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6 октября 2005, 21:06

Universal Card Readers - Turtle Races

Card reader - an ideal way to bridge the gap between your desktop PC and flash compatible devices. This small size plastic box allows you to bring easily your digital images and data with you, but also could bring to nothing all power of 133-speed memory cards and USB 2.0 interface. So let’s review what card reader to choose?

From school years we know that if you want to get something special and universal you need to pay for this: either by speed, or complexity, or even by more money. But specialized things also are not so perfect as it would seem - they can be used only for single concrete function, and neither more. So in our vivid and unsteady life such universal things getting the greatest utility among all.

Card readers - a bright example to our words. Today each of us has such devices, but do we use full capacity? Certainly, no. New card reader can work with 23 types of cards, while as a habit user faces with 1-3 types. Anyhow, it is better to be always sharp-witted and ready for not good surprises.

Costs of universal and specialized card readers are very close at hand, but due to their speed universal often lose. Average speed of data transmission on USB 2.0 models doesn’t exceed of 5-6 Mb/ s. Only few card readers with fast controllers can surpass this barrier and realize the whole potential of professional memory cards on 20 Mb/ s. speed.

Today we can find a ton of card readers from south Asia which come in Russian market under absolutely various brands. Noname can be under brand name, for example, Memory Corp, but will remains Noname for its quality. On the other hand, the loud name of the manufacturer doesn’t always guarantee an excellent work speed and compatibility of card reader.

We have faced with this during our testing of SD cards when we selected a suitable card reader, capable to distinguish of 66x card from 133x. During this search through our test laboratory has passed 8 candidates from well known and completely unknown manufacturers, but, to tell the truth, all of them have turned out to be simple "turtles" incapable to give out even a half of all opportunities of SD cards. Nevertheless, we’ll test these 8 devices, but call this review a "turtle races". Ok, let’s start!

Acquaintance. Universal card readers

All multi-card readers have one the main feature - quantity of real slots always less of quantity of supported formats. Card reader can has maximum 5 sockets. There are two cunnings for this. The first - two slots in one, for example, SM and xD. It is possible due to the different width and length of these cards. The second - some formats derived from each other and have absolutely identical interface. Here are the basic:

  • Compact Flash (CF), Compact Flash II (CF II), MicroDrive (MD)
  • Memory Stick (MS), MS Pro, MS Pro Ultra II, MS ROM, MS Duo, MS Pro Duo, MS MagicGate (MS MG), MS Pro MG, MS Pro Duo MG, MS Memory Select Function
  • Secure Digital (SD), Multi Media Card (MMC), RS-MMC
  • Smart Media (SM), Smart Media RAM
  • Mini-SD, TransFlash (TF)

Aside is only a xD-Picture (xD) format, but as we have already mentioned, that usually it is united with SM.

Apacer Mega Steno MGA20

Apacer Mega Steno MGA20

Apacer Mega Steno MGA20

Code nameApacer Mega Steno MGA20
InterfaceUSB 2.0
SocketCF Slot x1 SM Slot x1 SD + Mini SD + MMC + RS-MMC 4in1 Slot x1 MS + MSDuo 2in1 Slot x1
Card SupportedCompact Flash Card I, II: 8MB ~4GB Microdrive: 340MB ~1GB Magicstor: 2,2GB Smart Media Card: 8MB ~ 128MB Multi Media Card: 16MB ~ 512MB RS MMC Card: 64MB ~ 512MB Secure Digital Card: 32MB ~ 1GB Mini SD Card: 16MB ~ 256MB Memory Stick: 16MB ~ 512MB Memory Stick Duo: 32MB ~ 128MBMemory Stick Pro: 256MB ~ 1GB Memory Stick Pro Duo: 128MB ~ 512MBMagicGate: 256Mb (Access only)
Dimensions, mm100 x57x17
Unit Weight, g45

This multi-card reader 14-in-1 can be sale separately or in a complete with Apacer Share Steno (see the review "Apacer Share Steno - a mobile photoarchive "). Has a classical design, for connection to the personal computer demands only a mini-USB cord. Accessories: one driver CD for Windows 98 and a user manual.

Apacer package

Card reader has 4 slots. Here we have an original solution of MiniSD support - the card is inserted into the same slot as SD standard.

Apacer slots

On the case of this device there is a yellow LED indicator blinking during work.

