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Review: Lexar 1000X blazes to 129MB/s read speed, best-in-class write speeds  
Tuesday, January 24, 2012 | by Rob Galbraith
Slated to begin shipping next month, Lexar Professional 1000X 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB CompactFlash cards will, based on our testing of the 32GB capacity, deliver class-leading in-camera write speeds with newer Canon and Nikon digital SLRs, as well as card-to-computer transfer rates topping out at over 129MB/s, which is far faster than any other memory card we've ever tested.

X-Rated: The Lexar Professional 1000X 32GB CompactFlash card. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Lexar 1000X in the camera

The table below shows how the Lexar Professional 1000X 32GB stacks up against some of the fastest CompactFlash cards on the market today, including other speedy 32GB capacities. Test cameras were the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV and Nikon D3S, the two companies' highest-performing digital SLRs, at least until the EOS-1D X and D4 ship later this quarter.

The megabytes-per-second (MB/s) figures in the table below were derived by timing how long it took to write an extended burst of JPEG and then RAW photos to the CompactFlash card. Timing commenced when the camera's card status light illuminated, and stopped when the light went out. Each test cycle was performed three times. The fastest card in each camera is marked in bold.

1000x_camera_table.jpg

As you can see, the 1000X 32GB card is the quickest, by a comfortable margin, in both Canon and Nikon. This translates to the shortest shooting pause when the camera's memory buffer fills up, though ample RAM in both of these top-end models means you're not likely to bump into the buffer limit very often, even if you shoot lots of extended bursts.

We've also put the 1000X 32GB into the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 7D, as well as the Nikon D3X and D700, and Lexar's new card comes out on top in these cameras too. Its lead over other cards varies from camera to camera, and whether JPEG or RAW files are being captured, but the outcome is always the same: the Lexar 1000X 32GB eclipses everything.

It's a safe bet that the 1000X card will be quickest in the EOS 50D too, since the relative performance of memory cards in this camera usually tracks closely with the Canons we did test. The speed story will be similar for all Nikon digital SLRs with CompactFlash slots that have been introduced since the second half of 2007, including the D3 and D300S. Expect the 1000X 32GB (and probably other 1000X capacities) to be fastest in all these models.

That said, it's the next generation of Canon and Nikon digital SLRs that are positioned to take best advantage of the potential of Lexar's new card series, because they will have been designed from the outset for rapid writing using UDMA Mode 7, the fastest data timing protocol in the current CompactFlash specification.

To move data to or from a Lexar 1000X at the card's top speed, the host camera or card reader must be conversant with UDMA 7 as well. The D4 will be the first UDMA 7-capable Nikon camera, and while Canon's 1D Mark IV, 5D Mark II, 7D and 50D officially support it already (a firmware update is required), the support seems to have been limited to solving a slow-writing bug rather than capitalizing on UDMA 7's speed potential.

UDMA 7 support in the upcoming EOS-1D X, by comparison, is likely to be all about maximizing throughput. We were privy recently to an informal write speed test of the camera and a Lexar 1000X 128GB; based on how the card kept pace with the high-frame-rate EOS-1D X, even as it was fired continuously at full resolution, there's reason to think that Canon's new flagship is going to soak up all the speed a performance-focused UDMA 7 card like Lexar's 1000X can give.

The same will probably be true of the D4, since as mentioned the camera is also built for UDMA 7. Subsequent new digital SLRs from each company, ones that accept CompactFlash, should also take better advantage of UDMA 7 speed than current models.

Note: If your camera is a 1D Mark IV, 7D, 5D Mark II or 50D, update its firmware to the latest available to avoid a slow write speed quirk with these models and UDMA 7 cards, including Lexar's 1000X series.

Card-to-computer transfers

If you have to get pictures out quickly on deadline, or you're simply frustrated with the amount of times it takes to import many gigabytes worth of pictures to your Mac or PC, our testing indicates that Lexar's 1000X CompactFlash can accelerate the transfer process tremendously, assuming that the card reader and the destination hard drive or SSD can match the card's fast flow of data.

