Introduction

The demand for flash media has grown astronomically over the last few years as more digital devices such as personal digital music players, personal digital assistants, and digital cameras have gone main stream, and we're only going to see the demand for higher capacities and speeds to complement the quickly advancing technologies such as professional digital cameras and personal entertainment devices.

One of the most common types of flash media is the CompactFlash digital media, which is based on the same ATA standard as on hard disk drives. CompactFlash media was the first to provide high capacities and keeps its track record by providing up to 8GB of solid state memory (by the time that this article will be published). The transfer rates of CompactFlash media have also increased over the years from the 1x, 150KB/sec standard cards to the current maximum of 16MB/sec rates. Also, the CFA ( CompactFlash Association) released (just under a year ago) revision 3.0 of the CompactFlash Specification Revision to increase the interface transfer rates to 66MB/sec.

There is an abundance of brands, capacities, and speeds of CompactFlash media in the market today, which range in price between $15-$800 (256MB-8GB), but our focus for this roundup will be currently the most widely used capacity of 1GB. We have put together a list of brands both well known in the memory and flash media industry as well as some that many of us are seeing for the first time. Take a look at our competitors below.


Click to enlarge.

Model Part No. Price
EDGE Standard PE188993 $59.77
Kingston Standard CF/1024 $49.99
Lexar Professional (80x) - $87.59
PNY Optima (80x) - $85.72
PQI Standard AC16-1030 $60.81
RiData Pro 52x - ~$56
Rosewill - RCF1024 $51.99
SanDisk Ultra II SDCFH-1024 $73.95
Transcend 80x TS1GCF80 $65.95
Viking Standard CF1GB $53.99

All of these cards are standard CompactFlash Type I media cards with varying speeds with exception of the Lexar Professional series media, which features its "Write Acceleration Technology", said to improve image write speeds by up to 23% with compatible cameras. This is done with the aid of special firmware on the media as well as the cameras themselves, which allow them to work together to improve the write algorithms. However, we have also seen an improvement in write speeds in our benchmarks as well, but we'll let you see for yourself.

Special thanks to NewEgg for providing us with the CompactFlash cards for this review.

The Test
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  • mindless1 - Friday, December 23, 2005 - link

    I agree about CF-IDE testing, and was hoping we'd see a listing of which cards do or don't support DMA. To the *embedded* systems crowd, that would be pretty significant. Reply
  • Hikari - Friday, December 23, 2005 - link

    Don't most cameras (new ones that is) use SD cards? I'd love to see a review of them. I just bought a 150x Transcend card, but it was hard to find any real reviews anywhere. Reply
  • ProviaFan - Friday, December 23, 2005 - link

    Point and shoot digicams do use SD or other small media predominantly. However, CompactFlash still reigns supreme in the digital SLR world; the small Nikon D50 and a similar Pentax are the only DSLRs that take SD exclusively, though there are a few others that can use an SD card as a backup along with a CompactFlash card. Reply
  • ProviaFan - Friday, December 23, 2005 - link

    Point and shoot digicams do use SD or other small media predominantly. However, CompactFlash still reigns supreme in the digital SLR world; the small Nikon D50 and a similar Pentax are the only DSLRs that take SD exclusively, though there are a few others that can use an SD card as a backup along with a CompactFlash card. Reply
  • BikeDude - Friday, December 23, 2005 - link

    First of all... Given any sub-2GB storage device for a camera, the choice is easy: FAT16 filesystem with the largest possible cluster size.

    Because most of the time, you'll be storing big picture files, the big cluster size won't waste nearly as much space as a big allocation table! (do the math, if you have 512 Byte clusters, you'll end up with a pretty big allocation table)

    Secondly, write performance will vary depending on camera brand and model. http://robgalbraith.com/bins/multi_page.asp?cid=60...">http://robgalbraith.com/bins/multi_page.asp?cid=60... provides a more relevant yardstick. Keep in mind: You'll notice any delay much more while shooting pictures -- not while you transfer to your PC afterwards!

    Thirdly, any file benchmark with random write behaviour is flawed in this test. When using a camera, all files will be stored sequentially. There's very little seeking taking place... Thus there's no need for a separate HDTach test. The file copy to media should suffice plenty. Only one of the tests will provide a relevant picture. (hard to tell if they provided the same numbers...? Different graph styles have been used!)

    Finally, why leave the Sandisk Extreme III cards outside this test? They are the absolute best... (and have been for over a year!)

    --
    Rune
    Reply
  • quanta - Friday, December 23, 2005 - link

    Speaking of absolute best, Sandisk's record was just broken by Twinmos (140x) and ATP ProMax (150x). For that matter, CompactFlash record is already broken by MMC Plus cards, which goes up to 200x, with the announced 266x from Pretec. Reply
  • Cygni - Friday, December 23, 2005 - link

    A sequential test would be nice, but i doubt it would change the results a whole lot. It would be good for us CF camera users, though. But AT is a computer site... not a Camera site. They tested using CF's using computer standards and techniques, for computer storage more or less.

    Also, AT only tests what they get sent. If Newegg didnt send them a Sandisk Ex III, they dont get to test one. They aint rollin in the dough.

    I really liked the idea of CF roundup. Its something ive never seen AT do, and with motherboards so close in performance, new CPU's performance predictable, and video cards all based on reference designs, its good for AT to branch out into some new stuff for us to read.
    Reply
  • PuravSanghani - Friday, December 23, 2005 - link

    Well actually, we don't ONLY test what NewEgg or any other manufacturers/retailers send us. We specifically asked for these models for our first 1GB CompactFlash roundup...yes, first! So there is more to come in the flash media area.

    As for how we benchmark and why we do it the way we do on computers instead of using digital cameras, many who use flash media for more than just digital camera storage, like MP3 players and PDAs, use USB based card readers interfaced with their PCs. We benchmark this way to compare the performance of each card relative to the other products in the article.

    As for all new areas we journey into we greatly appreciate any constructive criticism to improve our processes.

    Thank you all and have a safe and happy holiday.

    Purav
    Reply
  • BikeDude - Sunday, December 25, 2005 - link

    "use USB based card readers interfaced with their PCs."

    I hope you realise that performance varies greatly between most card readers. (e.g. few of them supports the latest PIO modes added to the CF specs a year ago)

    I would've started by benchmarking the readers. My top candidates are Lexar's latest Firewire based reader, SanDisk latest USB2 reader, as well as Delkin's CardBus based reader.

    I doubt a reader that can read multiple card formats performs well when compared with the ones I mentioned.

    (Slightly related pet peeve: Laptop tests that give a laptop "+" for having a CF reader, but doesn't bother testing its speed -- My notebook's built-in reader is useless)

    --
    Rune
    Reply
  • Anton74 - Friday, December 23, 2005 - link

    FYI, I just noticed that the RiDATA CF cards available on newegg are all 80x - the 1GB model is $60 plus S&H.

    The tested RiDATA Pro-52x looked to me like the most attractive blend between performance and expected life expectancy. I'm guessing the 80x is faster and shorter lived. (But how short is short, really?)
    Reply

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