What is a PDQ machine and how does it work?

A PDQ machine is just another name for a card machine - find out out everything you need to know about how they work, how much they cost, and where you can buy them

A PDQ (process data quickly) machine is a device used by a merchant that, as the name suggests, quickly processes and approves card transactions.

So what’s the difference between a PDQ and a card payment machine? There isn’t one. PDQ, card machine, chip-and-pin machine – they’re all different names for the same thing – a device that allows you, the merchant, to take card payments from your customer.

But what are the different types of PDQ machine? How does a PDQ machine work? How much does it cost? And where can you buy one?

This page will help you get to the bottom of card payment machines and get you ready to start taking card payments today.

How does a PDQ machine work?

Once a customer has tapped the machine, or inserted their card into the slot and entered their PIN, the machine authorises the payment (provided there are sufficient funds in the customer’s account), and sends the payment to your merchant account.

Once the payment is received from the card-issuing bank, the funds will be transferred to your business bank account.

Types of PDQ machine

There are three types of PDQ machine:

  • Countertop – a fixed terminal at the till in a store. Great for shops
  • Portable – a unit that’s still tethered to a location but operates using wifi, so can be
  • Mobile – a small, portable device that uses mobile data to take card payments on the go

Which type of PDQ machine should I use?

Different types of PDQ machines suit different types of businesses. Though your business may have a variety of card machines in order to have a more comprehensive payments setup.


Countertop card payment devices are connected to a base station at a fixed payment point in your store. They rely on your broadband router and mains electricity to work.

Who should use it?

Any business with a fixed point of payment or sales counter, such as a shop or salon.


· Reliable point of sale that does not need to be charged

· Usually gives you access to the most competitive transaction fees


· No mobility whatsoever, even within your premises

· Clunky, old-fashioned devices


Portable card payment machines have a docking station, but are powered by a battery, enabling you to carry them around and take payments from anywhere within your business premises.

Who should use it?

Perfect for a restaurant or cafe, allowing your staff to take tableside payments


· Far more mobility than a countertop card machine

· More modern, sleek designs


· Needs to be charged

· Can fail if Wi-Fi signal is poor


Mobile card payment machines are the newest breed of devices, relying on mobile data to allow you to take card payments from anywhere, whether you’re in the middle of a field or on a busy street. They’re typically small and compact, and charge flat rate transaction fees without tying you into a contract.

They can be paired with a mobile receipt printer and enhanced with docking stations for a more complete payment point setup, but generally send receipts by email.

Who should use it?

Pop up shops, street food vendors, market traders, and any business on the move


· Gives you absolute flexibility to take payments from wherever you are

· Sleek and compact designs are both practical and aesthetically pleasing for a small business that wants to project a modern image


· Can be unreliable if you’re in a place with poor mobile signal, leaving you unable to take card payments

· Usually only available with a flat rate transaction fee

PDQ machine costs

PDQ machines are available to rent or buy from any major payment processing or merchant services provider.

Depending on type, the devices themselves can cost anything from £15 to upwards of £150. Though with countertop and portable devices, it’s most common to rent them for between £15 to £25 a month.

While we’ll be looking at devices, it’s important to understand that PDQ device costs don’t exist in a vacuum. If you’re buying a device from a particular card machine company, you’ll also be using their payment processing services – it’s all one package. That means being subjected to any monthly fees and transaction costs.

These ongoing costs vary from provider to provider, so it’s worth hunting around for a fee structure and pricing model that works for your business.

Let’s compare the costs of some popular PDQ machines.


Ingenico Desk/5000

Type: Countertop

Device cost: £15 per month

Transaction fee: from 0.99%

Monthly fees: Dependent on contract


· 320g

· 3.5” colour touch screen

· 3G, WiFi and/or Bluetooth

The Ingenico Desk/5000 is one of the latest countertop card readers on the market. This high spec machine accepts all payment types, and comes fully kitted out with a suite of apps that are easy to manage from its 3.5” colour touch screen. It’s great for hotels, restaurants, cafes, and retail. Available through Evalon. You’ll need to create an account and submit an application before you’re approved for the machine.

tyl logo

Tyl (by NatWest) Clover Flex

Type: Portable

Device cost: £15.99 + VAT per month

Transaction fee: 0.2%-3.5% + 20p-40p dependent on sales volume

Monthly fees: None


· Weighs 453g

· 5” touchscreen

· 12-month contract

The Clover Flex is a portable PDQ machine with an enormous 5” touchscreen that gives you access to a variety of useful apps. That does make it heavy compared to other portable machines, but it packs a lot into its size, essentially acting as an all-in-one POS system for your business. You can access transaction fees as low as 0.2%, but you will be tied into a four-year contract.


SumUp Air

Type: Mobile

Device cost: £29 excl. VAT

Transaction fee: 1.69%

Monthly fees: None


· 142g

· 500 transactions on a single charge

· Email and SMS receipts

This compact, lightweight mobile card reader is ideal for businesses on the move and has one of the best battery lives of any comparable mobile PDQ machine. It’s yours for a one off cost of £29, and doesn’t require you to sign a contract or pay any ongoing fees. To set it up, just pair the device with your smartphone.

Buying a PDQ machine

Once you’ve decided which type of PDQ machine best matches your business needs, you’re ready to make a purchase.

With the likes of SumUp or Square, it’s as easy as visiting their website and buying it outright – you can receive your PDQ machine in the post and be ready to go within minutes.

With larger payment processing companies, and countertop or portable devices, you often need to speak to a sales rep to agree on payment terms and establish a contract. These devices can also be more complicated to set up and you’ll be renting rather than buying.

If you’re still unsure, why not use our comparison tool? It’s quick, free and easy. Just answer a few simple questions to receive quotes today.

See also: 10 card payment machines ideal for a small business

Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor of Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and cyber...

Related Topics

Card Payments