CARDSPEED - Card Readers and Memory Cards

Olympus Type M 1GB xD-Picture Card


Why these extensive tests? Well, SmartMedia and xD-Picture cards were always known for surprises - at least SmartMedia over 32MB and xD-Picture Cards over 128MB. And the possibility to use xD-Picture Cards in a SmartMedia slot using a simple passive adapter always lead to confusion. Because SmartMedia are only specified up to 128MB, this solution gets exciting over 128MB.

In the meantime, I found an official Press Release from Olympus. As I initially assumed, "Type M" stands for MLC technology, which stores more than one bit per cell (usually 2 bits per cell by using 4 levels of charge). The strange thing is that MLC flash is supposed to give higher read rates, while the card actually offers a lower read rate than the previous cards. The Press release states read rates of up to 4MB/s and write rates of up to 2.5MB/s. But these values can be found in several documents, so they might be just generic figures.

All in all this means that there are two compatibility issues to deal with: The increased capacity and the different technology.

Test Results

For the tests 21 card readers were in use with up to three ways: The card in the native xD-Slot, using the passive adapter in the SmartMedia Slot, and using the active adapter in the CF slot. Here are the results:

A comment across both columns indicates that the file system could not be recognized:
- not recognized means that the media was not recognized at all
- unreadable means that the meadia could not be read
- Error means that the filesystem could not be mounted properly
A comment for read or write indicates that the file system was recognized properly, but problems occurred during the respective operation:
- Fail means that the operation failed completely
- Error means that the operation was not successful


Card readers with xD Slot

11 of the contestants have a working xD slot (some of the other readers have a notch for xD-Picture Cards, but without electrical contacts). Only 4 could read and write the card properly, while 2 were at least able to read the card.
Looking at the controllers, there were 6 different controllers in 7 different configurations (due to firmware levels). The Neo Dio ND3260 could not read the card at all, the DataFab DF-UG-26 was not able to read from the proper address, and the Carry Winter was able to recognize the filesystem, but encountered errors during read and write. The ICSI IC1210 with Firmware 1.6 was able to read the media, but failed to write. The Hama IC1210 with Firmware 1.8D worked properly, as well as the Carry Win II and the ALi M5635.

Card readers with SmartMedia Slot

For card readers with xD and SmartMedia slot, it should not matter whether you connect the xD-Picture Card directly or through the passive adapter. However, the Carry Win II was not able to recognize the filesystem when using the xD to SmartMedia adapter.
For card readers without xD slot, one should not expect cards of more than 128MB to work. As a big surprise, the Carry Jupiter and KTC FC1320 were able to handle the card properly. And the KTC FC1320 was even faster than any of the readers with native xD slot.

Using the xD to CF-I adapter

The adapter should behave like a normal CF card, which means that if the adapter itself works, it should work in any CF slot. As expected, it worked well with almost all card readers. Only the Carry Jupiter showed errors during read and write, and the SMSC USB97C223 was only able to write to the card. This means that this card reader was the only one that could not read the card at all.
The other 19 readers can be split up in 2 groups: 14 were able to read and write "fast", the other 5 worked a lot slower, but still without errors.


If you want to use high capacity xD-Picture Cards in a card reader, you either have to choose a proper reader, or get the xD to CF adapter. The xD to SmartMedia adapter might work in some SmartMedia slots, but in total does not give a higher success rate.

Hans-Jürgen Reggel   ·   ·   2005-04-14 ~ 2005-04-28