Compact Flash Card Round Up: Transcend, Verbatim, Kingston and Scythe

Add Your Comments

With USB 3.0 becoming more and more prevalent in today’s world, isn’t it time you bought something that could use all that high speed you have available?

If you own a DSLR it’s your lucky day because today we’re testing high speed CF cards and readers. Today’s cameras are needing more and more space, you may have an 8, 16, or even 32 GB card in your camera for storage but have you ever thought about what speed it can transfer the pictures on and off? This can effect the burst speed of the camera and could be the difference between getting, and not getting, that amazing sporting shot, or leaping gazelle on your summer safari. It also determines how long it takes to transfer onto your computer on those cold dark days you finally decide to sort through them.

Alternatively you might be using a CF card as an OS drive on some micro computer you decided to build in a show box, because Raspberry Pi is just too mainstream!

Whatever you do with your CF cards, hopefully this review will help you decide which card and reader is for you.

Transcend, Verbatim, Kingston & Scythe

Transcend, Verbatim, Kingston & Scythe

Competitors

Kingston

Compatibility:  CompactFlash, CF Type I (UDMA 0-6), CF Type II (UDMA 0-6), SD, SDHC, SDHC UHS-I, SDXC, SDXC UHS-I, microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC, Memory Stick/M2, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick M2

Kingston Card & Reader

Kingston Card & Reader

Kingston Reader

Kingston Reader

Kingston’s USB 3.0 Media Reader
This nice looking reader is the first in the round up, with a brushed metallic top and plastic base. The Kingston USB 3.0 Media Reader claims no maximum read or write speed but with its gamer styling you feel it might just be a big performer. It’s the kind of reader you imagine blinking red below your 27” IPS monitor just in front of your Logitech G-15 keyboard. It comes complete with a USB cable so it’s ready for action out of the box.

Kingston Ultimate 600x 32Gb CF Card
The Kingston Ultimate 600x 32 GB flash card is the fastest Kingston are selling at the moment claiming up to 90 MB/s read and 90 MB/s write! It’s a nice looking CF card with a calming wavy background picture in browns and yellows. I get the feeling if you dropper it in some autumn grass you might just struggle to find it.

Scythe

Scythe Reader

Scythe Reader

Scythe Reader Packaged

Scythe Reader Packaged

Scythe USB 3.0 CF-Reader
The Scythe USB3.0 CF-Reader is an interesting design. It’s purely a CF reader, all the rest in this review are multi-card readers. It’s very compact and plugs straight into the USB port, which means no USB cable to forget if you’re taking it somewhere. It has a nice rubberized case which means it can handle any little knocks and scrapes it might get in your bag or pocket. The keyring fob also lends itself to being in your pocket alongside your keys. The blue USB plug, as expected from the title, hints its USB 3.0 compatibility, and hopefully the 100 MB/s speed it touts on the box.

Transcend

CompatibilitySDHC (UHS-I), SDXC (UHS-I), MicroSDHC, M2, MS (MSXC), CF (UDMA6/UDMA7)

Transcend Card & Reader

Transcend Card & Reader

The Transcend card reader is very sleek looking and business like and also the smallest of the multi-card readers. The sad thing about the plastic it’s made of is it’s a bit of a fingerprint magnet. It’s USB 3.0 as the name suggest, so I’m hoping for some good speeds from it. It comes with a USB cable and it has a nice blue data transfer LED.

Transcend Ultimate 600x 16 GB
The x600 is the second fastest card Transcend produce, the 1000x being the fastest. 600x is relatable to about 90 MB/s which is pretty darn fast, and exactly the same as the Kingston 600x so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. (for a review of the 1000x card they have, take a look here)

Verbatim

Compatibility:  CompactFlash (Type I and II), IBM Microdrive, SDHC, SDXC, miniSD, microSD, microSDHC, Multimedia card, RS-MMC, MMCmicro, Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Memory Stick Duo
Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick Micro, SmartMedia Card, xD Picture Card

Verbatim Card & Reader

Verbatim Card & Reader

Verbatim Card & Reader

Verbatim Card & Reader

Verbatim Universal Memory Card Reader
The Verbatim is very similar to the Transcend in its sleek black design. These companies seem to be tending toward the minimalist designs that can sit unnoticed on your desk. This multi-card reader is not USB 3.0 like the others. One thing I like about this card reader is the rubber feet it has on the base. A very simple idea but it stops the reader from sliding around on your desk. Something the other multi-card readers do not have. This will be used to see how much of an improvement, if any, you can get when you spend extra on a super high speed readers. The Verbatim has a green data transfer LED.

