by Andrey Kuznetcov
09/24/2004 | 09:20 AM
It’s good when you’ve got a fast flash memory card. It’s even better when you’ve got a fast card-reader to plug this card into. Only then you will have the full satisfaction from the money you’ve invested into the storage medium. So, the problem reads as follows: a card-reader model is wanted, which would fully realize the speed potential of your memory cards.
This review is our report on the extended test session with eleven devices and four high-performance Compact Flash memory cards. Some of the card-readers had already participated in our tests, but according to a simpler methodology.
This “eight-in-one” product from Apacer supports Compact Flash type I/II, MicroDrive, Smart Media Card, MultiMedia Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick Duo, and Secure Digital Card. Besides the slots, the silvery case of the card-reader has a combined work/power indicator on its front panel. The dimensions of the Mega Steno are 98x64x15mm. The device comes with a drivers CD and a USB cable. Its average retail price is $18.
Four externally similar devices hide under the common name, but we’ll discuss only on of them. It supports CompactFlash, xD/SmartMedia, SD/MultiMedia and Memory Stick/Memory Stick Pro media. The card-reader boasts a modern compact design and supports the USB 2.0 interface. The accessories to the reader are a USB cable, a brief user manual, a CD with drivers and an electronic version of the manual. The average retail price of the device is $26.
This “flying saucer” supports exclusively CompactFlash media and works across the FireWire interface. It comes with a synthetic bag, an IEEE 1394 cable and a short installation guide. The average retail price of the device is $64.
One of the unidentified devices is compatible with Flash type I/II, MicroDrive, Smart Media, MultiMedia Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick/PRO, and Secure Digital Card formats. Although we couldn’t find any signs that would point at the manufacturer, the device looks exactly like the one displayed at the website of Panram International. The flat case made of gray “a la silver” plastic has a short integrated USB cable that can be folded inside. The top of the device carries an activity LED. The dimensions of the reader are 105x75x15mm; it is accompanied with a USB cable and a drivers CD. The average retail price of the device is $14.
This no-name device is installed into a 3.5” bay of the system case. It supports Compact Flash type I/II, MicroDrive, Smart Media, MultiMedia Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick/Pro, and Secure Digital Card. There are two indicators (power and operation mode) on the face panel. Besides the card slots, there is also an external USB port available there. The USB connector is attached inside the system case to the mainboard’s onboard USB header. The dimensions are 152x100x26mm; the reader comes with a pack of fastening screws, a drivers CD and a USB cable. Its average retail price is $14.
This card-reader from an unknown manufacturer is made of gray plastic. The top of the case has activity and power LED indicators. The reader supports Compact Flash type I/II, MicroDrive, Smart Media, MultiMedia Card, RS MultiMedia Card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, Secure Digital Card, and xD Picture Card media. Its dimensions are 110x58x15mm. The accessories include a drivers CD, a USB cable and a brief product description. The retail price of this device is $14.
The appearance of this device is most singular – smooth lines and blue-gray plastic. It supports Compact Flash I/II, MicroDrive, Smart Media, MultiMedia Card, MultiMedia Card RS, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick DUO, Mini SD, Secure Digital Card, and xD-Picture Card (via an adapter). The dimensions of the device are 55x105x17mm; it comes with a drivers CD and a USB cable. The retail price of this reader is $15.
This card-reader seems to be a product from the same unknown manufacturer who made the previous model, although its design is somewhat more traditional. The unusual trait here is the use of transparent blue plastic for the case. This reader can work with Compact Flash I/II, MicroDrive, Smart Media, MultiMedia Card, MultiMedia Card RS, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick DUO, Mini SD, Secure Digital Card, and xD-Picture Card (via an adapter). The dimensions of the reader are 55x105x17mm. It comes accompanied with a drivers CD and a USB cable; the price is $15.
This reader mounts into the 3.5” bay of your system case; a USB cable is integrated into its case. The face panel carries two USB ports. The reader supports Compact Flash, MicroDrive, Smart Media, MultiMedia Card, Memory Stick, Secure Digital Card media; you receive a drivers CD with it. The price of this device is $15.
This device is almost an exact copy of the previous one. It too installs into the 3.5” bay and has an integrated USB cable. There are two USB ports on the face panel; Compact Flash, MicroDrive, Smart Media, MultiMedia Card, Memory Stick, Secure Digital Card formats are supported. The reader comes with a drivers CD; it costs $15.
The reader is designed in two-color gray-violet gamut and supports Compact Flash type I/II, MicroDrive, Smart Media, MultiMedia Card, Memory Stick Pro, Secure Digital Card, Memory Stick Duo, RS MultiMedia Card, and Mini SD (via an adapter). There’s a combo power/mode indicator on the top of the case. The dimensions of the reader are 60x93x15mm. The device comes with a drivers CD and a USB cable. The retail price of the device is $16.
I used two programs to test the readers:
The readers were connected to the following testbed:
I tested the readers with four CompactFlash cards: Apacer Photo Steno Pro II 100x 512MB, Pretec Cheetah 80x 256MB, SanDisk Ultra 1GB and Transcend 45? 2GB. In other words, I sed the best media I could find at the time. The FireWire-interfaced card-reader was connected to the mainboard’s IEEE 1394 PCI controller (Agere FW322). The rest of the devices were attached through the USB ports and onboard connectors of the mainboard.
