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Lexar commences updating of CompactFlash card firmware  
Wednesday, January 31, 2001 | by
Lexar Media has announced the details of their firmware update plan aimed at users of D1-toting Lexar Media CompactFlash card owners. The new firmware, being dubbed by Lexar as a preview release of firmware for the D1, has been tested with most card readers, pro and amateur digital cameras as well as other consumer products such as MP3 audio players. The company is set to begin loading the new firmware into affected cards now.

Lexar's engineers have found that while it's compatible with virtually all devices in their test lab, their testing has revealed that this version of firmware may be incompatible with certain, unspecified consumer products. Lexar CEO John Reimer, however, asserts that the company does not expect pros to have any problems in the range of CompactFlash-capable devices they might have access to. Lexar is currently evaluating a process by which their cards could routinely be optimized for certain pro digital models through user-uploadable firmware updates, and intends to reveal more about this at the PMA trade show next month. The company may also tweak the D1 firmware release further, perhaps to stomp out the remaining incompatibilities mentioned above; look for the company to say more on that too at PMA.

What does the new card firmware for D1 users offer?

The new card firmware shortens the D1's wake-from-sleep time when higher-capacity Lexar Media cards are used in the camera. Current Lexar Media cards, including the 160MB 10x and 320MB 12x, tack on additional 6/10ths of a second delay to the D1's own wake-from-sleep time of 1/3 to 1/2 second. Lexar's firmware update changes the order in which its cards run through there own startup routine, which has the effect of virtually eliminating the up to 6/10ths of a second delay in the D1. This leaves only the 1/3 to 1/2 second delay of the D1 for quick-snapping photographers to contend with, and brings the camera's wake-from-sleep time with Lexar Media cards inserted into line with other brands of CompactFlash cards, including certain Sandisk models. Users of Lexar cards with capacities of 128MB and higher, regardless of the speed rating (8x, 12x, etc.) should expect to notice a difference in the D1's wake-from-sleep time as a result of the firmware change. Capacities lower than 128MB will see a marginal, and perhaps undetectable, change, though Lexar has promised to upgrade the cards of any D1 user that wants it, regardless of card capacity.

The new firmware, which will be of benefit to D1 shooters who routinely grab their sleeping D1 to shoot a picture quickly, is not currently user-installable. As a result, Lexar technical staff will be performing the firmware update for Lexar Media card owners. There is no cost for the update itself. The Silicon Valley-area company shipped to me a new-firmware 320 12x card late last week. I'm pleased to report that the card offers the same write speed, read speed and card reader compatibility as the two older firmware 320MB 12x cards in my bag, but it does so without a startup delay in the D1. It has also functioned normally in a Kodak DCS 520, Canon EOS D30 and Nikon Coolpix 990.

Getting updated

Lexar Media expects that most D1 shooters wishing to avail themselves of the new firmware will send their cards to the company's Fremont, California facility for updating. This is true for Canada, the US and overseas Lexar card owners. The cost of shipping to Lexar is to be borne by the sender; Lexar will pay to ship updated cards back, and will perform the new firmware install free of charge. Large organizations, or organizations who are unable to part with most or all of their Lexar Media CompactFlash cards at one time, should discuss other options with Lexar directly. Whether you have 1 card or 250, the update process kicks off with a phone call to Lexar Media tech support at +1 510-413-1275. Lexar is currently planning to mark or stamp in some fashion any cards that they update, to differentiate them from non-updated cards in a photographer's kit.

For more information on the firmware e update and the problem it's designed to solve, see:

If you don't shoot with the D1, you don't need the new firmware

If you don't shoot with the D1, the firmware update will not change the performance of your camera when Lexar Media cards are inserted. That is, unless your camera shuts off power to the card slot when it goes to sleep, and the length of time the camera stays awake when idle is short (as it is with the D1). The D1 shuts off power to the card slot when it goes to sleep, and it does so after no more than 16 seconds of inactivity. Therefore, D1 users will routinely be pulling their camera out of sleep mode to make pictures.

Other pro cameras, including most if not all cameras in Kodak's DCS series, as well as the Canon EOS D2000 and the Canon EOS D30, appear to keep the card slot powered up until they automatically power down after a specified period of inactivity. Which, fortunately, can be all but avoided by setting the camera's automatic power-saving timer to keep the camera always powered up, or set to kick in after a very long period of inactivity.


Canon EOS D30's Auto power off setting

This is particularly important with the D30, because regardless of the card inserted, the camera's power up time is several seconds. Therefore, it's important to set the D30's Auto power off time to either Off, or a long duration like 30 minutes (above), to ensure the camera is ready to fire after a period of inactivity. Certain Kodak DCS models include a Power Save mode; if a DCS camera enters Power Save mode, it also takes a couple of seconds or more to reactivate, regardless of card. The Power Save time can be adjusted under the Properties menu of most Kodak DCS cameras.

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