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Memory Cards, Part 1: CompactFlash From 8GB To 64GB

Memory Cards, Part 1: CompactFlash From 8GB To 64GB

Professionals rely on high-speed CompactFlash cards. Today we're looking at a handful of different options from Lexar, Samsung, SanDisk, Silicon Power, and Transcend with capacities up to 64GB and speeds up to 600x (as high as 90 MB/s)

Professional equipment like digital SLR cameras require professional storage products. While CompactFlash capacities will soon reach 128GB, the fastest models tend not to be the largest. When we requested some of the fastest CF cards for review, what we received were mostly 16GB models (admittedly still fairly roomy). We benchmarked them to find out how these downsized speetsters stack up.

The speed ratings for memory cards are derived from the speed basis used with audio CDs: 150 KB/s. This is referred to as single or 1X speed, and memory cards, along with other storage products, use a multiple to characterize performance. The latest generation of high-performance CompactFlash cards reach 600x performance, representing 90 MB/s. A few products claim 667x (100 MB/s), but these aren’t widely available yet.

CompactFlash comes in two physical formats, Type I and Type II. Type II allows cards to have a thickness of up to 5 mm, while Type I is limited to 3.3 mm. Practically all CF memory cards are Type I. While type alone doesn’t have an impact on performance, future revisions of the CF standard (beyond version 4.1) are expected to be based on a serial interface, whereas all existing CF products come with an integrated UltraDMA interface. UltraDMA/133 was introduced with CF standard 4.0 and paved the way for today’s performance. The move to serial should allow for even greater results.

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  • 5 Hide
    anamaniac , April 16, 2010 8:13 AM
    I am rather impressed that these little chips have this much throughput.
    Just a request, but, how about comparing a average SD, microSD, SDD and HDD just for a reference point?
  • 1 Hide
    otheos , April 16, 2010 10:33 AM
    What kind of CF reader did you use for these benchmarks?
  • 7 Hide
    ubergeek , April 16, 2010 11:25 AM
    Windows Vista? Haven't you heard Windows 7 is out?
  • -1 Hide
    awaken688 , April 16, 2010 12:01 PM
    Lexar seems to be the overall winner for sure. I'd definitely be buying that. I'm currently a SanDisk using for my pro work, but Lexar sure looks good in this category. Congrats to Transcend for putting up a good showing. They provide great value. Good article. As anamaniac pointed out, what device did you use for the reader?
  • -1 Hide
    cadder , April 16, 2010 2:43 PM
    The only speed metric that really matters is when the card is in the camera and the camera is writing sequentially to it. They aren't commonly used for random access and if you are reading from them you are probably limited by the reader or something else along the USB path. I have 4 different card readers and their performance varies widely.

    The speed and price of these is very unimpressive compared to current SSD's, but they are a bit smaller. However if you need to shoot raw at high framerates then there aren't any other options.
  • 3 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , April 16, 2010 3:14 PM
    Interesting recommendation for professional photography.
  • -1 Hide
    cadder , April 16, 2010 4:44 PM
    I forgot to put this in my previous post...
    A good test of these cards would be to get a DSLR, put the card in it, set it on raw and continuous and start timing. If possible you guys should add a test like this to your review.
  • -1 Hide
    bogcotton , April 16, 2010 5:14 PM
    Lol, can't wait for 5 years to pass so I can pick up a 64GB CF for £20.
  • -1 Hide
    hellwig , April 16, 2010 8:58 PM
    ubergeekWindows Vista? Haven't you heard Windows 7 is out?

    LoL. But seriously, they use Vista because its their standard testing environment. It would be unscientific to move to Windows 7, and compare the new results to anything they test on Vista. And I doubt they still have half the cards they tested on Vista to retest on 7, if they even wanted to do that.

    I mean, unless you know something about how Vista handles these CF cards, and can give a compelling technical reason to move to Vista?
  • 0 Hide
    nottheking , April 17, 2010 11:32 AM
    Good to know that nothing is spared any mercy when it comes to benchmarking it here. I must say I was surprised to see Samsung's offering readily exceeding its rated speed of x233, which'd work out to about 35MB/sec. Instead, for reads we see it tearing things up an nearly hitting 50MB/sec.

    And yes, I'll give another second on wanting to know what reader is used... And perhaps better yet, I wonder if Tom's might follow this up with another review of flash card readers?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 18, 2010 6:59 AM
    What kind of card reader were used for the tests?
    If it was USB can you repeat the tests using Firewire?
    Why are there no SATA card readers on the market?
    (Only Addonics makes one as far as I know and very expensive here in Europe)
  • 0 Hide
    ravicai , April 18, 2010 6:41 PM
    ubergeekWindows Vista? Haven't you heard Windows 7 is out?

    Windows 7 still has a very small market share (10%) compared to Vista (20%). If anything they should have tested these cards on Win XP as it still has the highest market share (60-70%).