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Unraveling the Lexar "9D66" mystery  
Thursday, September 16, 2004 | by Rob Galbraith

For the past several weeks, the word around the Web has been that Lexar had already begun to ship the 80X second edition CompactFlash cards we wrote about at the end of July 2004, despite the fact that John Omvik, Lexar's Director of Pro Product Marketing and our primary contact at the company, was emphatic that 80X cards currently being shipped to retailers or sent out as replacements by tech support were still 80X first edition units.

In fact, Lexar's message to us about the status of 80X second edition cards has been consistent since early September 2004: they're not shipping yet, they will be shipping soon and they'll make their debut dressed up in redesigned packaging that shows off the company's new logo.

And yet, there was mounting evidence that this might not be true. First and foremost, some of Lexar's tech support representatives have been informing customers that the 80X second edition cards are in fact released, and have even been providing those who ask with the four digit code to look out for on the card's trailing edge. If that string of numbers and letters ends in 9D66 (as shown below), it's an 80X second edition card. Or so the story goes.

lexar_9d66.jpg
On top is a Lexar 1GB 80X CompactFlash card that was purchased on September 12, 2004, and whose edge stamp ends in 9D66; the card below it is a Lexar 1GB 80X CompactFlash card from early July 2004, and whose edge stamp ends in 9FFA

This is in fact the information we were given when we contacted Lexar's web-based tech support earlier this week. And it's consistent with what Lexar card owners have been claiming they were told, by either a Lexar tech support representative or by their retailer, in both posts we've read on various Internet forums and in emails sent to us directly.

So, we thought it was time to lay our hands on some 9D66-coded cards and see for ourselves what's what. We compared the performance of the following Lexar cards:

  • 1GB 80X first edition (four digit code: 9FFA; early July 2004 vintage)
  • 512MB 80X second edition (engineering sample, no four digit code)
  • 1GB 80X second edition (engineering sample, no four digit code)
  • 2GB 80X second edition (engineering sample, no four digit code)
  • 1GB 80X (four digit code: 9D66; obtained on Sept. 9, 2004 from Calumet Photo in Chicago)
  • 1GB 80X (four digit code: 9D66; obtained on Sept. 12, 2004 from B&H in New York)
  • 512MB 80X (four digit code: 9D66; obtained on Sept. 15, 2004 from The Camera Store in Calgary) 
  • 1GB 80X (four digit code: 9D66; obtained on Sept. 15, 2004 from The Camera Store in Calgary)
  • 2GB 80X (four digit code: 9D66; obtained on Sept. 15, 2004 from The Camera Store in Calgary)
  • 2GB 80X (four digit code: 9D66; submitted to us by a photographer who purchased the card the third week of August, 2004, from Adorama in New York)

We ran a subset of the tests we perform when adding a new card to the CompactFlash Performance Database. Card-to-computer transfer speed was checked, as was JPEG and RAW write speed in the Nikon D2H, Nikon D70 and EOS-1D Mark II. We also ran each card through a session in HDBench, a benchmarking application for Windows.

The result? All of the cards whose four digit code ends in 9D66 are obviously 80X first edition cards. Their performance in all tests was within a few percentage points of our 80X first edition reference card, and considerably slower than our 80X second edition engineering sample cards in the same tests in which our reference 80X first edition card is also considerably slower.

We don't know what has changed in Lexar 80X CompactFlash cards over the summer to warrant a switch to 9D66 from 9FFA in the edge stamp, but it would appear that the change doesn't affect performance. Nor can we explain why Lexar tech support has been giving out apparent misinformation about the shipping status of 80X second edition CompactFlash cards. But we can say, unequivocally, that the gaggle of 9D66-coded cards we've tested this week are 80X first edition.

Therefore, it also seems likely that the real arrival of 80X second edition models will be as Lexar's John Omvik has indicated: in new packaging that features Lexar's retooled logo, with shipping to occur sometime in the near future.

Thanks to Peter Jeune, Julian Ferreira and Ryan Mindemann for their assistance with the preparation of this article.

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