anymore and are completely biodegradable, it’s perfectly fine just to throw them away when you’ve removed your cards from them. ProGrade might have done this across their entire memory range, including CFexpress, CFast 2.0, etc., but as I’ve only received SD cards with the new packaging so far, that’s all I can speak to at the moment. I do have ProGrade’s new Cobalt CFast 2.0 card on the way for testing, though, so I shall keep you all posted!
Anyway, on with the tests!
ProGrade Gold V60 UHS-II SD Card (PG08 USB-A)
The first test is the new $199 ProGrade Gold V60 UHS-II SD card in the PG08 Dual SD card slot reader using a Type-C to Type-A cable. This effectively limits the transfer to USB 3.2 Gen 1 specs but as mentioned, for a single card, this shouldn’t make a difference to transfer speed. Each test was performed five times. The ProGrade Gold 512GB V60 UHS-II card claims max read speeds of up to 250MB/sec and max write speeds of up to 130MB/sec.
ProGrade Gold V60 UHS-II SD Card (PG08 USB-C)
Next up, is the same V60 card and PG08 card reader combo, but going through the USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port instead. This should really only present an increase when transferring two cards simultaneously, but for the sake of thoroughness, I wanted to perform the single card transfer speed test both ways.
Side note: We should be able to get full-speed transfer on two cards simultaneously with USB 3.2 Gen 1 speeds, too. Even a pair of V90 cards shouldn’t max out the 5GB/sec limit of USB 3.2 Gen 1. That being said, I have noticed a slight increase when going over a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C socket over the Gen 1 Type-A socket when transferring two cards simultaneously. Your mileage may vary.
ProGrade Gold V60 UHS-II SD Card (PGM0.5 USB-C)
Now it’s the turn of ProGrade’s newest mini PGM0.5 UHS-II SD/microSD dual SD card reader. Even though this has a Type-C USB plug on it, it’s USB 3.1 Gen 1 spec. I wanted to include this reader as it was surprisingly quick for UHS-I cards, as it seems to support SanDisk’s proprietary protocol that lets its cards reach speeds beyond the UHS-I SD card specification. So, I wanted to see how it stood up vs ProGrade’s older dual SD card reader with their newest UHS-II cards.
As you can see in the screenshots, a 16GB file was written to and read from each card in order to get a good average. It’s worth pointing out here, though, that these are average write speeds across the whole test. So, while the write speeds are much higher than the minimum speed requirement of the V60 specification – not to mention higher than the 130MB/sec claim on the card’s packaging – and even higher than the minimum speed requirement for V90 cards, these are average write speeds across the entire chunk of data being written out. It’s no guarantee that the V60 cards will have the required sustained write speeds when writing video greater than 480Mbps in your camera. They will, though, always guarantee a minimum of 60MB/sec (480Mbps) sustained write speeds.
ProGrade Cobalt V90 UHS-II SD Card (PG08 USB-A)
Let’s switch over to the ProGrade Cobalt V90 UHS-II SD card. Is it really worth spending 2.5x the price if you don’t need those V90 speeds? Well, that’s what these tests are to find out. And first up, we’re going back to the PG08 dual UHS-II SD card reader on the Type-A socket.
ProGrade Cobalt V90 UHS-II SD Card (PG08 USB-C)
Again, we’re going to do the same test again using the same reader but this time with the Type-C socket for full USB 3.2 Gen 2 connectivity. As mentioned before, this shouldn’t make much of a speed difference, if any, with just a single card transfer speed, but for the sake of completeness…
ProGrade Cobalt V90 UHS-II SD Card (PGM0.5 USB-C)
Finally, it’s time to put the Cobalt V90 card to the test inside ProGrade’s PGM0.5 mini mobile card reader. We can see from the tests with the V60 card above that the speeds with UHS-II cards don’t really differ from the ProGrade PG08 reader, but this is the reader that goes everywhere with me these days, so it’s the reader I typically use with my laptop when away from home or shooting on location to perform backups.
The read speeds on both cards, with both card readers (on both Type A and Type C sockets), are pretty similar. So, if your camera only requires a V60 card in order to be able to write out its maximum bitrate footage – or, at least, the maximum you’ll typically use – then there’s no real benefit to getting V90 cards. It’s not going to help you offload your footage any faster to your computer, really. Well, there is potentially one benefit, sort of…
There’s an argument to be made for future-proofing because who knows what cameras you might buy or switch to a year or two down the line? It stops you from having to buy cards twice. There is a much bigger up-front cost with going for V90 cards from day one when you don’t need them, but if you buy V60 cards now and then need V90 cards a year or two down the line for a new camera then you’ll still end up needing to spend that money anyway. That being said, a year or two down the line, the V90 cards may not cost $499 anymore and you still have your V60 cards as backups.
I mentioned the average write speeds above of the V60 cards, and I’m going to talk now about the average write speeds of the V90 cards. As you can see, there’s a pretty massive difference between the two. The V60 cards typically hover around a 159MB/sec average write speed. The V90 cards bring that up to around a 245MB/sec average.
Again, this isn’t a true indicator of sustained write speed, only average write speed over a period of time. The fact that it hovers around 245MB/sec doesn’t mean it isn’t going to go slower at times and faster at times. This is why we also see average read speeds of around 240MB/sec despite the claimed maximum read speed of 300MB/sec. Sometimes it’ll be 300MB/sec, and sometimes, it’ll be 200MB/sec, with the average ending up somewhere between the two by the end of the transfer.
So, what cards should I buy for video?
What does this mean for camera owners? Which cards should we buy? Well, if you do go for V90 cards, then they’re going to be fast enough for pretty much any camera on the market that uses SD cards. Anything that requires higher than V90 these days is switching to CFexpress. But, you are paying a premium for the higher write speed of V90 cards, which might just be a waste if your camera doesn’t need higher than V60.
