This weblog is no longer being maintained. All information here has been ported to EclecticEchoes.com. This site (heupel.com/eclectic) remains only for archival purposes.
The folks at DPReview got their hands on some of the newest high capacity compact flash cards, including 4 GB Lexar and 6 GB Pretec units. They compared them with the latest SanDisk 1 GB CF card and a venerable IBM 1 GB microdrive.
The Pretec 6 GB card is nice and has a definite geek factor, but one you pay for through the teeth–it’s got a $4,500 USD street price. It was not the fastest card in any of the tests, and in one of the write speed tests it was the slowest. Of course Moore’s law will bring this capacity of CF card down in price, but for now…
The Lexar unit is priced much better at $1,300 USD, but it suffers from the worst write performance times on the Canon EOS-10D for both JPEG and RAW formats. It also scored the worst time under Windows XP for writing RAW files. While it only carries a $100 premium over 4 of the SanDisk 1 GB units, the penalty in write speeds (especially for Canon users) is a bit steep.
The SanDisk 1 GB card consistently outperformed all other devices and is priced at a resonable $300 USD street price.
The IBM microdrive, especially with the recent price drops to $200 USD, is highly competitive with these newer entries. It does lag significantly in the Windows XP read times–worst score of all the devices–but it leads the higher capacity cards in the write times for JPEG and RAW on both Windows XP and the Canon. The Olympus E-1, however is obviously not optimized for handling the microdrive. In that test the IBM drive did record the worst write scores, although all the cards’ test scores were higher on the Olympus than on the EOS-10D.
For my money, it’s still the microdrive that I will turn to, although, if the SanDisk unit drops another $50 I would probably switch to it. On the Canon at least, there is not enough of a difference in performance for me to spend an additional $100 per GB for the SanDisk over a microdrive. Unless I was shooting exclusively with an EOS-1Ds, I wouldn’t be tempted by the 4GB cards at all, even for all the geek factor. I like having multiple 1GB cards–less chance of all of everything being lost if a card fails–and the hassel of switching cards in mid shoot is negligible. Even shooting RAW I get ~150 shots per GB, 4x any film cassette, and the reload time is much faster. I have yet to have a single microdrive fail on me, while I have had 2 CF cards fail, so I am also a bit more comfortable with the microdrive reliability. I am also still looking more and more at the option of getting an iPod with the CF adapter to use as a storage vault for road trips, rather than investing in more and more CF cards. I learned my lesson on Jazz cartridges–I still have around two dozen of those that I never use anymore…
What I would buy right now is the Delkin CardBus CF adapter, also reviewed at DPReview. This cardbus compact flash adapter boasts an almost four-fold increase in transfer speeds from compact flash devices (including all those above) to a notebook. Sweet! Right now it takes 15 to 20 minutes to dump a full microdrive to my notebook using the PCMCIA adapter from IBM. I have thought about getting a Firewire reader, which would improve those numbers considerably (generally 2x–3x the performance of PCMCIA), but have instead adjusted my general process such that I start the download, then go and fix a cup of coffee, or a snack and come back. There have been a few times however when the download time has been quite inconvenient. From the information on DPReview I should see transfer times of around 4 minutes for a full microdrive. Now that’s a performance increase well worth my money.