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ASKA Cardbus 32
SpeedOver

The Best Digital Product
That You Can't Buy
(Outside of Japan)

In early May, 2003 DPReview noted that the small Japanese company ASKA had announced that it was shipping a 32 bit Cardbus PC card adaptor. What you may ask is this, and why do you need one? And, if it's so great where can you get one and what does it cost?

Photographers working in the field who use notebook computers for storing their data files face the problem that the PC Card slot available on all portable computers is a slow interface. Transferring a 1 GB card can be a lengthy slow process — up to 15 minutes.

The solution is to carry along a Firewire or USB2 card reader. Of course this means extra gear in your bag. And, if you are a PC user with a mini-Firewire port on your laptop you'll find that this port isn't powered, and so your Firewire card reader needs to be plugged into AC power to work. Mac users don't have this problem. USB2 card readers on PCs don't have this problem either, they are self powered. An examination of this problem is detailed in my August, 2003 article on card readers.

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The E-mail

I didn't think much more about this product after reading the announcement because Phil Askey noted in his report that the company was not interested in distributing the product outside of Japan. But then, in early September I received an e-mail from a reader in Japan asking if I would be interested in trying one of these cards myself. This gentleman was kind enough to purchase one and courier it to me. The price was about U.S. $60 with shipping.

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The Good News

What this little Japanese company has done is what none of the big boys has had the engineering or marketing sense to tackle — the limited bus speed of the drivers and controllers in standard CompactFlash to PC Card (PCMCIA) adaptors. The PC card bus can be made to run at full system bus speed, but it's the drivers and card controls that are the bottleneck.

What ASKA has done is create a CompactFlash / PC Card adaptor that runs at the full 32 bit bus speed. Here are some test results, comparing a Firewire card reader, USB2 card reader and a standard CF card to PC card adaptor. The test was done with a single directory containing 39 files totaling 120 Megabytes. The card used was a 1GB Microdrive and the computer used was a Dell 8500 with a 1.9Ghz Pentium 4 and 1GB of RAM.

ASKA SpeedOver card adaptor
32 seconds
Standard PC card adaptor
1 minute 55 seconds
Firewire card reader
32 seconds
USB2 card reader
32 seconds

No discussion needed. The SpeedOver does exactly what it is supposed to, increasing transfer speed by a factor of 4X. Of course I was curious to note that the SpeedOver as well as the Firewire and USB2 card readers recorded the same speed. Was this an overall bus speed limitation, or was the Microdrive the limiting factor?

I therefore repeated the test with my other notebook computer, a Fujitsu Lifebook P5010. This has a 900Mhz Mobile Pentium 4 with 512GB of RAM. It also has both a PC card slot and a dedicated CompactFlash card slot. The same single directory containing 39 files totaling 120 Megabytes was used.

ASKA SpeedOver card adaptor
32 seconds
Standard PC card adaptor
2 minute 55 seconds
Dedicated CompactFlash slot
2 minute 55 seconds

The only conclusion that I can draw from this is that the SpeedOver adaptor is running at the full system bus speed while the PC Card slot and the dedicated CF card slot use the same slow 16 bit controller and cardbus. Also, processor speed plays a roll when the cardbus is used.

The final thing I was curious to discover was if the transfer speed was somehow limited by the Microdrive. I used a 1GB TwinMOS high speed solid state card for the next test, using the same directory and files, and found that using the SpeedOver on either computer saw the same transfer time of 55 seconds. This tells me two things; the Microdrive is faster than this particular solid state card at continuous transfers, and in fact the limiting factor seems to ultimately be system bus speed, not card speed.


Tree Cliff. Banff National Park — September, 2003
Canon 1Ds with 70-200mm f/2.8L IS @ ISO 100
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Installation

The card arrived with Japanese only instructions and a CD containing drivers (MS Windows only I'm afraid. There is no Mac support). I loaded the CD, and then putting a CF card in the adaptor I placed it in the PC card slot of my laptop computer. Windows plug-and-play installer opened and I told it to install the new device automatically. It found the correct driver for Windows XP on the CD and that was that. It has worked since without problem. Installation on a second computer went equally smoothly. Windows did announce that the driver was not Microsoft approved, but I ignored the warning without penalty (so far).

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The Bad News

Well, why can't you run down to your local retailer and buy a SpeedOver card adaptor? Because ASKA appears not to be interested in distribution of this product outside of Japan. To my knowledge it is only available in that country. Why one of the companies like Delkin, Lacie or Microtech isn't climbing all over these guys is beyond me.

How can you get a SpeedOver adaptor? Frankly I don't know, and I'm sorry to tease you with this product information and no suggested means of obtaining one. If you have a friend or business associate in Japan who can send you one, that's one solution. Or, if you know of a Japanese photographic retailer that ships internationally please let us all know. But don't write asking me the name of my kind benefactor in Japan. I'm sure he won't be able to help. ( Here is a link to an online reseller in Japan. I can't read Japanese so I can't tell if they will ship internationally or not. You're on your own with this one. )

If you're entrepreneurially minded, here's a business opportunity. Contact ASKA and see if you can get the worldwide marketing rights for the product. Let me know if you do. I'll give you lots of press because this product deserves a wider audience, and photographers deserve faster card transfers.

Update:

Since this was first published I've been informed that Dynamism, (a reputable exporter of high-tech Japanese-market-only products) is now carrying the CF32A for $89. Overpriced, but at least you can get one.

Update:

In early October, 2003 Delkin announced that it was making the Aska adaptor available in North America. The online price is $59.95. I wish I could say that they decided to import this device because of the above review and comments, but likely not. In any event, if you use CF cards and have a laptop with a Cardbus PC card slot this is a must have, and is now easy to obtain.

Update:

February, 2004: Mac owners will be pleased to learn that they are no longer left out. An OS X beta driver is now available for download from the Delkin web site. SD card and Memorystick versions are also now available.


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Concepts: PC Card, Laptop, CompactFlash, Personal computer, Motherboard, ExpressCard, Solid-state drive, Wi-Fi

Entities: Delkin, Fujitsu, Canon, Dell, Microsoft, Microtech, North America, Japan, The price, Banff National Park, PC Card, Pentium 4, PCMCIA, Windows, Windows XP, OS X, Michael Reichmann, Phil Askey, RAM, Lifebook P5010

Tags: card, pc card, card readers, card slot, pc card slot, card adaptor, bus speed, SpeedOver card adaptor, pc card adaptor, cf cards, computer, ASKA SpeedOver card, Cardbus PC card, Firewire card reader, solid state card, PC card bus, SpeedOver adaptor, CF card slot, Japan, CompactFlash card slot, standard cf card, USB2, transfer speed, card speed, faster card transfers, GB card, Microdrive, 32 bit, notebook computer, card controls, single directory, SD card, Japanese company, The card, bit cardbus pc, japanese company aska, bus speed limitation, bit bus speed, limited bus speed, Aska adaptor