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					Tom’s Hardware Guide Mass Storage: Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter




                                   Accelerated Compact Flash:
                                  The Addonics SATA CF Adapter


Goodbye To CF Card Readers?




4-in-1, 7-in-1, 20-in-1... the industry seems to constantly encourage you to upgrade your card reader by
enticing you with how many formats the new ones can handle. In fact, though, there aren't really all that
many different types of memory cards; there are just a few that also have some more compact variations.
But now, in something of a twist, Addonics wants to make the popular Compact Flash format speedier and
more functional by using the Serial ATA (SATA) interface.

Chip cards are used with flash memory in digital cameras, smart phones or other mobile applications.
Serving as an interface to the PC is either a direct connecti on from the device (USB, Bluetooth, serial) or a
card reader. These readers are either small and designed for a specific card type, or as big as a cell phone
with slots for various formats. Most devices connect to the computer via USB cable.

Often, however, card readers differ in terms of speed, the critical factor being how fast the USB interface
works. For reasons of cost, the simplest solutions are often deployed, which don't even come close to
taking up the entire USB bandwidth. And figuring out which card readers are fast and which are slow is
nearly impossible when you're looking at the products in the store.

Couldn't better performance be achieved if you connected a card reader directly to a SATA ATA controller?
Addonics pondered this question, and now offers a SATA-CF adapter that can be installed in a drive bay or


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Tom’s Hardware Guide Mass Storage: Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter


in a slot on the rear of the PC. But the range of potential applications could be far more significant than
any boost in performance.




The superlatives never stop: Can you name 23 formats?




Addonics SATA To CF Adapter




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Tom’s Hardware Guide Mass Storage: Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter




The adapter package comes with a complete installation kit, including a drive bay mount for a 3.5" slot,
and both standard-height and low-profile slot brackets. This lets the SATA CF adapter be used in a flat,
compact 19" rack server.

Prior to installation, the board containing the read/write system for compact flash cards (type I or II) and
the SATA interface chip, plus all the connectors, has to be screwed into one of the slot mounting brackets
or the 3.5" bay mounting bracket. Then the device must be connected to a free port using the SATA data
cable. Power is supplied via a small Molex connector.

The mechanism for inserting and ejecting CF cards is extremely simple, yet adequate. One should never
use it forcefully, though that advice certainly applies to all CF readers.

In fact, the SATA CF adapter exceeds the specified performance of both card reader devices, so for
ambitious users, the Addonics device results in some slight advantages even without using the fastest
memory card of each type. These benefits only come to the fore, however, when you intend to work a lot
with CF cards. That said, we also found that user-friendliness is not always a given (see the subsequent
sections).




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Tom’s Hardware Guide Mass Storage: Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter




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Tom’s Hardware Guide Mass Storage: Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter




Installation With Bay Mounting Bracket




At first glance, the pre-assembled adapter for mounting in a 3.5" drive bay looks like a front-loading
streamer tape solution. Flash storage devices are certainly suitable for data backup, but the costs per
gigabyte are prohibitive compared to writeable DVDs and other typical backup solutions.

Installation With PCI Slot Bracket



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Tom’s Hardware Guide Mass Storage: Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter




Without a doubt, this solution is less than ideal for desktop PCs, since you have to be able to access the
back of your system every time you switch cards, and many of today's PCs are minitower cases that get
stowed under the desk. But the approach might make sense for rack servers, because 19" cases can be
opened from the front as well as the rear. Anyone who's concerned about their storage media in a data
center should therefore make sure that the rack is lockable.


Card Swapping: Plug & Pray

One drawback of the Addonics device is that only the very latest SATA controllers and chipsets support the
hot swap function. These include latest generation models from Intel (with ICH7 Southbridge) and the
nForce4 from NVIDIA.

This affects how you can use the cards; without hot swap, the system has to be restarted before it detects
the CF card and makes it accessible under Windows. If you suddenly switch CF media under Windows and
your controller doesn't support hot swapping, you won't be able to access the CF card (regardless of its
type). In fact, calling up the Properties menu in the Device Manager caused our entire Windows system to
crash. So for older PCs, the SATA CF adapter cannot replace a USB card reader at all.

Operating System On Compact Flash?

