I remember when we used to talk about how flash memory was more complex than standard RAM and thus demanded a price premium. These days, flash memory is often cheaper than DDR memory. Weíve gone from just compact flash and smart media formats to as many formats as there are manufacturers. The only format that has stood the test of time has been compact flash, although it is the bulkiest.
Today we take a quick look at a few compact flash cards and compact flash readers. The sure way to attract enthusiasts is to talk about speed and performance. Cards are often rated at 40x, 80x, or even 133x. Weíll discuss if all this even matters or where it does matter.
I believe that the only time faster flash cards are needed is in digital photography. Rob Galbraith, one of the webís digital photography professionals, has an incredible database on the write performance of many flash cards in different digital cameras. You can definitely see a difference in performance between the different cards, but just as importantly between the cameras. Some equipment cannot take advantage of the extra speed, so you need to know if can get the speed that you paid for. We will not even attempt to do what Rob Galbraith has done, as that database is one of the best, unbiased reviews of memory card performance.
Faster writing to a card will allow your cameraís buffer to clear faster, reducing the time between shots and sometimes increasing your sustained burst shot sequence. If you have a camera that can record videos, you will need one of these higher performance cards to record at the maximum possible performance. Faster read times can also help with previewing images on the camera and with copying files to your hard drive.
Our emphasis in this article will be on the read speeds of these cards. Admittedly, this isnít as glamorous as write speeds but important nevertheless. When you have to wait to copy a flash card to your laptop, you do not have access to the card, the laptop, and you are often too distracted to be taking pictures. For a time sensitive project, where every minute counts, you need to be able to transfer your images to your computer as fast as possible. One recent personal example was when I was trying to offload my 4GB card onto my laptop. It might have been like watching a pot boil, but it seemed to take forever. Thatís when I decided to look into products that could have improved my productivity and made my life a little easier, hopefully without costing a fortune.
In browsing various internet retailers, you will find dozens of card readers wit h different card compatibilities, but there is rarely any mention of performance or speed of these readers. On closer scrutiny of some readers, they are simply USB 2.0 compliant, which means they will work in USB 2.0 ports, but will likely run at USB 1.1 speeds, thatís comparing 480mbs vs 12 mbs. The interesting thing is that the price of many of these card readers is similar, so how are you to decide which is the best, assuming you have a card format that most readers support.
The importance of card reading, we arenít talking about the metaphysical, has not been lost on the professional photography community. Lexar has announced plans to ship a new series of compact flash card readers that will retail for about $100 each, although these were not shipping at the time of this review. It's impossible to compare all the card readers on the market, so on this first go around we'll be looking at a couple that are readily available. We tested 3 USB 2.0 readers and 1 firewire reader on an i875 motherboard running a Pentium 4 2.8ghz in Win XP.
What we will discuss is copying the files back to your computer using a few different card readers, to see if there is any performance difference.