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SD Card Readers and 4GB Card Compatibility

By Stan Jirman

The first few 4GB SD cards have recently hit the streets, but because only few cameras actually support these cards, there's a lot of uncertainty among consumers about what works and what does not. Knowing that my Canon 1Ds MK2 camera won't be able to format such a card, but hoping it would work once formatted, I ordered a RiData 4GB 150x SD card. With great anticipation I put it into the camera, and ... well, let's say things got quite a bit complicated.

Initially, the camera could not do anything with it. It seemed like it wasn't formatted. Since the camera didn't know how to format it, I had to find other means of achieving that. Interestingly, my wife's Canon SD500 could format it just fine (go figure). Once formatted I put it into my 1Ds MK2 and filled it with pictures up to capacity.

When I put the card into the card reader, my Mac G5 was not very happy. The card would not mount, and the disk utility program told me that the card was 955MB in size and not readable. After some research, including help from one of Apple's filesystem engineers, it turned out that this problem occurs on both Mac and Windows machines, and is due to incompatibility of the card reader. This meant that I had to find a card reader that works with 4GB SD cards.

I set out to the local electronics store and bought every USB 2.0 SD / multi card reader they had, and tested them. Those that worked in the first place I also subjected to a performance test. The results should make you wonder where the USB 2.0 speed went... Measurements were performed using an identical chunk of data (roughly 500MB of pictures) from a SanDisk Ultra 1GB SD card and a Lexar 80x 1GB CF card (the fastest I had at my disposal) on a PowerMac Quad G5, directly connected to front USB 2.0 port. Copy performance was measured in Tiger Finder, copying onto an internal 400GB SATA drive, without imposing any additional overhead.

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Card Readers That Worked

  • Inland Multi-Plus Card Reader
    • CF read: 4:42 min
    • SD read: 3:38 min
    • Notes: Permanently attached long, soft cable; interfers with USB speakers; SD card is inserted "upside down"

  • Q-Stor All-In-1 Card Reader/Writer
    • CF read: 4:43 min
    • SD read: 3:39 min
    • Notes: The smallest and lightest of the bunch

  • Macsense CR-101 Multi-Card Reader
    • CF read: 4:42 min
    • SD read: 3:37 min
    • Notes: SD card is inserted "upside down"

  • SIIG 18-in-1 Reader/Writer
    • CF read: 1:22 min
    • SD read: 1:38 min
    • Notes: Looks bigger than others at first but really isn't, most expensive ($25) - but way faster than the others!

  • Macally all-in-one
    (no speed test performed due to its unappealing, large size and permanently attached, stubby USB cable)

For reference, I also measured my SanDisk "puck" FireWire CF card reader, at 1:27 for the same CF card.

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Card Readers That Did Not Work:

A number of card readers failed to correctly mount a 4GB SD card, both on the Mac as well as on Windows:

  • Lexar 12-in-1 USB 2.0 reader
  • Belkin all-in-1 USB 2.0 reader
  • Whole family of i.Connect USB 2.0 readers

What does this tell us? First, not all "USB 2.0" card readers are fully as fast as they could be, so you may be well advised comparing the read performance. Second, if you are planning on using 4GB or larger SD cards (in the future, anyway) you need to make sure that you get a reader that can actually read them. Based on the above, you can imagine which reader I'll keep and which will go back.

By Stan Jirman

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Concepts: CompactFlash, Card reader, Serial ATA, SanDisk, Solid-state computer storage media, USB flash drive, USB, Memory card reader

Entities: Mac and Windows machines, Canon, SanDisk, RiData, Apple, SD, Tiger Finder, Stan Jirman, Windows

Tags: cards, card readers, sd cards, 4gb sd card, usb 2.0 readers, CF card, camera, usb 2.0 sd, multi card reader, CF card reader, USB 2.0 speed, USB 2.0 port, 1ds mk2 camera, lexar 12-in-1 usb, stubby usb cable, larger sd cards, internal 400gb sata, disk utility program, local electronics store, great anticipation, SanDisk Ultra, The card, identical chunk, Quad G5, performance, Stan Jirman, filesystem engineers, additional overhead, performance test, Whole family, Tiger Finder, Copy performance, read performance, speed test, large size, Windows, pictures, Belkin, PowerMac, RiData