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Delkin brings ExpressCard CompactFlash adapter to the Mac  
Monday, September 25, 2006 | by Rob Galbraith

Delkin has announced a CompactFlash-to-ExpressCard adapter that will enable photographers armed with a MacBook Pro to transfer photos via the computer's ExpressCard slot. The Delkin ExpressCard 34 CompactFlash adapter is actually compatible with both Mac and Windows systems, but as the majority of ExpressCard slots in PC notebooks are the 54mm variety, this new product from Delkin is really geared towards Mac users, primarily because it's the first such adapter to fit the MacBook Pro's narrower 34mm slot.

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Views of the Delkin ExpressCard 34: With the 54mm-wide Hagiwara ExpressCard Adapter CF, lower right. Click any photo to enlarge. (Photos by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Getting to know the Delkin ExpressCard 34

The ExpressCard 34 is comprised of a 34mm-wide module that slides inside the slot and a shallow reader assembly (with built-in card activity light) that sits outside the slot. Because CompactFlash cards are wider than 34mm, it's not possible for the card+adapter to slide entirely inside, like Delkin's CardBus 32 CompactFlash adapter for PC Card slots. As you can see in the photos above, the plastic housing the card inserts into is small, but if you're hoping to recreate the magic of the CardBus 32, which sits flush entirely within the slot and can be left in there while the computer is transported, that won't be practical with the ExpressCard 34.

Or any ExpressCard for that matter, since a design goal for ExpressCard was to do away with the slot eject button. This makes it necessary for ExpressCards to protrude from the computer by design, so they can be pulled out again. The reasons to consider the ExpressCard 34, then, are because it's a speedy reader (it's considerably quicker than both the Hagiwara ExpressCard CF adapter and the aforementioned Delkin CardBus 32 adapter) and because it can nicely supplement or even replace the USB 2.0 or FireWire readers you might already own.

Thanks to its support for the speediest data timing protocols of the CompactFlash specification, including PIO up to Mode 6, and UDMA up to Mode 4, the Delkin ExpressCard 34 is a decent performer. It's not the very fastest reader of the numerous ones we've tested for the CF/SD Performance Database, but it's more than quick enough to be seriously considered by the photographer using a MacBook Pro or a non-Apple laptop with an ExpressCard slot. In fact, it's roughly the same in card-to-computer transfer speed to one of today's better USB 2.0 readers. This is no surprise, since the ExpressCard 34 adapter operates in USB 2.0 mode inside the ExpressCard slot.

The ExpressCard 34 we benchmarked for this article was a prototype that should be representative of shipping units. When we have a full production ExpressCard 34 in-house, we'll add it to the CF/SD Performance Database. Until then, we ran the adapter through a smaller gamut of tests, using both Mac and PC laptops and a small collection of CompactFlash cards that cover a range of card controller types. The result of that testing is in the next section.

Performance

The data in the table below was derived by timing how long it took to transfer about 450MB of Canon EOS-1D Mark II N JPEG and RAW CR2 files from the card to the computer.  Each card was secure erased, then formatted in the EOS-1D Mark II N, before the source files were copied over prior to testing. The Mac laptop was a MacBook Pro 17 inch with an Intel Core Duo 2.16GHz processor, 2GB RAM and 120GB hard drive. The PC laptop was a Dell Inspiron 6400 with an Intel Core Duo 2GHz processor, 2GB RAM and an 80GB hard drive.

The card readers are as described in the table; the OnSpec reference board is standing in for an upcoming reader from CompuApps, called the OmniFlash USB 2.0 UDMA 40 UnoCF Reader/Writer. The OnSpec board was included because it's the only USB 2.0 reader we know of that supports up to PIO Mode 6 and up to UDMA 4, making it a good choice for comparison with the Delkin ExpressCard 34 (which is, in effect, a USB 2.0 reader under the hood that also supports PIO up to Mode 6 and UDMA up to Mode 4). The fastest PIO and UDMA data timing mode supported for each card and reader is listed as part of the description in the table.

The results are arranged alphabetically. The fastest card-to-computer transfer rate for each card is in bold.