I used three patterns in FC Test. They differed in the number and size of the files they were comprised of.
I should ask you forgiveness for the lack of precision in the names of the card-readers as they are given in the tables and diagrams. We couldn’t identify the manufacturer for most models, so I had to go for certain conventions in the naming. For example, the R/W abbreviation stands for “Reader/Writer” that I found in the name of one of the products.
The first group of diagrams represents the write speed in the 100 files x 1MB pattern. The USB 2.0 model from SanDisk wins this test, being the best with three memory cards out of four. It is followed by the no-name “9 in 1” device, which was the fastest with the Apacer card and second with the other cards. The two card-readers intended for installation into the 3.5” bay (“11 in 1” and “10 in 1”) did well here, too – they are always in the top part of the diagram. The Apacer Mega Steno MG820 managed to be the second using its “native” memory card and third with the SanDisk Ultra, but it performed worse with the other two media. The two no-name “7 in 1” devices were similarly bad with any memory card – much worse than the rest of the readers. The SanDisk Ultra ImageMate, the only device with the FireWire interface, was a bit of disappointment as it is not much faster than the pair of outsiders.
The SanDisk ImageMate with the USB 2.0 interface easily wins the test of reading one hundred files, 1MB each, with all the four memory cards. With three cards the advantage of this reader is most conspicuous – this device really provides the maximum performance with fast media. The no-name “9 in 1” card-reader from an unknown manufacturer takes the second place – closely following the leader. The Apacer Mega Steno MG820 has high results with three media, but slows down with the Transcend 45x. In the latter case many card-readers are just limited by the performance of the card itself, though.
The two no-name “7 in 1” models prove to be the slowest in this test. The SanDisk Ultra ImageMate is again the third from the end, but the gap between it and the last pair is wider here.
The use of the 10 files x 10MB pattern brings nothing new to us. The SanDisk ImageMate with the USB 2.0 interface is the winner again, followed by the no-name “9-in-1” reader. Among the rest of the devices, the two that install into the 3.5” bay and the Apacer Mega Steno MG820 look favorably enough. The least efficient are the two no-name “7-in-1” readers. The second card-reader from SanDisk – the Ultra with the FireWire interface – is just slightly better than them.
This group of diagrams is about reading the 10 files x 10MB pattern. There are no principal changes again. The ImageMate USB 2.0 model from SanDisk is the winner, more than substantially outperforming the closest rival with three out of four media. The no-name “9-in-1” takes the second place again. The Apacer Mega Steno MG820 can also be pointed out here. The pair of no-name “7-in-1” readers is the slowest again.
The last pattern I used in my tests consisted of a single 100MB file. As you may have guessed, the USB 2.0 model from SanDisk wins again, followed by the no-name “9-in-1” reader. The Apacer Mega Steno MG820 and the two models (“10 in 1” and “11 in 1”) that install into the 3.5” bay perform well enough, too. The unidentified “7-in-1” readers cannot escape losing again.
The final group of diagrams in FC Test is about reading a single 100MB file. Once again, there are no significant changes in the ranks. The SanDisk ImageMate USB 2.0 is an unrivalled leader with all the four memory cards. The no-name “9-in-1” device follows behind; the Apacer Mega Steno MG820 takes the third place by the total of the results. The pair of “7-in-1” readers is again very slow.
I used this program (the Disk Benchmark option) to measure the average read and write speeds as well as the average access time of the devices. The results with the four memory cards are listed in the following tables:
The diagrams show the average write speed of the devices. Although there’re deviations from the results of FC Test, they are minor. The SanDisk ImageMate with the USB 2.0 interface is the fastest, being the best with three memory cards. The no-name “9 in 1” reader notches the second result with three cards out of four. The Apacer Mega Steno MG820 seems to be the third by the total of the results. The two unidentified “7 in 1” devices are again the slowest.
We’ve got a very similar situation in the next test – average read speed. Again, the SanDisk ImageMate with the USB 2.0 interface is in the lead, winning with three media out of four. The “9 in 1” device from an unknown manufacturer takes the second place – it found itself on the third place only once. By the total result, the Apacer Mega Steno MG820 seems to take the third place. The pair of “7 in 1” card-readers from no-name manufacturers shares the last place.
The last four diagrams show you the average access time of the devices – I should remind you that this factor is not crucial for a card-reader’s performance. Note, though, that the card-reader can affect this parameter – the difference in the access time is triple with some cards.
Our today’s extended testing of 11 card-readers proves that most of them show their best characteristics irrespective of the media type. If a device is efficient, it is usually faster than other models with any media, although there are cases when we see a predilection to a certain memory card model, not necessarily from the same manufacturer. At the same time, if the medium can’t boast high speed characteristics, the efficiency of a card-reader is somewhat negated. So, in order to have the maximum performance from your memory card, you should purchase the fastest reader, which wouldn’t become a speed ceiling but would allow the card to realize its full potential.
Once again the USB 2.0 ImageMate model from SanDisk proves its highest efficiency in our tests (this model is much faster than its more expensive “Ultra” mate with the FireWire interface). The second device you may want to pay attention to is the no-name “9 in 1” model, which is considerably cheaper than the winner and has just a little lower speed.
I’d like to remind you that we have dealt with CompactFlash media and the results might be different with other media types. You should consider this fact when selecting and purchasing a multi-format card-reader.