Digitex Multi-in-1 UCR2201

Digitex Multi-in-1 UCR2201

Digitex Multi-in-1 UCR2201

Code nameDigitex Multi-in-1 UCR2201
InterfaceUSB 2.0
SocketCF Slot x1 SM Slot x1 SD + MMC + RS-MMC Slot x1 MS Slot x1
Card SupportedCompactFlashSmartMediaMicrodriveMemory StickMultiMediaCardSecureDigital
Power consumption Voltage, V Current, ìÀ  50,5, but 100 in work
Dimensions, mm108x62x15
Unit Weight, g55

Card reader has a classical form and nice design, has 4 slots for connection to PC by mini-USB cable; Accessories: one USB cable, a user manual and one driver CD.

Digitex Multi-in-1 UCR2201

Digitex package

Manufacturers usually do not specify how many formats are supported in order to make card work if slot is good for it. And we can’t say what kind of MS or SD will be offered tomorrow. An important point is - the interface will remain the same as it is now, will be without any changes. In our opinion, it is the most honest method in judging of multi-card readers.

Kingston 6-in-1 USB 2.0 Hi-Speed CF/ SM/ MMC/ SD/ MS/ MD Reader FCR-HS26/1

Kingston 6-in-1

Kingston 6-in-1

Code nameKingston FCR-HS26/1
InterfaceUSB 2.0
SocketCF Slot x1 MS + SM + SD + MMC Slot x1
Card SupportedCompactFlasSmartMedia Memory Stick MultiMediaCard SecureDigital
Dimensions, mm90x70x36
Unit Weight, g75

Kingston 6-in-1 - lives in our test laboratory for a long time. Kingston offers an extremely nice Hi-Speed USB 6-in-1 for high-performance data transfers to systems supporting Hi-Speed USB 2.0, but it can be crushed easily (as it was shown in practice). You don’t need any additional cable, cause it already has it with USB socket.

Kingston has only two slots - for CF (may be for MicroDrive, but we didn’t try this) and combined one for SD, MS and SM! Due to such construction of slots an opportunity to insert into it SD cards upside down had appeared.

Kingston card reader has two slots

MC – Noname 24-in-1 (MC, NB and etc.)

MC – Noname 24-in-1

Noname 24-in-1

Code nameNoname 24-in-1, MC
InterfaceUSB 2.0
SocketCF Slot x1 SM + xD Slot x1SD + MMC + RS- MMC Slot x1Mini-SD Slot x1MS Slot x1
Card SupportedMMC, MMC II, RS-MMC, MS, MS Pro, MS DUO, MS MG, MS MG DUO, MS MG Pro, MS Pro DUO, SM, XD, CF I, CF II, Micro Drive, SD, MINI SD, T FLASH
Dimensions, mm100x60x20
Unit Weight, g50

This Taiwan’s card reader you can find under absolutely various brands. More often it is marked as from NB manufacturer, also quite possible to find it under Memory Corp brand, and some shops honestly write Noname. Let’s give to it a brief abbreviation “MC”.

So we go on, MC 5 slots designed, supports xD-Picture memory cards and socket combined with SM. For the users convenience all slots are signed. Accessories: mini-USB cable and one driver CD.

Card Reader without any marks

5 x MC slots

Noname 23-in-1

Card reader Noname 23-in-1

Noname 23-in-1

Code nameNoname 2 3- in-1
InterfaceUSB 2.0
SocketCF Slot x1 SM + xD Slot x1 SD + MMC + RS-MMC Slot x1 MS Slot x1
Card SupportedSmartMedia Card, XD-Picture Card, Compact Flash Type I, Type II è Ultra II, Micro Drive, MMC, MMC II, RS-MMC, HS-MMC, SD, SDC, SD Ultra, Mini-SD (÷åðåç ïåðåõîäíèê), T-Flash (÷åðåç ïåðåõîäíèê), MemoryStick, MemoryStick Duo, MemoryStick Pro, MemoryStick Pro Duo, MS- MagicGate, MS MG Duo, MS MG Pro, MS MG Pro Duo
Dimensions, mm98x54x10
Unit Weight, g40

There is a Chinese imitation Noname 23-in-1 – it is a compact card reader in a transparent plastic case with rounded edges. Connection to PC - by means of mini-USB. Has 4 slots, xD is combined with SM. Pretended support of mini-SD cards and Trans-Flash - by use of adapter, which doesn’t come in package. There is no any special slot, as it was in MC.

Noname slots

Due to it’s work behavior is rather strange. For example, didn’t distinguish a CF memory card from Kingston. But having such design and so low price it is not so important at all.