The table below was derived from benchmarking the card-to-computer transfer speed for the cards listed, with the following four readers:
For the USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and FireWire 800 tests, the computer was an Apple Mac Pro 2.66GHz/12-core with 16GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.7.2. For the remaining test, Lexar's ExpressCard CompactFlash Reader was inserted into a Sonnet Echo ExpressCard/34-to-Thunderbolt Adapter, which in turn was connected to the Thunderbolt port of an Apple iMac 21.5-inch 2.5GHz/quad-core with 8GB of RAM and Mac OS X 10.7.2 installed.

Intech's QuickBench for Mac provided the read speeds (we like this software because, unlike many such applications, the results it generates closely match actual card-to-computer transfer rates achievable with the Mac Finder). The fastest card in each reader is marked in bold.

1000x_reader_table.jpg

The cards tested are among the fastest available right now. As the numbers show, the Lexar Professional 1000X 32GB is well out in front of all of them in the two fastest reader types, USB 3.0 and ExpressCard/34. The results also illustrate how much USB 2.0 constrains card-to-computer throughput. The only odd result is the 1000X 32GB's trailing performance in the FireWire 800 test, though achieving 68.7MB/s in this reader type is still respectable.

The table also shows why USB 3.0 is something to pay attention to. In the USB 3.0 reader, the 129.2MB/s Lexar 1000X 32GB leads the next-fastest 32GB card - the 90.7MB/s SanDisk Extreme Pro - by 38.5MB/s, and the SanDisk card was already no slouch in the speed department, obviously.

At these transfer rates, 32GB worth of JPEG and RAW files would require about six minutes to copy from the SanDisk Extreme Pro, which is fast. But, that time drops noticeably, to under four-and-a-half minutes, at the blazingly-quick offload speeds offered by the Lexar 1000X.

By comparison, this transfer operation would stretch out to about 15 minutes with any of the faster CompactFlash cards and a USB 2.0 reader.

If you want or need to move pictures into your computer rapidly, the new Lexar 1000X CompactFlash and Lexar's USB 3.0 Dual-Slot Reader are a particularly potent combo. The pairing of this reader and the Lexar 1000X 32GB deliver the fastest memory card read speeds we've ever seen, by far.

Notes and observations
  • The Lexar USB 3.0 Dual-Slot Reader we tested is not yet publicly available. Well, that's not quite true, as this reader model has been around since May of last year. The version of it used in our testing, however, contains the identical hardware as before, but revised firmware. The change? It has been tuned for optimal performance with UDMA 7 CompactFlash cards including, of course, Lexar's 1000X series.

    In March, Lexar's retailers will begin stocking this reader with the new firmware loaded. The reader packaging will be badged with a UDMA 7 graphic, so you'll know that it has the UDMA 7-ready firmware already inside.

    Lexar will also release a free utility for Mac and Windows that will enable the same new firmware to be injected into existing USB 3.0 Dual-Slot Readers. The utility is projected to come available on Lexar's website at about the time the 1000X cards land on store shelves. More on the 1000X rollout dates is coming a bit further down the page.

  • Caldigit and Lexar have been working cooperatively to ensure that the USB 3.0 Dual-Slot Reader with UDMA 7 firmware can be connected to and work reliably with Caldigit's USB 3.0 PCIe Card inside a Mac Pro. Both the reader's firmware, and the driver for the Caldigit add-in card, have been modified for more stable operation when the two are linked together. The revised driver, v1.3.4, was posted to Caldigit's support pages earlier today. This is the official release of the driver we've been using in beta form for some time, including for the USB 3.0 testing in this article.

  • We have tried the 1000X 32GB card and USB 3.0 Dual-Slot Reader with UDMA 7 firmware in Windows, though only briefly. It worked well and speeds were fast. Which is good, since Windows is what you'll find on the vast majority of USB 3.0-equipped or USB 3.0-capable computers shipping these days.

