by Andrey Kuznetcov
11/27/2003 | 09:14 AM
Modest and not very attractive looking miniature data storage media aka Compact Flash cards become more and more popular among uses. It is mostly caused by the fact that digital cameras using these flash cards get more and more widely spread. Besides, the constantly updated announcements about the manufacturers’ success in this field also warm up the public interest.
Today the maximum storage capacity of a CompactFlash card has already reached 6GB. However, since the price of these record-breaking solutions is still pretty high we are going to talk about a slightly smaller models today. Flash cards of 1GB storage capacity are quite widespread already and meet most requirements of the users looking for high-capacity memory solutions at a reasonable price. Today we will talk about five products of the kind tested with the help of two high-speed interfaces.
Transcend CompactFlash 30x TS1GFLASHCP
Transcend CompactFlash 45x TS1GCF45
Transcend Company will be represented by two solutions in our today’s roundup. One of them is TS1GFLASHCP and is positioned by the company as a Performance solution. This product category includes products with 128MB-1GB storage capacity. The data transfer rate is claimed to be 30x. this CompactFlash card is now selling for $252.
The second solution to be participating in our today’s test session is TS1GCF45, which is positioned as an Ultra Performance product. This means that it should be able to transfer data at 45x speed (do you see the marking on the card?) This solution is selling for $284.
Both CompactFlash cards come in an identical package. You will get a transparent plastic box with the card and indicated data transfer rate, a quick installation guide, a warranty coupon, a small promotional leaflet and a safety case.
TwinMOS Media Store Ultra High Speed FCF01GS
The CompactFlash card from TwinMOS Company is shipped without any excessive accessories. Besides the card itself packed into a standard plastic case you will find nothing else inside the transparent package. The info on the product available on the manufacturer’s site indicates that these CompactFlash cards are available in storage capacities from32MB to 2GB. Besides the general information they also claim that the minimal write speed makes 26x. The 1GB card is currently available in stores for around $242.
CompactFlash card from Digitex is shipped in a very vivid beautiful box, which only carries the card in a plastic case. The product family includes models starting from 32MB and up to 1GB storage capacity. Among the technical specs of the device listed on the manufacturer’s site we would like to definitely point out the data transfer rate of 1.8MB/sec and the allowed vibration level of 15g.
This solution can be purchased in stores today for around $245.
PQI Hi-Speed CompactFlash Card
We have already told you a little bit about the flash card from PQI in one of our previous articles. This time it should become a certain bridge between the past and the present, as we completely changed the testing methodology for this type of devices. Although the package acquired new design since then (the card is now shipped in a paper box). Besides the card in a plastic case there is also a brief user’s guide. The Hi-Speed product line from PQI includes cards with 64MB-1GB storage capacity. The approximate pricing of this solution is $228.
In order to evaluate the features of the tested CompactFlash cards in real conditions and to compare them with one another we decided to apply extended testing scheme. This time we will check the solutions performance for today’s two competing interfaces: USB 2.0 and FireWire. For our benchmarks we used the following software tests:
Besides the above listed programs I also tested the cards with the help of Canon EOS D60 digital camera, to be able to evaluate their practical advantages in real life.
For the benchmarking session we involved the following testbed:
In order to make the cards work via the USB 2.0 interface we used Transcend 7 in 1 card reader, which was connected to the port integrated into the mainboard. The tests with FireWire interface were carried out with the help of a noname IEEE1394 reader connected to the combo USB 2.0/FireWire PCO controller based on NEC 720100/Agere FW322 chips.
The controllers worked with the following driver versions:
We tested CompactFlash cards with the help of a Removable Storage/Flash Device Benchmark module. It allowed us to perform a number of file operations. We saved on the cards the files 512Bytes, 32KB, 256KB and 2MB big and then read them and deleted from the cards. The reading and writing performance is measured in number of operations per minute and a corresponding speed of KB/sec. Delete Performance was measured as a number of “killed” files per minute. The resulting integral value of the memory cards performance was based on the results of all operations and is called Combined Device Index. You can see the detailed performance results on the screenshots (click the links below). The tested CompactFlash cards on the graphs were marked with blue color. Here and later in our today’s roundup I will call the testing participants by their company names.
The final results of the Removable Storage/Flash Devices Benchmark by SiSoftware Sandra Professional are summed up in the table below:
The results indicate pretty clearly that all flash cards work faster via USB 2.0 interface, because all final indexes are much higher in this case. However, if we take a closer look at the screenshots we will notice that it is not quite correct to compare the results for two different interfaces directly. The thing is that Combined Index for USB 2.0 is determined exactly as the developers suggest it, basing on the three types of operations. And for FireWire we do not use Delete Performance results. As a result, the final indexes do not actually correspond to the standard, so I think it would make much more sense to compare the results only within one interface.