Card Reader

Chinese imitation

Sandisk ImageMate 5 in 1 Reader

Sandisk ImageMate 5-in-1

Code nameSandisk ImageMate 5 in 1 Reader
InterfaceUSB 2.0
SocketMulti Slot x1
Card SupportedMemory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, xD Picture Card, Secure Digital, MultiMediaCard
Dimensions, mm101x69x20,5
Unit Weight, g50

Professional card reader Sandisk supports not so many formats (though xD is also among them!), but can boast with high-speed characteristics in work with fast SD cards; has a modern design and even has a button which provides superior performance to transfer pictures, music, video and data between flash memory cards and your computer.

Sandisk ImageMate 5 in 1 Reader

Stylish and fastest card reader - Sandisk

Card reader has USB socket type B that distinguishes it from other; comes with a suitable cable. We want to mark a universal slot dedicated to SD, MS or xD memory cards. A rather brave solution!

Transcend TS0MFLRD7

Transcend TS0MFLRD7

Transcend TS0MFLRD7

Code nameTranscend TS0MFLRD7
InterfaceUSB 2.0
SocketCF Slot x1 SM Slot x1 MS + SD + MMC + RS-MMC Slot x1
Card SupportedCompactFlash Card Type I/II, Microdrive, Secure Digital, miniSD (with adapter) MulitiMediaCard, RS-MMC (with adapter), Memory Stick/Memory Stick PROMemory Stick Duo/PRO Duo (with adapter), SmartMedia Card
Dimensions, mm97x64x14
Unit Weight, g55

It is rather an old model of card reader from Transcend, supports 7 types of cards. I use it successfully myself until now. Firstly, it comes with a special cover protecting device from all scratches. Secondly, it has a USB port for direct connection with PC, but also besides it has a mini-USB.

There are various card reader’s updates with 256 Mb of the internal memory. It is not presented in given memory. There is one significant thing - Transcend has only 3 slots: for CF cards, for SM, and the third one for SD and MS interfaces. Due to such constructive decision Transcend managed to reduce the thickness up to 14 mm.

Transcend TS0MFLRD7

Transcend card reader with USB cable

Trust 16-in-1 CR-1200

Trust 16-in-1 CR-1200

Trust 16-in-1 CR-1200

Code nameTrust 16-in-1 CR-1200
InterfaceUSB 2.0
SocketCF Slot x1 SM + xD Slot x1 SD + MMC Slot x1 MS Slot x1
Card SupportedCompact Flash I, Compact Flash II, (IBM) Microdrive, Smartmedia Card, Smartmedia RAM, Multimedia Card, Multimedia Card reduced size, Secure Digital card, Mini Secure Digital card, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick Magic Gate, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick Pro Duo, Memory Stick Select, XD card
Dimensions, mm75x62x17
Unit Weight, g50

Stylish card reader with a fashionable dark blue light diode. The main feature - bidirectional slots; allowed to reduce the dimensions of this device.

Trust 16-in-1 CR-1200

Front

Trust 16-in-1 CR-1200

Back

Trust accessories: mini-USB cord, a user manual and one CD with utilities and drivers. There is a mark on the case -made in Netherlands. You can believe in it at first sight on this qualitative and stylish card reader.

Trust 16-in-1 CR-1200

Card reader from Netherlands

Testing methodology

We tested card readers on Sempron 2200 + processor and Asus A7N8X-X motherboard (see a review "External WD Passport: a true life and romanticism"). We took off all USB periphery, a mouse and a keyboard were connected through PS/2, so an opportunity of channel division, width of 60 Mb/ s. (standard USB 2.0), between tested card reader and other devices was excluded entirely.

In those tests we used Kingston memory cards: SD Ultimate 133X 1 Gbyte, MMC Plus 1 Gbyte and CF Elite Pro 50x 2 Gbytes. Unfortunately, to get a fast Memory Stick card to us was impossible, so from all formats we shall view only to opportunities of the three most widespread card readers.

Let's note, that the maximal speed of data transmission for SD Ultimate is about 23 Mb/s. – read speed and 20 Mb/ s. – write speed. For MMC Plus - 11 Mb/s. – read speed and 7 Mb/s. – write speed. For CF Elite Pro - 10 Mb/s. – read speed and 8 Mb/ s. – write speed.

Testing methodology consist of two synthetic tests: by means of AIDA32 we shall define average speed of casual read and write, and also speed of buffer’s work and average access time. By means of Iometer we shall estimate a dependence between the speed of data transmission and the size of data blocks in order to define an optimal level of work to every card reader.

Blocks we have chosen:

  • 4 Kb - blocks of sector size, correspond to small files (saved WEB-pages);
  • 32 Kb - average size of the small document;
  • 500 Kb - photo with small resolution;
  • 1 Mb - standard file size, which shows the real speed of flash memory;
  • 2 Mb - photo with large resolution.