If you’re using a camera that has a maximum video bitrate of less than 480Mbps – like the Panasonic GH5, which maxes out at 400Mbps – there’s no real benefit to getting a V90 card (720Mbps) over a V60 card (480Mbps). This is especially true when you take your wallet into account. You can get five ProGrade Gold 512GB V60 cards for the price of just two ProGrade Cobalt 512GB V90 cards. With V60, this means you’ve got two cards in your camera, two ready to swap out when the first pair of cards get full, and a spare sitting in the bag as an emergency backup in case you lose/damage one of your regular cards.
If your camera does have higher bitrate requirements, though, with maximum video bitrates landing somewhere between 480Mbps and 720Mbps – and no CFexpress slots – then you don’t really have much choice. You have to go for the V90 cards. While you might get some V60 cards that can also keep up with V90 speed requirements, there are no guarantees. Buying a V60 card to try and satisfy the needs of a camera that requires a V90 is a gamble. And it’s a gamble you’ll lose more often than you’ll win. You’re only going to get those guaranteed V90 speeds when you buy an actual V90 card.
What about stills?
There is an argument to be made for V90 cards over V60 when it comes to stills. Because you’re often dealing with huge raw files, the faster they can be written out to the card, the better. The quicker they’re saved out, the sooner the buffer’s cleared and you can carry on shooting again. For sports and wildlife shooters, this can be the difference between getting the shot and missing it.
Of course, this is going to vary from camera to camera. Just because one card will let you write out much faster than another does not necessarily mean that the camera can take full advantage of all that extra speed. It’s less common these days, but the SD card slots in the cameras themselves might be speed limited below the maximum capabilities of the cards they support. So, this is something you’ll want to research and determine for yourself whether it’s something your camera will support.
For most people, though, who don’t need super high buffer write-outs and crazy high FPS continuous raw shooting speeds, the V60 card is going to be more than plenty to keep up with your stills needs. But then, if you’re not shooting a whole ton of stills in rapid succession, you probably don’t need cards quite this big anyway. However, the principle also applies to smaller 64GB and 128GB cards, too, as there is still a significant price difference between the two card speeds at those capacities.
Side note: What card reader?
As you can see, there’s virtually no difference between the two card readers when it comes to transferring a single ProGrade UHS-II SD card. The ProGrade PG08 reader performed pretty much the same on a single card transfer, regardless of whether I was going into a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A socket or a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C socket. The ProGrade PGM0.5 reader also offered very similar speeds for both read and write. There might be a handful of megabytes per second difference, but it’s negligible. If you’re only using UHS-II cards, then it doesn’t really matter.
That being said, if you’re only ever going to be copying over one card at a time and you use a mix of UHS-I and UHS-II cards, I’d probably recommend the ProGrade PGM0.5, due to the fact that it supports the full read and write speeds of SanDisk’s proprietary UHS-I protocol. Even if we’re mostly using UHS-II cards, many of us have those SanDisk Extreme Pro 170MB/sec or 200MB/sec cards lying for other devices like audio recorders, action cameras, 360 cameras, drones, or even gadgets like the Raspberry Pi.
If, on the other hand, you’re regularly ingesting a lot of memory cards when you get back to your computer after a shoot, the ProGrade PG08 is going to provide you with a bit of a speed advantage. This is able to transfer two UHS-II SD cards simultaneously at maximum speed without being bottlenecked by the USB connection. This is a more expensive reader than the PGM0.5, though, and does not support the SanDisk protocol.
Ultimately, both ProGrade’s V60 and V90 cards perform very well. As far as read speed goes, they’re both pretty similar – despite the ProGrade Cobalt V90 cards claiming a max read speed 50MB/sec faster than ProGrade Gold V90 cards. To clarify that maximum speed claim, you will definitely hit those 300MB/sec speeds at times, but it’ll also drop down at times, too, hence the overall average being around 240MB/sec. This just makes the V60 card’s average read speed all that more impressive.
When it comes to average write speeds, though, there is a pretty massive difference between the two cards. The Cobalt v90 cards offer about a 50% performance increase over the Gold V60 cards. Above and beyond the V90 specification itself, this means you’re potentially able to write out much faster for clearing your stills buffer to keep on shooting. But, as noted, this is going to be camera-dependent. A faster card doesn’t necessarily mean your camera can hit those speeds.
If you need V90 cards, then you absolutely need to get V90 cards. There’s no other way around it, really, and ProGrade’s Cobalt V90 cards perform extremely well – they’re even on the recommended cards lists for most camera manufacturers. You might get lucky and hit higher bitrates with V60 cards – at least for a short period of time – but there are no guarantees. You might end up buying four or five before you find a V60 card capable of maintaining the speeds required by your camera to write out footage. At this point, it’s less hassle just to get the V90 cards anyway and be guaranteed the speeds.
If all your cameras only require V60 cards, though, there’s really no benefit to paying two and a half times as much for the V90 card. Well, there is one benefit. You are potentially future-proofing for newer cameras as you’ll only need to buy the V90 cards once. You won’t need to buy new SD cards if you upgrade your camera to something that requires faster bitrates than V60 can handle.
In short, if you can justify the cost of the V90 cards and you think you’ll need those speeds in a camera upgrade anytime soon, then go for the V90. But if all your cameras need is V60, and you’re happy with your current cameras, then just get the V60 cards. You’ll save a fortune, and there’ll be pretty much no performance difference between the two for your use case.
The ProGrade Gold 512GB V60 UHS-II is available to buy now for $199, and the ProGrade Cobalt 512GB V90 UHS-II SD card is available to buy now for $499. Both cards are shipping now.
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.