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Card Swapping: Plug & Pray

Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter
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One drawback of the Addonics device is that only the very latest SATA controllers and chipsets support the hot swap function. These include latest generation models from Intel (with ICH7 Southbridge) and the nForce4 from NVIDIA.

This affects how you can use the cards; without hot swap, the system has to be restarted before it detects the CF card and makes it accessible under Windows. If you suddenly switch CF media under Windows and your controller doesn't support hot swapping, you won't be able to access the CF card (regardless of its type). In fact, calling up the Properties menu in the Device Manager caused our entire Windows system to crash. So for older PCs, the SATA CF adapter cannot replace a USB card reader at all.

Operating System On Compact Flash?

Although most modern systems generally have no problem starting up an operating system from a USB device - the only requirement is that the computer's BIOS support booting from USB - the USB port is not our first choice when it comes to installing systems.

We tend to be of the same opinion when it comes to CF cards, since their storage capacity and performance are simply not comparable to those offered by today's hard drives. On average, we're talking about a maximum of 20 MB/s for the fastest flash cards for 2.5" drives, and 70 MB/s in 3.5" format.

So does that mean it's checkmate in terms of performance? The answer is: not entirely. For one thing, that speed is sufficient for many applications; for another, access times for flash memory are incredibly fast compared with those of magnetic storage devices, and the gap continues to widen.

While CF memory devices are now available with capacities of up to 8 GB and remain quite pricey, bigger models are on the horizon, which will drive down prices further. The Hitachi 6 GB MicroDrive can be had for far less, and if you can manage with 4 GB, you can come away without emptying your wallet. Even better, you will more likely than not also be able to install a scaled-down version of Windows. Certainly, for a Linux system, 4 GB is more than adequate.

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