Speed of data transmission will be defined in 4 modes. The most widespread - linear write and read speeds, are typical for data copying. Less spread - casual read speed, is typical for starting of programs from flash-card. And most seldom used - casual write speed, this mode is typical for saving temporal data.

Attention! Tables will be compiled according to the results of all tests; the best result will be - dark blue, the worst result -red.

To get an absolute victory – mean to take the leading positions in each of two tests with every type of cards.

Leaders of race

We will begin with "breakages". Noname could not distinguish a CompactFlash, Memory Corp card reader has refused suddenly to accept MMC. Moreover we wanted to include xD-Pucture memory card in our testing, but from all card readers only Trust have seen xD card, due to this we express our thanks to Trust .

Behavior of all card readers with different types of cards was unpredictable, so a leadership, for example, in work with SD doesn’t mean a victory in reading CF (different controllers). As a result we have decided to look for absolute winner in work with each concrete type of cards.

CompactFlash

Look for first diagram. AIDA32:

ApacerDigitexKingstonMCTranscendTrust
Read Speed, MB/s.6,527,437,497,374,687,42
Average Read Speed, MB/ s7,218,518,498,54,918,58
Average Write Speed, MB/s5,937,067,157,054,496,97
Average Access Time, ms0,80,90,90,90,80,9

You cannot find Sandisk card reader in this diagram, cause it doesn’t support CompactFlash. Transcend card reader was lower among all opponents, who distinguished CF. Apacer takes an average position, and for leadership struggled Kingston and Trust. As for Digitex it was very close to them. Nevertheless, the maximum speed of data transmission was about 8,58 MB/ s. – that’s equal to 58 x.

In Iometer test we shall check a joint work of memory card and card reader in four various modes.

Linear Read Speed:

ApacerDigitexKingstonMCTranscendTrust
4K3,143,43,323,372,823,34
32K6,166,896,96,844,446,88
500K6,587,427,427,374,647,4
1M6,587,437,427,364,657,41
2M6,567,437,437,374,637,4

The picture is pretty much the same on this diagram too, but we’ve got Digitex in leaders here, Kingston was very close, after were Trust and MC. Apacer again takes an average position.

Linear Write Speed:

ApacerDigitexKingstonMCTranscendTrust
4K3,073,363,363,343,033,36
32K5,566,566,526,524,356,53
500K5,917,037,036,984,57,02
1M5,927,027,036,984,497,01
2M5,927,037,036,974,487,03

Digitex continues to surprise us pleasantly. Four victories out of five - behind Digitex. Also there was a battle between Kingston and Trust for the leading positions and as for Transcend it remained as outsider.

Casual Read Speed:

ApacerDigitexKingstonMCTranscendTrust
4K2,953,13,13,082,643,09
32K6,036,726,726,674,46,71
500K6,567,47,417,354,647,4
1M6,587,417,427,364,637,4
2M6,567,427,437,364,637,4

The result demonstrated by Kingston here is rather better. But it doesn’t change the whole picture.

Casual Write Speed:

ApacerDigitexKingstonMCTranscendTrust
4K0,210,20,210,210,210,21
32K1,331,381,371,381,251,37
500K4,875,625,575,553,875,57
1M5,356,256,246,24,166,25
2M5,616,596,596,564,336,6

Conclusion: in the most important tests of linear read and write speeds the absolute leader - Digitex. According to all quantity of victories the first place belongs to Kingston card reader. Trust - on the third place. Most worst was Transcend in all tests with CompactFlash. Let's note, that all card readers have shown a real speed maximum for the given memory card.

Multi Media Card

First look. AIDA32 results:

ApacerDigitexKingstonNonameSandiskTranscendTrust
Read Speed, MB/s1,631,631,664,621,721,71,6
Average Read Speed, MB/s1,791,781,775,811,881,81,69
Average Write Speed, MB/s1,351,391,44,181,61,341,4
Average Access Time, ms1,31,31,30,91,31,21,3

That’s striking! On a background of identical ‘turtle’ results of all card readers unknown Noname have shown very wonderful results! It is three times faster card reader than others! And we can say that slightly outsiders are Trust and Transcend.

Let’s go on and see will this position of leaders be the same after Iometer tests?

Linear Read Speed:

ApacerKingstonNonameSandiskTranscendTrust
4K1,221,243,241,251,291,2
32K1,61,64,081,61,641,56
500K1,621,634,261,621,661,59
1M1,631,634,261,631,661,59
2M1,631,634,261,631,661,56

Noname goes far ahead, the others on the one level. Results of Trust are a little lower.

