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SanDisk Ultra CompactFlash gets speedy  
Tuesday, July 15, 2003 | by Rob Galbraith

The packaging may look the same, but SanDisk's revamped Ultra line of CompactFlash cards bears little resemblance to the Ultra models the company has been shipping since the fall of 2001. In fact, for the first time since we began tracking camera storage media performance back in 1997, a SanDisk card sits at or near the top of the write speed standings for several different digital SLR models.

SanDisk's revved Ultra CompactFlash lineup consists of 256MB, 512MB and 1GB capacities, all Type I-size. The CompactFlash Performance Database provides benchmark information for the 512MB and 1GB cards in 9 different digital SLR cameras. As you'll see, the new Ultra cards fare particularly well in Canon cameras and the Fuji S2 Pro; support of Lexar's Write Acceleration technology by Nikon and Kodak means that Lexar's current crop of CompactFlash cards remain the quickest in later model digital SLR's from both companies.

The new Ultra CompactFlash cards, which SanDisk quietly began shipping several weeks ago, move firmly to the head of the class in card-to-computer transfer rates. Of the 40 cards whose read speed we've tested in the database, the new Ultra cards are the fastest, and by a significant margin. Previously, Delkin's PRO 256MB card delivered photos to the computer the quickest, at 6084K/second. Both the Ultra 512MB and 1GB cards streak past the sprightly Delkin, checking in at 7688K/second and 7956K/second, respectively. If you have a fast FireWire or USB 2.0 card reader, the new Ultras will enable your photos to be transferred to the computer much faster than any card we've ever tested (especially on the Windows platform).

Unfortunately, SanDisk has opted not to change the card's label, the packaging it ships in or even its internal name, which makes it tough to determine whether it's an original or new Ultra series CompactFlash card that you're staring at on the accessories wall at your favourite pro photo retailer. Here are some suggestions:

  • Purchase only the Ultra 1GB. SanDisk never shipped an original-design 1GB Ultra card, so an Ultra of this capacity is only the new, faster version.

  • Look at the copyright date. Ultra series cards, original and new, have a copyright notice on the rear label of the card (not the packaging). If it says 01 SanDisk or 02 SanDisk, it's an original Ultra. If it says 03 SanDisk it could be either an original or new Ultra, so identifying the card by this method is only useful if it has a copyright date earlier than 2003. UPDATE: We've heard from several readers who've located 1GB Ultra cards, which can only be the new, faster version, that apparently also have a copyright date earlier than 2003 on the rear label of the card. We're not sure if this is a labeling error. Regardless, it leaves us concerned that the copyright date on the rear label of the card is not a useful indicator of what's inside the Ultra card.

SanDisk's web site has not been updated with information on the new Ultra series. The company has also not said when their Extreme line of CompactFlash cards, which were announced along with the new Ultras at PMA 2003 earlier this year, will begin to ship.

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