Although most modern systems generally have no problem starting up an operating system from a USB
device - the only requirement is that the computer's BIOS support booting from USB - the USB port is not
our first choice when it comes to installing systems.

We tend to be of the same opinion when it comes to CF cards, since their storage capacity and
performance are simply not comparable to those offered by today's hard drives. On average, we're talking
about a maximum of 20 MB/s for the fastest flash cards for 2.5" drives, and 70 MB/s in 3.5" format.

So does that mean it's checkmate in terms of performance? The answer is: not entirely. For one thing,
that speed is sufficient for many applications; for another, access times for flash memory are incredibly
fast compared with those of magnetic storage devices, and the gap continues to widen.

While CF memory devices are now available with capacities of up to 8 GB and remain quite pricey, bigger
models are on the horizon, which will drive down prices further. The Hitachi 6 GB MicroDrive can be had
for far less, and if you can manage with 4 GB, you can come away without emptying your wallet. Even
better, you will more likely than not also be able to install a scaled-down version of Windows. Certainly,




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Tom’s Hardware Guide Mass Storage: Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter


for a Linux system, 4 GB is more than adequate.


New Possible Applications

We can see some interesting applications for this solution, such as noiseless systems and/or miniature
industrial PCs. System installations on flash media seems inevitable here. In addition, flash devices have
very low energy requirements, making them suitable for routers and terminal computers, as well as
home-based media servers. Of course, in the latter case the data are stored on hard drives, which should
shut off when idle.

Finally, this adapter solution also enables the development of ever greater numbers of special applications
based on standard components. A mini-ITX mainboard including SATA CF adapter and a memory card is
cheaper and more versatile than a proprietary solution with a fixed amount of preprogrammed memory.
Of course, Addonics only passes along to its customers the interface chip, which can then be processed
directly into applications to save space. Here we're thinking specifically about auto computers, which in
the medium term, are set to implement manufacturer soluti ons designed for navigation and basic
entertainment.



                                      Hardware
Processor                    2x Intel Xeon, 3.6 GHz
                             1 MB L2 Cache (Nocona)
Motherboard                  Asus NCL-DS
                             Intel E7520 Chipset
                             BIOS 1005
Memory                       2x 512 MB DDR2-400 Corsair, ECC, Registered
                             CL 3-3-3-10
Controller UltraATA, USB     Intel 82801EB (ICH5)
Controller SCSI              Adaptec AIC-7902B Ultra320
Controller SATA              Silicon Image Sil3124 4-Port SATA-II-Controller
Graphics                     ATI RageXL , 8 MB
Network                      Broadcom BMC5721 PCIe Gigabit Ethernet Controller
OS                           Windows Server 2003 Standard
                             Service Pack 1
                           Benchmarks & Messurements
Performance                  c't h2benchw 3.6
                                 Drivers & Software
Graphics Driver              Windows Default Driver
IDE Driver                   Intel INF Drivers 7.0.0.1025
DirectX-Version              9.0c
Resolution                   1024x768, 32 Bit, 85 Hz




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Tom’s Hardware Guide Mass Storage: Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter


USB Card Readers




This no-name card reader may be speedy, but the Addonics adapter beats it.




While versatile, the Digital Media Drive from Pearl Agency is not as zippy as our second card reader.




Test Results




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Tom’s Hardware Guide Mass Storage: Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter




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Tom’s Hardware Guide Mass Storage: Accelerated Compact Flash: The Addonics SATA CF Adapter




Conclusion: No Replacement For USB Card Readers

The performance values for the Addonics SATA CF Adapter are superior to those of the two other flash
card readers we tested. Although we did not have the advantage of using the fastest CF cards at the time
of our test, even with the middling 60X cards from Corsair - capable of transfer rates up to 9 MB/s - we
were able achieve improved transfer rates with the same memory card.

Admittedly, however, this adapter only represents a real improvement with the very latest systems that
support hot plugging of SATA devices; otherwise, there's no getting around rebooting the system every
time you switch cards. For conventional applications, such as working with digital photos, a USB card
reader remains the device of choice, even if it is a tad slower.

Addonics throws in some extra components with the SATA CF Adapter. These make it possible to use
standard components like SATA for mass storage devices, and flash cards as storage media for special
applications such as quieter or more compact computers.



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