Verbatim CompactFlash 16 GB
This card, like the Verbatim reader, is slower than the others in the line-up and will be used as a comparison card. Is the price/performance worth it? Verbatim have some very reasonably priced high capacity cards on their line up so is there any reason to spend more for the extra speed or is it all just marketing numbers?

Testing

Test Bed

CPU Intel i7 3770K (Overclockers Approved!)
CPU Cooler Antec Kuhler 920
Motherboard ASUS Maximus V Extreme
RAM Kingston 8 GB 1866 MHz
GPU Nvidia GTX560 Ti
Storage Kingston 3K 120 GB SSD
PSU Corsair HX520W

Synthetic Test
For these tests the program ATTO Disk Benchmark 2.47 will be used.

“(ATTO) Disk Benchmark identifies performance in hard drives, solid state drives, RAID arrays as well as connections to storage.”

www.attotech.com

Three different numbers will be recorded from the test which does a full range of random files size transfer tests from 0.5Kb to 8092Kb:

  • 4 KB – The 4 KB file size transfer rate will be recorded to represent anyone who wishes to use a CF card as an operating system drive. This was more popular with people running super low power PCs or folding farms before SSDs got so cheap.
  • 512 KB – 512 KB represents the lower limit of photograph sizes. If you have your point and shoot or DSLR set to “low quality” mode then the photo is likely to be around this size. You can fit a lot more photos on the card but the quality is compromised. I say quality, but it’s simply the resolution, or number of pixels, that changes.
  • 8092 KB – This is to represent the average photograph size of a high resolution camera, anything over 10 MP will produce file sizes in excess of 8 MB.

Real World Test
The second test involved a slightly less scientific method. This was the “real world” test. The cards were placed in an Olympus E-3 (A high end DSLR circa 2007) which was set to burst mode. The shutter speed was set to 1/250 so as to not effect the transfer rate, the shutter button was then held down and the time between the photos being taken noted by ear after the internal memory was full and the camera started transferring data to the card.

Results & Discussion

I’m going to apologize in advance for this very graph heavy results section but it was unavoidable due to the nature of the testing. There will be one section with the results for the four readers, two graphs per reader, one for read speeds and one for write speeds. There is one section for the maximum read and write speeds of the cards themselves and then finally the real world test results.

Kingston Reader

Here are the results for the Kingston USB 3.0 Media Reader.

Results - Kingston Read Speed

Results – Kingston Read Speed

This first graph shows us the read speeds on the device with the three different CF cards for the three different file sizes.

Comparing the different file sizes there is a distinct difference between 4 KB, 512 KB, and 8092 KB. The 4 KB file transfer speeds are significantly lower than the other two. This is because the smaller file size puts a lot more load on the controller in the card. It has a much shorter time between finding the start of one file and finding the start of the next. This is not so much of an issue with larger file sizes, as the time to transfer the sequential data gives the controller more time to find the next file to transfer. The 512 KB and 8092 KB have very similar transfer speeds which implies the cards controllers have been tuned for larger files size, which is what you’d expect with them primarily being used for photo storage and a very small percentage, dwindling by the day, using them for OS drives.

Next, we can compare the difference in the individual speeds of the cards. All the cards had a very similar 4 KB read speed showing the newer cards in the Transcend and Kingston have decided not to add any performance compared to the USB 2.0 speeds rated, and much cheaper, Verbatim. There is a clear winner on the 512 KB and 8092 KB read speed front with the Transcend putting in a stunning 136 MB/s, beating the Kingston by 35 MB/s. The Verbatim puts in a solid effort for a USB 2.0 device with speeds around 26 MB/s.