  • The announcement of the 1000X series earlier this month included the promise of a "minimum guaranteed sustained read speed of 150MB per second," said a Lexar press release, which might leave you wondering why we saw 'only' 129.2MB/s in our own read speed measurements. The answer lies in how Lexar determines the speeds that form the basis for a card's speed rating and related claims, such as the sustained read speed figure just mentioned.

    First, the testing is done using a purpose-built device from Testmetrix. It determines the card's raw speed without factoring in the overhead and bottlenecks that come into play when transferring an actual file from a memory card to a computer.

    Second, Lexar (and all other storage product vendors) calculate a megabyte as being 1,000,000 bytes, whereas your digital camera, the Windows OS and most software that you use to interact with files on either Windows or Mac assume that a megabyte is 1,048,576 bytes. Crazy, but true.

    We opted some time ago to standardize on the latter value, which means our 129.2MB/s would translate to 135.5MB/s if we were to express the same transfer rate using the storage industry's bytes-per-megabyte value instead. So, given all of that, the best real-life read speeds we've extracted from the 1000X 32GB card are actually impressively close to Lexar's 150MB/s read speed specification.

  • Jeff Cable, Lexar's Director of Marketing, never lets a discussion about memory card performance go on for too long before he reminds that speed is only one part of his company's focus. While Lexar set out to make a much-quicker CompactFlash card when they were developing what has become the new 1000X series, he emphasizes that Lexar is intent on providing durable, glitch-free cards as well. To that end, Cable touts the Lexar Quality Labs, a set of company test facilities in which a staff of over a dozen people put new Lexar cards, including all capacities of 1000X, through extensive camera and reader compatibility checks.
Conclusion

If your photography requires the fastest possible in-camera write speeds, or your workflow is bogged down by slow card-to-computer transfers, Lexar has developed a powerful antidote in the form of the new Professional 1000X CompactFlash series. Our testing of the 32GB capacity shows unparalleled levels of performance in all cameras and almost all readers we've tried thus far, while the next generation of digital SLRs from Canon and Nikon, starting with the EOS-1D X and D4, are poised to take even better advantage of the 1000X's speed potential.

The 16GB, 32GB and 64GB capacities of Lexar's new series are scheduled to begin arriving in stores worldwide in the latter half of February, while the 128GB will follow about two weeks later, which means it should start to appear at retailers in early March.

All 1000X cards include Image Rescue 4 photo recovery software for Mac and Windows as well as access to pro-level tech support. U.S. manufacturer's suggested retail prices are US$169.99 for the 16GB, US$299.99 for the 32GB, US$529.99 for the 64GB and US$899.99 for the 128GB.

Going forward, Lexar's CompactFlash lineup will be comprised of Platinum II 200X, Professional 400X and Professional 1000X; the Professional 600X series is gradually being phased out.
Related articles  
Related coverage of this topic includes:
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 7D used in filming of The Avengers (May 10, 2012)
  • Firmware update for Nikon 1 J1, V1 corrects slow motion video bug (May 8, 2012)
  • Canon posts Wireless File Transmitter setup guides (May 8, 2012)
  • LensRentals.com: Canon opts for low-tech but effective solution to EOS 5D Mark III metering error (May 2, 2012)
  • Comparing detail and moire in the Nikon D800 and D800E (April 30, 2012)
  • Nikon issues recall of some EN-EL15 batteries (updated) (April 24, 2012)
  • Nikon Capture NX2 updated to v2.3.2 (April 24, 2012)
  • Nikon D3200 support added to NEF Codec for Windows (April 24, 2012)
  • Canon updates EOS 5D Mark III metering error advisory (April 24, 2012)
  • Canon posts firmware v1.1.2 for Canon EOS 5D Mark III (April 24, 2012)
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