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Fastest way to get image files into my computer?

What do you think is the fastest and most reliable way to get image files from a Compact Flash card into my computer? — John G

I've used the SanDisk Firewire 800 card reader for years on both my MacBook Pro and Mac Pro. It continues to perform admirably on both systems.

The advantage of a Firewire-based reader is that it can plug into any computer with a Firewire port. Ditto for USB, but USB is generally slower than Firewire 800.

Transfer speed depends hugely on the card. Here are transfer times on the MacBook Pro using the Lexar Firewire 800 card reader:

Extreme III: 13.4 MB/sec
Extreme IV: 31.9MB/sec
Extreme Pro: 59MB/sec

The Extreme IV card was 2.4X faster.

For environments with numerous cards to download now, use fast cards, and two card readers simultaneously.

Newer MacBook Pros

June 2009 model 13" and 15" MacBook Pros have a built-in SD/SDHC reader. It doesn't support CompactFlash though.

ExpressCard/34 readers

These adapters work in computers with an ExpressCard/34 or ExpressCard/54 slot. For Apple Macs, this means only in MacBook Pro models with an ExpressCard slot. PC users might or might not have the slot.

  • Read speed will still depend greatly on the card; you 'll need the fastest cards to benefit;
  • Some models might be slightly bulkier than the Firewire reader (but no cable is required);
  • They can't be used at the same time as anything else in the ExpressCard slot eg an eSATA card.

ExpressCard/34 cards can be used in 54mm slots as well (no Apple Mac has a 54mm slot, but PCs might).

For high volume use, consider the dual-card Sonnet Pro Dual Compact Flash Adapter ExpressCard/34. It appears to support speeds up to 133MB/sec; if you need to download two cards at once, this is an important issue.

The Delkin Devices ExpressCard 34 - CompactFlash Card Adapter is very reasonably priced, but appears limited to 40MB/sec.

See also


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