Results - Kingston Write Speed

Results – Kingston Write Speed

This second graph shows us the write speeds on the device with the three different CF cards for the three different file sizes. Again the 4 KB speeds are significantly slower than the other two, but the Transcend does manage to pull ahead with 4.5 MB/s over the other two’s ~1.25 MB/s. Regarding the 512 KB and 8092 KB file sizes the Transcend was knocked off its top spot by the Kingston with a 10 MB/s difference. So from these results it looks like the Transcend is tuned more for read speed and the Kingston more for write speed. We will see how this theory develops after the other results.

Transcend Reader

Here are the results for the Transcend USB 3.0 Super Speed Card Reader.

Results - Transcend Read

Results – Transcend Read

This first graph shows us the read speeds on the device with the three different CF cards for the three different file sizes.

Looking at the 4 KB read speeds something quite interesting crops up when you compare this Transcend reader with the Kingston one. There is quite a large difference in the transfer rates, from around 4.5 MB/s on the Kingston to 13-19.5 MB/s on the Transcend. There is clearly something different about the controller chip that gives better small file performance on this reader. Does this explain the drop in speeds compared to the Kingston when you look at the 512 KB and 8092 KB results? The Transcend comes out on top again but with a lower transfer rate of 108 MB/s, quite a bit slower than with the Kingston reader. Have they sacrificed large files speeds for small file speeds? The Verbatim comes in with the slowest speeds again, but it’s still getting pretty close to the USB 2.0 real world limit of ~30 MB/s.

Results - Transcend Write

Results – Transcend Write

This second graph shows us the write speeds on the device with the three different CF cards for the three different file sizes.

This test has similar results to the Kingston with regards to the 512 KB and 8092 KB transfer rates but like the Transcend read test the Transcend card has a very good 4 KB rate. Maybe they use similar chips and the pairing of the Transcend reader and card has brought about some magical partnership that gives brilliant 4 KB read and write speeds. Now to find that out we’d have to pull apart both devices and do some research into the chips inside. Maybe another day, this review is going to be long enough as it is.

Verbatim Reader

Here we have the results for the Verbatim Universal Memory Card Reader. This is theoretically the slowest device in this round up. It is also however the cheapest. So lets see if you’re getting much extra with these new fangled USB 3.0 devices by comparing them to the older USB2.0 standard.

Results - Verbatim Read

Results – Verbatim Read

This first graph shows us the read speeds on the device with the three different CF cards for the three different file sizes.

Here we can see the limitations of the USB 2.0 device. It was running on a USB 3.0 bus but it was not build to go over the USB 2.0 standard real world maximum of about 30-35 MB/s. I was impressed when both the Transcend and Kingston managed to push the reader all the way to just over 40 MB/s, very good for a USB 2.0 device. Sadly the matching of the Verbatim reader and card doesn’t manage to gain any performance over the other readers with the Verbatim card.

The 4 KB transfer rates on the Verbatim card reader are very good compared to both the Kingston and the Transcend which is quite surprising as they are touted as much higher performance devices.

Results - Verbatim Write

Results – Verbatim Write

This second graph shows us the write speeds on the device with the three different CF cards for the three different file sizes.

Again the limitations of USB 2.0 come into play here with the maximums being just under 40 MB/s this time and again the Transcend doing very well in the 4 KB test.

Scythe Reader

Now to the final reader, we’re nearly at the end of the graphs don’t worry. The Scythe USB 3.0 CF Reader is the only purely CF reader out of the lot so lets see how it performs.

Results - Scythe Read

Results – Scythe Read

This first graph shows us the read speeds on the device with the three different CF cards for the three different file sizes. Looking at the 512 KB and the 8092 KB transfer rates we’re starting to get a good idea which is the best performer. The Scythe performs very similarly to the Transcend reader when looking at all of the different cards results.

