Troubleshooting Memory Card Readers

troubleshooting memory card readers
Getty Images / Claire Cordier

You may experience problems with your external memory card reader from time to time that don't result in any easy-to-follow clues as to the problem. Fixing such problems can be a little tricky. Use these tips to give yourself a better chance of troubleshooting memory card readers.

Computer cannot find or recognize external card reader

First, make sure the memory card reader is compatible with your computing system.

Older readers might not work with newer operating systems, for example. Second, make sure the USB cable you’re using for the connection isn’t broken. Next, try a different USB connection slot on the PC, as the reader might not be drawing enough power from the connection slot you used originally. You also might need to download the latest software and drivers from the memory card reader manufacturer’s Web site.

Reader doesn’t recognize SDHC cards

Some older memory card readers won’t be able to recognize the SDHC memory card format, which allows for SD-type memory cards to store 4 GB or more of data. Memory card readers that can read SD-type cards of 2 GB or less -- but that cannot read cards of 4 GB or more -- probably are not SDHC compatible. Some memory card readers might be able to recognize the SDHC format with a firmware upgrade; otherwise, you’ll have to purchase a new reader.

The external memory card reader doesn’t seem to be moving data as fast as it should

It’s possible that you have a reader designed for use with USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 that is connected to a USB 1.1 slot.

USB 1.1 slots are backward compatible with USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 devices, but they cannot read the data as fast as a USB 2.0 or a USB 3.0 slot. USB 1.1 slots cannot be upgraded with firmware, either, so you’ll have to find a USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 slot to achieve faster data transfer speeds.

My memory card won’t fit into the reader

If you have multiple memory card slots in the reader, make sure the slot you’re using matches your memory card.

Also, make sure you’re inserting the memory card correctly; with most readers, the label should be facing upward as you insert the card. Finally, it’s also possible that the reader isn’t compatible with your type of card.

My memory card doesn’t seem to work after I used it in the reader

First, make sure the reader didn’t leave any grime on the memory card’s metal connectors that could affect the card’s performance. Also, make sure the connectors aren’t scratched or damaged. Finally, it’s possible the memory card has been corrupted. If you unplugged the memory card reader while the memory card was being read, causing a loss of electrical power to the card, it’s possible the card is corrupted. You should be able to fix the problem by formatting the card, which (unfortunately) will cause all of the data on the card to be erased.

No power to the memory card reader

If you're using an external memory card reader with your computer, it will need power through the USB connection. It's possible that some USB ports on your computer don't carry enough of an electrical current to power the memory card reader, so the reader won't work. Try a different USB port on the computer to find one that can provide the proper level of power.

Check the cabling

Another potential reason your memory card reader could be failing is because the USB cable you're using to connect the reader to the computer could have some interior damage, causing it to be unable to work. Try replacing the cable with other unit to see if the old cable is causing the problem with the memory card reader.