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CompactFlash Performance Database updated  
Monday, March 22, 2004 | by Rob Galbraith

We've published a number of additions to the CompactFlash Performance Database over the past several days, including full results for the Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n and Nikon D70. Also added are performance benchmarks for CompactFlash and Secure Digital cards from Delkin, Microtech (Pexagon), Ridata (Ritek), Sandisk and Viking, as well as a revamped 40X Pro Series card from Lexar. We've also retested several FAT32-capable cameras to see if throughput to larger-than-2GB cards improves if they're reformatted with a cluster size of 32K, instead of the default of 4K for these models. The changes are summarized below:

Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n and Nikon D70

These two new digital SLR models join the 16 cameras already in the CF Database. Tested in both cameras is a broad range of CompactFlash cards with capacities of 512MB and up. In addition, we've tested three SD cards in the SLR/n which, like the DCS Pro 14n that preceded it, has both a CompactFlash and SD slot. We're planning to expand the number of SD cards tested in this camera. In anticipation of that, we've separated the CF and SD results for the SLR/n into separate pages, as you'll see in the drop-down menu inside the CF Database.

Card, cards, cards

Earlier this month, Lexar began shipping a revamped version of its 40X Pro Series CompactFlash cards that contains faster flash memory (though the cards retain the same 40X minimum sustained write speed rating). We've tested a 1GB version of the revamped 40X, which is quicker in every test than the original 40X it replaces. We're waiting on information from Lexar as to how prospective purchasers of the revamped 40X will be able to identify it from the original 40X, and will update this story when we have the details. Lexar is still gearing up to release 80X Pro Series CompactFlash cards in May 2004.

Update, March 26, 2004: Lexar is making a "soft transition" with the 40X: this means that the revamped card's 40X label and packaging at the point of purchase are unchanged. The series number (a long sequence of numbers) on the edge of the card itself is the only identifier that will reveal whether the 256MB, 512MB, 1GB, 2GB or 4GB 40X Pro Series 40X card is an original or revamped version. If the series number ends in C977, it contains the faster memory of the revamped version. Also, the current Lexar rebate on 256MB, 512MB and 1GB 40X cards purchased in the US, which expires March 31, 2004, is applicable to either original or revamped 40X models.

Also new to the CF Database are two cards from Taiwanese manufacturer Ritek, the Ridata 52X/PRO in 1GB and 2GB capacities. Thanks to Matt Dawson of mydigitaldiscount.com for making these cards available to us. Two cards from Pexagon Technology's Microtech X-treme line in 512MB and 1GB capacities have also been added. These CompactFlash cards use Toshiba's single level cell (SLC) technology, which has gotten a lot faster since the last time we tested a Toshiba SLC card.

Rounding out the CF cards making an appearance for the first time is a Viking 512MB. Viking Components twice in the past had promised to ship us their cards to test, but both times failed to do. This is unusual, given the fantastic support for the CF Database we've had from most other makers or vendors. So we opted to purchase a Viking card to see what we were missing. As it turns out, not much, at least not from a performance perspective: the Viking 512MB unit we tested is a Toshiba multi level cell (MLC) card. Toshiba's MLC technology makes for less expensive to manufacture, but fairly slow, CompactFlash cards.

A few of the cameras hadn't yet been updated to include results for Sandisk's Ultra II and Extreme 2GB CF cards. Now, all of the results for cameras we're actively testing (except for the D1X, which will be updated shortly) have data for these two cards.

We've also retested the Lexar Pro Series 4GB 40X WA and Hitachi 4GB Microdrive in some cameras, to compare the throughput when each is formatted FAT32 with a 4K cluster size (the FAT32 default for the models we retested) or a 32K cluster size. For cards whose capacity exceeds 2GB, and therefore require the FAT32 variant of the file system employed on all digital camera storage media, a larger cluster size should translate into more efficient camera-to-card transfers. And it does. The performance bump in some cases is modest, and probably not worth the extra hassle of having to format the card on a Windows computer to make it FAT32 with a 32K cluster size.

For the Canon EOS 10D, however, the write speed bost is considerable, especially given how slow a writer this camera is overall. For example, we measured a 38% increase in throughput when writing JPEGs to the Lexar 4GB 40X when the card was formatted FAT32 with a 32K cluster size instead of a 4K cluster size.

For cameras that support FAT32 and whose built-in formatters utilize a 4K cluster size, we've reported write speed results with both 4K and 32K cluster sizes. These cameras are:

  • Canon EOS Digital Rebel/300D
  • Canon EOS 10D
  • Canon EOS-1Ds
  • Nikon D100

Note: The D100 will reformat a larger-than-2GB card that is already FAT32 with a 32K cluster size as FAT32 with a 32K cluster size, but will not reformat a FAT32 with 4K cluster size card as FAT32 with a 32K cluster size. The Canon models listed above will reformat as FAT32 with a 4K cluster size, regardless of the cluster size before in-camera formatting.

For cameras whose built-in formatters utilize a 32K cluster size when reformatting larger-than-2GB cards FAT32, regardless of the existing cluster size, we've reported only 32K cluster size results. These cameras are:

  • Kodak DCS Pro 14n
  • Kodak DCS Pro SLR/n
  • Nikon D70
  • Nikon D2H

The remainder of cameras in the CF Database are either not FAT32-capable or, in the case of the Pentax *ist D, we're no longer testing.

Note: The above information applies to larger-than-2GB cards only. Formatting a 2GB or smaller card as FAT32 with any cluster size will result in slower throughput to the card.

Since there are now 4 digital SLR cameras shipping or announced that accept SD cards, we've begun the process of benchmarking this tiny card format. We're starting with the DCS Pro SLR/n, and a modest allotment of 3 cards: Delkin eFilm PRO 512MB SD, Sandisk Ultra II 512MB SD and Sandisk Extreme 512MB SD.

Still to come

In the next few weeks we'll be updating the performance data for the Nikon D1X (which malfunctioned mid-test), adding the Canon EOS-1D Mark II to the CF Database (we will be testing both CF and SD) as well as adding the latest cards to the Card-to-Computer section (in addition to switching the card-to-computer testing to a faster computer and faster card reader).

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