Linear Write Speed:

ApacerKingstonNonameSandiskTranscendTrust
4K1,21,222,891,221,211,22
32K1,41,464,391,441,381,46
500K1,431,54,651,51,411,5
1M1,431,54,661,51,411,5
2M1,411,54,661,51,381,5

Casual Read Speed:

ApacerKingstonNonameSandiskTranscendTrust
4K1,151,173,081,161,221,14
32K1,581,5841,581,621,55
500K1,631,634,241,631,661,59
1M1,631,634,241,641,661,58
2M1,631,634,261,641,661,56

Casual Write Speed:

ApacerKingstonNonameSandiskTranscendTrust
4K0,10,10,220,10,10,1
32K0,560,560,710,560,540,57
500K1,31,362,371,341,271,35
1M1,361,433,431,421,331,41
2M1,381,444,31,431,351,44

Conclusion: so we have an absolute leader of all tests - transparent card reader of unknown origin. Other participants have shown identical results. More slow in reading was Trust, and in writing - Transcend.

MMC is not in good graces of the majority of manufacturers. Read speed doesn’t exceed of 11 x and write speed - 10 x. Only Noname showed us a half of all possible opportunities.

Secure Digital

Let's begin, as always, with AIDA32 results.

ApacerDigitexKingstonMCNonameSandiskTranscendTrust
Read Speed, MB/s5,234,896,244,884,88,926,44,86
Average Read Speed, MB/s6,496,078,566,065,9712,38,795,97
Average Write Speed, MB/s3,923,955,853,955,8611,55,93,95
Average Access Time, ms1,71,61,71,61,51,61,91,6

This diagram shows that Sandisk is a leader here, cause it was specially created for SD cards. Close competitors are Transcend and Kingston; about 25 % behind. Here we have no bright outsider, only Trust again was just a little lower than in the previous test.

Now we will check the work of all devices in different modes.

Linear Read Speed:

ApacerDigitexKingstonMCNonameSandiskTranscendTrust
4K1,941,941,941,941,762,81,821,94
32K4,664,394,394,393,847,735,414,37
500K5,144,834,834,834,128,646,354,82
1M5,154,834,854,854,138,726,374,83
2M5,154,854,844,854,118,886,354,81

The leader is the same - Sandisk. But thus we have a bright outsider – Noname, the others on the one level.

Linear Write Speed:

ApacerDigitexKingstonMCNonameSandiskTranscendTrust
4K1,141,151,151,151,182,40,931,15
32K3,053,143,143,143,496,933,343,14
500K3,453,573,573,574,137,934,083,57
1M3,473,593,583,574,167,964,13,57
2M3,473,563,593,594,148,044,083,56

Finally here come the last diagrams, so let’s forget about the leader and concentrate on outsiders we have. We can mark, that Apacer has the lower linear write speed, though not so much. Best after Sandisk result showed Noname.

Casual Read Speed:

ApacerDigitexKingstonMCNonameSandiskTranscendTrust
4K1,721,721,721,721,412,841,571,71
32K4,494,234,224,233,726,975,174,21
500K5,124,84,84,83,927,996,294,8
1M5,144,824,824,824,088,666,324,8
2M5,124,824,824,824,248,846,324,82

Casual Write Speed:

ApacerDigitexKingstonMCNonameSandiskTranscendTrust
4K0,620,620,620,620,652,120,530,62
32K2,372,412,422,422,56,452,411,94
500K3,053,163,153,143,237,883,54,38
1M3,053,163,163,143,237,883,554,82
2M3,043,163,163,133,237,893,524,83

Conclusion: the absolute leader in all tests became Sandisk. The second place should be given to Transcend. Noname was better with write speed, but lower – with read speed. We can say that Apacer was slowest in writing.

We congratulate the winners

As a result, a universal card reader, well working with all formats, doesn’t exist at all. But we have got an absolute average one - Memory Corp card reader. But, unfortunately, it will not satisfy all needs of those users, who are looking for the fastest medium with the maximum storage capacity.

Even multi-card readers have its own specialization especially in work with MMC and SD. Noname as the first and Sandisk as the second go ahead of all their competitors in 2-3 times! The situation with CF is less extraordinary, all devices have got maximum from card practically.

Results of the championship reduced in one table:

CFMMCSD
IKingstonNonameSandisk
IIDigitexSandiskTranscend
IIITrustKingstonDigitex

We were surprised getting such results, but now we can say what card readers better not to buy, if you are planning to use one of tested here card readers.

CFMMCSD
OutsiderTranscendTrust, TranscendApacer, Noname

So if you wish to get from card reader maximum read and write speeds, in this case it is necessary to think about purchase of the specialized device. But we shall examine it in next reviews.

Автор: Aleksandr Radaev