With IEEE1394 the Transcend cards look best of all. Moreover, the 30x model appeared faster than 45x one. PQI and Digitex solutions run equally fast and the slowest performance results were demonstrated by the card from TwinMOS.
In case of USB 2.0 interface the situation hardly changes at all: the picture remains the same. Transcend 30x again appears the winner. The second prize is taken by the second Transcend card with 45x marking. Then the solutions from PQI and Digitex perform very close to one another and the last one to complete this test again appears the card from TwinMOS.
With the help of File Copy program we created, read and copied two file sets on the cards from the HDD and vice versa. The first file set consisted of a single file 1,024,000,000 Bytes big, and the second set included 500 files 2,000,000 Bytes each. These file sets were intended to model the situations when we need to move a lot of data saved in one file, or the practical situations when we use the flash cards for digital cameras for saving and storing high quality JPG images.
The results of the FC-Test utility for FireWire interface are given in the table below:
Now come the FC-Test results for USB 2.0 interface:
Let’s start with the global comparison of the results shown by the memory cards for different interfaces. None of them can boast a definite advantage here. During files reading and copying to the hard disk drive FireWire interface seems to be more advantageous. However as it comes to creating files and copying them from the hard disk drive onto the memory card, USB 2.0 wins a little advantage. Of course, this is the integral evaluation only, and the situation is slightly different for each of the selected products.
Now let’s pass over to each of the testing participants. With FireWire interface the indisputable leadership belongs to Transcend 45x transfer rate. It is definitely faster in all cases when one big file is involved and boasts almost the fastest performance when working with a set of 500 files, where it is just a little slower than the rivals during file creation and copy to the card, which might be connected with the different access time of the two. The second prize undoubtedly belongs to the second Transcend solution with the 30x transfer rate. The third position is occupied by TwinMOS card. And the last ones in this race appeared the cards from PQI and Digitex, which performed almost equally slow.
When we tested the flash cards with USB 2.0 interface, the picture got a little bit different, but in the quantitative way, rather than in the qualitative one. Only Transcend solutions not only got slower than in case of FireWire interface, but also achieved slightly different performance indexes. Both Flash cards are again notably better than the other three testing participants, but this time the 45x model is not an indisputable leader any more. It does boast a certain advantage in read speed and file copy speed to the HDD, but loses quite tangibly as it comes to creating files and copying them from the HDD to the card. The third one in this race is TwinMOS solution, which is faster than the cards from PQI and Digitex in most cases. The latter two again perform very similarly.
Here are the results obtained in IOMark test:
The test run with the help of IOMark utility prove the indisputable leadership of Transcend 45x. This solution only yielded to its 30x counterpart in access time and completely outperformed it as well as other CompactFlash cards in read and write speed, leaving not a single chance to them. The send faster is definitely Transcend 30x, which managed to win in the access time test and to defeat the remaining three rivals. The latter three cards run very close to one another throughout the entire test session. I could probably say that PQI appeared a little faster though.
Of course, if we talk about the interface preferences, FireWire will definitely win. If you work via FireWire interface, faster memory cards will be able to show more of their potential.
We tested the practical advantages of each CompactFlash card with the help of a Canon EOS D60 digital camera. The cards were used to save a series of 8 pics in RAW format with the total size of 40MB. After the shooting was over we used the electronic stop-watch to measure the time required to transfer the pics from the camera buffer to the flash card.
The table below contains the times each of the tested cards required to save 8 pictures from the digital cam memory:
Transcend 45x required least time of all the cards tested. The second fastest appeared Transcend 30x card. After that PQI and TwinMOS solutions come almost neck and neck. And the slowest one in this type of test was the Flash card from Digitex. Of course, you should keep in mind that the results obtained in this test are not absolute as the processor and the internal bus bandwidth of the digital camera involved do affect them a lot.
Well, no doubt that Transcend 45x CompactFlash card deserves the first prize here. it looks much more attractive than the opponents in most benchmarks we have taken a look at. Its advantage is especially evident in case we use FireWire interface for IOMark and FC-Test.
The second solution from Transcend participating in out test session, Transcend 30x, also looks very nice. It boasts the minimal access time and even managed to win in Sandra Professional tests. The other three CompactFlash cards fall significantly behind the leaders in terms of performance and at the same time feature very similar specifications.
In most cases all the testing participants slow down when working with a set of 500 smaller files, rather than with one big file. Although in some cases (such as file copy from the memory cards to the HDD) the performance drop is minimal.
The conclusion we can draw regarding the interface preferences will not be absolute, according to the results we obtained. Theoretically, the USB 2.0 interface boasts higher bandwidth: 60MB/sec against 50MB/sec by FireWire. The maximum data transfer rate we managed to observe during this test session of CompactFlash memory cards never exceeded 8MB/sec. This way, the interface will never be a bottleneck. However, for the fastest product of the bunch reviewed this time FireWire is still preferred. Maybe the situation will get any different as the new CompactFlash cards appear in the market. We’ll see…