Results - Scythe Write

Results – Scythe Write

This second graph shows us the write speeds on the device with the three different CF cards for the three different file sizes.

Again the results are very similar to that of the Transcend reader. Not much more to say there.

Cards

Now to how the cards performed. Here’s a graph of the maximum read speed that each card managed from the four readers.

Results - Cards Read

Results – Cards Read

Coming in at the top of the bunch with a staggering 137 MB/s maximum read speed on the 512 KB and 8092 KB file tests is, drum roll…. the Transcend Ultimate x600 16 GB card. A pretty staggering speed. The Kingston comes in second just managing to top over the 100 MB/s marker and bringing up the rear is the Verbatim, which hit a respectable 26 MB/s. Not too bad for a USB 2.0 device.

Time to see the write speeds results. Transcend has to bow down to Kingston on this round being beaten by the 80 MB/s transfer rates compared to just 70 MB/s for 512 KB and 8092 KB. The verbatim again coming in last but still not too bad for USB 2.0 with 12 MB/s. The notable result is the Transcends massively fast 4 KB write speeds topping 20 MB/s in contrast with the Kingston’s 1.5 MB/s.

Results - Cards Write

Results – Cards Write

Real World

This is the one where we find out if all those graphs and numbers make a real impact on your photography experience. Well it seems like it does. Using the Olympus E-3 in burst mode was affected quite significantly by the different cards. The Transcend 600x 16 GB card gave the fastest continuous burst rate of about one picture every 0.5 s. The Kingston 600x 32 GB came in second with one picture about every 0.65 s and the Verbatim 16 GB came in last with one photo approx every second.

Conclusion

Readers

So we’ve got all of the results in from the readers and it looks like if you want overall speed for large files, shown by the 512 KB and 8092 KB tests then you want to go for the Kingston reader, beating all the other readers by at least 30 MB/s maximum read and slightly less on write speeds. The Transcend comes in second on the larger file tests. On the other hand the Kingston’s 4k results weren’t impressive at all. The Transcend comes in top of the 4 KB results with the Scythe close behind and even the Verbatim beats the Kingston this time.

Cards
Best 4 KB card – This isn’t really a question. The Transcend card had outright the best results on the 4 KB tests so if you are thinking of using it in a super low power micro PC then this is the one for you.

Best 512 KB results – This is for the people who have a lower mega-pixel camera. The Kingston seems to be the one to choose on this. It is quite expensive so if you can’t quite fork out for it then the Transcend is an incredibly good choice. And well, if you’re shooting on a lower megapixel camera then you might not have very much at all to spend on your camera accessories and don’t care about what your burst rate is, or might not even have that option. By all means get the Verbatim as it’s a great price performance product.

Best 8092 KB – This is for the pros who care about if their burst speed will be 2+ pictures/second or a measly 1 picture per second. You might be shooting on an 18+ MP DSLR with a full studio lighting setup, or an impractically large telephoto lens to get that perfectly sharp shot of a lions tonsils as it yawns lazily on the Savanna at sunset. The absolute fastest card for high resolution images is the Transcend. No question. If the Transcend 600x isn’t quite enough, they also offer a 1000x card which I would love to get my hands on to play with. Hint Hint.

Here’s a table of the claimed maximum speeds against the actual speeds for the cards.

Card Claimed Read Claimed Write Measured Read Measured Write
Transcend 90 MB/s 90 MB/s 136 MB/s 70 MB/s
Kingston 90 MB/s 90 MB/s 101 MB/s 80 MB/s
Verbatim 6.5 MB/s 3.5 MB/s 26 MB/s 13 MB/s

From looking at that we can clearly see that all of the cards outperformed their claimed read speeds by at least 10%, with the Verbatim beating its claimed speed by a whopping 400%! The write speeds of the Kingston and Transcend are less impressive with neither managing their touted speeds but again the Verbatim destroys its by 370%!

Thank you very much to Kingston, Scythe, Transcend and Verbatim for supplying all of the products for this review.

Sam Denning

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *