Advice on a good compact flash card reader.
September 18, 2005 9:22 AM   Subscribe

Advice on a good compact flash card reader.

I bought a new digital SLR yesterday, a Canon 20D. I also bought a 1GB Lexar 80X WA compact flash card to go with it.

I'm looking for the best CF card reader. How fast is USB 2.0, say, to download 100 pictures to my Mac Powerbook G4? Is the difference in price worth it to buy a Firewire reader? I've looked at but haven't found any good articles discussing this question.
posted by cahlers to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total)
If you have a 15" or 17" PowerBook, you already have a Compact Flash reader built into your computer: The PC Card slot. You just need a PC Card to Compact Flash adapter. The adapter has no electronics in it since the formats are essentially the same. It should be as fast as any USB reader and you can carry it everywhere with zero effort.
posted by cillit bang at 9:40 AM on September 18, 2005

for my win xp laptop i use a sandisk pcmcia card reader. Dont know if it is the best solution. But it works fine for me. Use it with my nikon d70 and canon a95.
posted by flyby22 at 9:40 AM on September 18, 2005

Response by poster: cillit, do you have any experience with using the PC card slot on the powerbook? I'm just wondering about speed. I have a 15" powerbook.
posted by cahlers at 9:47 AM on September 18, 2005

LaCie makes a FireWire 800 card for a PowerBook's PCMCIA slot; if the slot is fast enough for that, then it seems pretty sure to me that using it as a regular CF reader will be faster than either USB2 or regular FireWire 400.
posted by bcwinters at 9:53 AM on September 18, 2005

In my experience, the PC card slot on my 15" PowerBook is as fast as most USB options I've tried, and faster than a few. I imagine a good FW reader (and I hear good things about Lexar in this arena) would get you faster top speeds, but I love the convenience of a card that sits flush in the side of my 'book.
posted by toddshot at 9:56 AM on September 18, 2005

Alternatively, USB 2.0 flash card readers are very, very cheap, and roughly the same speed as firewire 400 - most readers can also accept many different types of card, as well as CF.
posted by Mwongozi at 9:56 AM on September 18, 2005

In my experience PC card/PCMCIA adapters are slow, just a bit faster than USB 1.1/2.0 Full Speed. Cardbus or USB 2.0 High Speed adapters are much faster.
posted by zsazsa at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2005

Best answer: If you have a 15 or 17 inch Powerbook, this
is the fastest adapter available. I have a 12 inch powerbook, so I have to use
this one.
posted by ig at 10:06 AM on September 18, 2005

bcwinters, that card is Cardbus, not PCMCIA/PC card. PC card is an ancient standard and tops out at 20Mbps. Cardbus is based on PCI and has a maximum usable bandwidth of 850Mbps. You'd need to get a Cardbus adapter to get good speeds.
posted by zsazsa at 10:13 AM on September 18, 2005

Response by poster: How does the 32 bit cardbus adapter compare in speed with USB 2.0 vs Firewire? If similar, I'd tend to agree with toddshot about the card being flush to the powerbook.

Can I leave the adapter in place & just insert the CF card whenever? This would be another advantage.
posted by cahlers at 10:13 AM on September 18, 2005

Response by poster: looks like the Cardbus 32 adapter is the way to go... thanks everyone! dpreview speed test
posted by cahlers at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2005

I have a sandisk adaptor and I leave the card in place (often with the media still in place).

The only downside is that every time you boot iPhoto launches... You can turn that option off of course.
posted by schwa at 12:28 PM on September 18, 2005

Response by poster: Is it possible to remove the CF card while the adapter is in the slot, without removing the adapter?
posted by cahlers at 12:43 PM on September 18, 2005

That DPReview speed test is rather dated (October 2003).

From the more recent (and continously updated) CompactFlash Performance Database over at

"Note: Card-to-computer transfer speed for a given CompactFlash card varies with both the card reader and the operating system. The Lexar FireWire CompactFlash reader, model RW019, is the fastest of over 2 dozen readers we've tested to date, which is the primary reason we've standardized on it. Other FireWire readers may not be as quick, and we've observed a big variance in the performance capabilities of USB 2.0 card readers (while all USB 1.1 card readers are slow). The operating system can also put the brakes on card-to-computer throughput, with Windows XP providing much faster transfer times than Mac OS 8.x, 9.x or Mac OS X 10.0-10.2.8." *

(If you're experiencing slow throughput rates, the bottleneck may be your operating system, not the card reader.)

As a comparison, take a good look at the throughput numbers is reporting with the Lexar Firewire reader against DPR's numbers with the cardbus adapter.

By the way, most people concern themselves with getting the fastest cards so that their camera isn't "stuck" writing after a long burst (especially with RAW files), rather than hunt down the absolute fastest reader. No need to worry here for you: your Lexar 80X WA performs very well when it comes down to keeping up with the 20D's blazing fast write speed. As far as card readers go though, most USB 2.0 and Firewire readers are more than up to the task of merely dumping cards to the computer reasonably quickly. Just buy from a name brand (Lexar, Sandisk, Delkin, etc) and avoid the USB 1.1 readers.
posted by DaShiv at 12:56 PM on September 18, 2005

(Sorry about the PCMCIA/Cardbus nomenclature mix up, zsazsa, I don't use them often enough to remember which one's which--the FireWire800 card is indeed Cardbus)
posted by bcwinters at 1:56 PM on September 18, 2005

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