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CompactFlash Card Roundup: 1GB Models
CompactFlash Card Roundup: 1GB Models - PCSTATS
Buying the right CF card for your digital camera can be difficult, well mostly confusing since there are size, type and speed considerations to wrap your head around first.
Filed under: Memory Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCSTATS Dec 05 2005   C. Sun  
Home > Reviews > Memory > PCSTATS CompactFlash

This year marked a turning point in photography; for the first time in history, digital cameras outsold traditional film cameras. Considering the flexibility and drastically improved image and print quality of digital cameras, it should not come as a surprise that the future of photography is digital.

When examining the broad array of entry-to-mid-level digital cameras, most manufacturers are firmly aligned with one flash memory media format or another. Olympus and FujiFilm use SmartMedia and xD, Sony has its Memory Stick and most of the others rely on Secure Digital media. Then there are the rest which still use CompactFlash Type I or Type II cards (CF for short). CompactFlash is not long for the entry-level digital camera market, however.

In the prosumer & professional digital camera markets the situation is completely different. Virtually all digital cameras in this class solely rely on CF media. A brief browse through the digital SLR section at your local camera store should confirm this if you remain skeptical.

CompactFlash's large physical size is its probably its biggest disadvantage in the digital camera consumer market. Most buyers are looking for something small and sleek, and using other, smaller media types allow manufacturers to miniaturize digital cameras. With digital SLRs, the physical size of the media is less of a concern due to the already large size of the SLR camera. Instead, memory capacity and data storage speed are the key points. CF memory is traditionally one generation ahead of competing standards, and currently offers the largest storage space and quickest access times.

Buying the right CF card for your digital camera can be difficult, well mostly confusing since there are size, type and speed considerations to wrap your head around first. Size and type are pretty straightforward. Most consumers should buy the largest capacity CompactFlash memory card within their means so they do not have to swap memory cards out constantly. There are two types of CompactFlash memory cards: Type I and Type II. The only difference between them is the height of the card. Type I CF cards are 3.3mm thick while Type II stands 5mm high. Some cameras are not compatible with Type II CF media, so this question comes down to knowing what your camera supports.

That leaves us write speed, and this value is easily the most misunderstood. I think everyone would agree that when it comes to storing data, faster is better, but just how are we to understand the speed ratings on some CompactFlash memory cards? The current rating standard for CF media is the 'X' system, where the manufacturer uses a number followed by [times] to indicate the relative speed of a CF memory product; 10x, 5x, 1x, would all be xamples of this.

The X rating is based on how many times faster a given CF memory card can store data as compared to a single speed CD-ROM (150KB/s). A 10x CF memory card should be able to move data at a brisk 1.5MB/s peak rate, while a 50x card should be able to shift 7.5MB/s. With the megapixel power of cameras increasing everyday, the faster data can be written to a memory card, the faster the user can take another picture.

Since speed is a feature of digital cameras, manufacturers have taken to labeling and marketing high speed CF memory accordingly. If a CompactFlash memory card you're looking at does not have a speed rating, it most likely operates at 1x. It should be noted that the digital cameras themselves also have a maximum writing speed (not often advertised). In some cases, buying the fastest CompactFlash card won't help because the digital camera becomes the limiting factor... so it can pay to do a little digging into your manual to know the limits of your digital camera.

In this roundup of 1GB CompactFlash cards, PCSTATS will be testing out four CF memory cards of various speeds, as well as a 1GB IBM Microdrive hard disk, with an eye to comparing their performance in digital cameras as well as various data transfer tasks. The contenders include a 1GB Centon CF card, 1GB Crucial CF card, 1GB Corsair CF card, 1GB Kingston Elite Pro 50X CompactFlash card, 1GB Sandisk Extreme CF card, and 1GB IBM Microdrive Type II CF card. Requests to other CF card vendors were fielded, but those companies declined to participate in this comparative roundup. As additional CF media modules become available in the future the results here will be updated.

CompactFlash Media

Manufacturer and model

CompactFlash Image

Size Type Speed (Read/Write) Price

Centon C1GBCF




$86CDN ($70 US)

Crucial CT1GBC1




$90 CDN ($73 US)

Kingston Elite Pro CF/1024-S




$88 CDN (72 US)

IBM 1GB Microdrive DSCM-11000




$111 CDN ($90 US)

Sandisk 1GB Extreme




$117 CDN ($95 US)

Corsair CMFCF80-1GB




$96 CDN ($81 US)

The Centon and Crucial CompactFlash cards do not have an advertised speed rating, so we were not initially sure how fast the cards could operate at. All CF cards tested (aside from the IBM 1GB Microdrive) come with a lifetime warranty. All the CompactFlash memory modules included in this roundup (again, except for the IBM Microdrive) store data on non volatile RAM memory, meaning data is not erased in the case of a power loss or the removal of the CF card from a powered device. Higher speed cards obviously command a price premium over the slower speed models. According to the industry, flash memory will eventually start wearing out after a certain number of write/erase cycles. The lifespan of a typical card can be measured in years though, and the fact that manufacturers routinely offer lifetime warranties on these products indicates that they expect them to last until they are obsolete.

The IBM Microdrive is exactly what its name implies, a miniature hard drive that fits in a CF Type II slot. There are storage platters that spin and a spindle reads and writes magnetic data exactly like a modern desktop hard drive. Because of this, the Microdrive is more fragile than your standard CompactFlash memory card and can suffer a catastrophic failure quite easily if abused.

How We Tested

Considering the number of high speed CompactFlash cards on the market, we thought it would be interesting to see how the cards in this roundup perform in real life. Is it really worthwhile to get a high speed card for a consumer/professional digital camera, or will a regular-speed CompactFlash card do just nicely? Since the maximum speed that digital cameras can write data onto CF cards is not normally advertised, we wanted to find out if the memory card, or the digital camera is more often the limiting factor.

To test the CompactFlash cards, we rounded up three digital cameras, a consumer level Canon S500, FujiFilm S2 Pro and a Nikon D70. The latter two cameras are digital SLRs. All the cameras were set to the highest resolution. The FujiFilm S2 Pro and Nikon D70 were tested with multiple image formats (JPG, TIFF, RAW for the FujiFilm, JPG and RAW for the Nikon), while the Canon S500 is limited to JPG format only.

We set the cameras to continuously shoot at a static target until their internal frame buffer was filled. We timed how long the writing indicator light was on and calculated the bandwidth of the CF media by the size of the transferred pictures divided by the time it took to store the data as measured by a timer. Following the in-camera tests, we plugged each CompactFlash card into a USB 2.0 CF reader and tested each models bandwidth and transfer speeds with Sisoft Sandra 2005 to and from a PC.

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Contents of Article: PCSTATS CompactFlash
 Pg 1.  — CompactFlash Card Roundup: 1GB Models
 Pg 2.  Canon S500, FujiFilm S2 Pro Testing
 Pg 3.  Nikon D70 Testing
 Pg 4.  SiSoft Sandra Testing
 Pg 5.  Fast CompactFlash or Slow?

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