Card (identifier)/card reader Delkin ExpressCard 34 to MacBook Pro 17 inch (OS X 10.4.7)
PIO: Mode 6
UDMA: Mode 4
SanDisk Extreme CF FireWire 800 to MacBook Pro 17 inch (OS X 10.4.7)
PIO: Mode 6
UDMA: Mode 4
SanDisk Extreme USB 2.0 MacBook Pro 17 inch (OS X 10.4.7)
PIO: Mode 6
UDMA: none
OnSpec ref. board w/xSIL 251 chipset USB 2.0 to MacBook Pro 17 inch (OS X 10.4.7)
PIO: Mode 6
UDMA: Mode 4
Delkin ExpressCard 34 to Dell Inspiron 6400 (Windows XP SP2)
PIO: Mode 6
UDMA: Mode 4
Hagiwara ExpressCard Adapter CF to Dell Inspiron 6400 (Windows XP SP2)
PIO: 4
UDMA: none
SanDisk Extreme USB 2.0 to Dell Inspiron 6400 (Windows XP SP2)
PIO: Mode 6
UDMA: none
Delkin Devices PRO 2GB
PIO: unknown
UDMA: unknown
13.522MB/sec 19.123MB/sec 10.076MB/sec 13.403MB/sec 11.729MB/sec 9.762MB/sec 9.769MB/sec
Hoodman PPO 150X-133X 2GB
PIO: Mode 6
UDMA: none
15.094MB/sec 13.736MB/sec 15.101MB/sec 14.961MB/sec 12.565MB/sec 9.641MB/sec 12.822MB/sec
Lexar Pro Series 133X Write Acceleration 8GB
PIO: Mode 6
UDMA: none
15.098MB/sec 13.746MB/sec 15.112MB/sec 14.966MB/sec 13.607MB/sec --not tested-- 13.067MB/sec
SanDisk Extreme IV 4GB
PIO: Mode 6
UDMA: Mode 4
19.999MB/sec 32.624MB/sec 15.122MB/sec 19.992MB/sec 16.337MB/sec 9.828MB/sec 13.079MB/sec
Transcend 120X 4GB
PIO: Mode 6
UDMA: none
13.342MB/sec 13.648MB/sec 14.628MB/sec 13.294MB/sec 12.768MB/sec 9.762MB/sec 12.925MB/sec

Observations

  • We didn't test the Hagiwara ExpressCard Adapter CF with the MacBook Pro because the two are physically  incompatible. The Hagiwara unit is a 54mm ExpressCard, whereas the MacBook Pro has a 34mm ExpressCard slot.

  • We didn't test the OnSpec reference board with the Dell Inspiron 6400 because we couldn't get the computer to recognize that the board was connected.

  • The Delkin ExpressCard 34 adapter generates performance numbers that closely mimic the OnSpec reference board with the MacBook Pro. The numbers are so close that we wonder - but haven't confirmed - if they both share the same xSil 251 controller inside.

  • If you want the fastest possible card-to-computer transfer rates with SanDisk Extreme IV CompactFlash, the SanDisk Extreme FireWire reader can't be beat at well over 32MB/second. Second fastest, however, are the OnSpec reference board and the Delkin ExpressCard 34, at a still-impressive rate of about 20MB/second. We'll continue using the SanDisk Extreme FireWire as our primary reader, but the performance of the ExpressCard 34 means it definitely warrants consideration as the second reader in a multi-reader laptop setup transferring pictures from Extreme IV cards. And if you're transferring pictures from any card other than Extreme IV (which as of this writing is unique in its support of UDMA 4), then the ExpressCard 34 is roughly comparable in performance to the speediest readers currently available.

  • The card slot of the prototype ExpressCard 34 we tested was slightly too snug, which meant cards didn't slide in as easily or as smoothly as a typical USB or FireWire reader. We hope that shipping units have a card opening that's fractionally larger.

The Delkin ExpressCard 34 is to begin shipping on October 16, 2006 direct from Delkin and to its network of retailers. The manufacturer's suggested list price is US$59.99.

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