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Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review

Matt Grayson takes a look at a variety of memory cards to see what's what.

| Digital memory group test in Memory Cards
Memory card group test
With the advent of SDXC, faster transfer speeds and the apparent loss of multimedia, how do the current cards shape up? Will a faster or cheaper card decide which camera you buy?
This group test will determine whether the transfer speeds are anywhere near what the manufacturers state in a realistic environment using a regular PC and a USB 2.0 card reader. For Compact flash and some SD/SDHC cards, I'll use the UDMA enabled card reader if the cards offer the feature. The list below is the cards that will be tested:
Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review: Memory card group test sizesCompactflash
Lexar Professional UDMA 300x 4Gb
Lexar Professional 133x 8Gb
Kingston Ultimate 266x 8Gb
Sandisk Extreme IV UDMA 300x 8Gb
Fujifilm 310x 4Gb
Secure Digital/Secure Digital High Capacity
Sandisk Extreme Ducati edition 4Gb SDHC Class6
Sandisk Ultra II 100x 4Gb SDHC Class2
Lexar Premium 60x 16Gb SDHC Class4
Kingston 8Gb SDHC Class4
Transcend 4Gb Class6
Sandisk Extreme III Pro-HG Duo 4Gb
Sandisk Pro Duo 4Gb
Sandisk Ultra II Pro Duo 100x 4Gb
Sony Pro Duo Mark2 4Gb
xD picture card
Olympus xD M+ 1Gb
Fujifilm xD M 1Gb
Card transfer speeds are based on the same read speed as a CD-ROM or audio CD which has a base rate of 150Kb/sec. The transfer speed relates to how much faster the card can work when compared to this base rate using the formula; a(transfer speed) x b(0.15Mb/s) = c(Mb/s). So the Lexar 300x speed has a transfer rate of 45Mb/s.
Rating Speed (MB/s)
UDMA stands for Ultra Direct Memory Access and refers to a quicker way of allowing processes to be completed without grinding the computer or processor to a halt. In computers, it allows hardware subsystems to access system memory for working independently of the CPU helping the efficiency of the computer.
Compactflash memory has been the card of choice for larger DSLRs and even some prosumer compacts for a number of years now. This is due to its high capacity, reliability and tendency to have faster transfer speeds.
Type I compactflash is thinner than Type II at 3.3mm compared to 5mm. Sandisk originally started manufacturing CF back in the 90's but quickly got adopted by many companies as the preferred type of flash memory for their cameras. Capacities vary between 512Mb and 100Gb with most popular sizes at 1Gb-16Gb.
Secure digital
Secure digital started off from humble beginnings as the multimedia card (MMC) and in the late 90's, Panasonic, Sandisk and Toshiba agreed to develop it into something more which then created SD. It was aimed as a rival to Sony's Memorystick which was released the year before and featured Magicgate technology. SD was fitted with its own type of DRM but was set up for music protection more than simply recording digital images.
A year later, the founders of SD cards created the SD Card Association which now has 30 companies in its membership. It is the SD Card Association that have capped the memory capacity of SDHC cards at 32Gb despite having the potential to reach 2Tb (2048Gb).
Recently SDXC (Secure Digital Extended Capacity) cards were announced which are allowed to get to the maximum 2Tb capacity but will also have the faster transfer speed of up to 300Mb/s or a 2000x write speed.
Type Write speed (Mb/s) Read speed (Mb/s)
Std. 1.3 5
  3 5
M 2.5 4
H 4 5
M+ 3.75 6
xD Picture Cards
Developed by Olympus and Fujifilm, xD (Extreme Digital) is a format only used in the founding companies products. There are four types of xD card available, Standard, M, M+ and H but Standard and Type H have been discontinued, the latter due to high production cost despite a transfer speed 3x faster than Type M.
Type M was released in 2005 and has a possible capacity limit of 8Gb, but only a maximum of 2Gb has ever been released. Type M+ was developed to combat the slow transfer speeds that the Type M card had compared to other memory cards. Type M+ is supposed to have a transfer speed 1.5x faster than Type M.
Olympus cards differ to Fujifilm in the way the storage architecture is designed. Olympus cameras usually sport a panoramic effect with in camera stitching technology. Fujifilm cards can't support the storage of this feature and only Olympus cards can be used.
Released in 1998, Sony's dedicated memory card was little surprise as they have a tendency for this sort of thing. With a maximum capacity of 128Mb, the card quickly became obsolete as resolution and the need for more memory grew. Memorystick Select was one of Sony's answers to the problem which was a normal Memorystick with two banks of 128Mb memory and a switch to flick between the two. Five years after its conception, the Memorystick Pro was released and offered higher capacities up to a theoretical 32Gb although they seem to stop at 2Gb.

Smaller devices were then necessary for the market and the card had to be revised. This is why Sony released the Memorystick Duo and Duo Pro. It's a card half the size of the original and comes with an adapter for card readers that don't accept the smaller dimensions. The Pro version has a maximum capacity of 2Tb but only a 16Gb is available. However, Sony recently announced plans for a 32Gb card. In 2006, Sony announced the Memorystick Pro-HG Duo which has a faster transfer speed of up to 60Mb/s or 400x.
Memory card group test: Performance
I want to see which cards can give the best performance and cross reference that with the price and capacity availability to see which card is really the best. I'm going to transfer the same 1Gb folder from the card onto the computer and time it to see if any perform faster than the other and to see if getting the more expensive, faster cards are really worth it. Past experience of reviewing cards proves I won't get their full worth out of them due to me using USB 2.0 in a realistic environment (opposed to a clinical one).

I'm using a computer which has an AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual Core processor 2.2GHz with 2Gb of RAM. I'll be downloaded the Compactflash and Secure Digital images through a Lexar USB 2.0 UDMA enabled dual-card reader.
I started the test by transferring 1Gb of information to each card and timing how long it took for each one to finish. It took the 300x Sandisk Extreme IV UDMA one minute and a few milliseconds to complete the transfer while the 133x Lexar Professional takes an extra 13 seconds to complete the task. Theoretically, the 300x Lexar Professional UDMA card should be just as fast on a UDMA reader as the Sandisk so it's surprising to find that it takes five seconds longer.
Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review: Digital memory card group test
Compactflash media is mainly used in mid-top end DSLRs.
The final two cards are interesting in their own right. The Fujifilm is a 310x transfer speed card while the Kingston, although 266x, is claimed to have a 45Mb/s transfer speed the same as the Lexar cards. If the formula is used it should be a transfer speed of 40Mb/s. Indeed the Fujifilm card is faster albeit slightly at a transfer time of 58 seconds while the Kingston was slightly slower at 1 minute and 7 seconds.

In terms of speed, the Fujifilm was the fastest with it's 46.5Mb/s performance but is still only transferring at 17Mb/s while the Sandisk transferred at 16Mb/s. The 300x Lexar managed 15Mb/s with the Kingston using 14Mb/s. Finally, the 133x Lexar card used 13Mb/s to transfer the information.
  1. Fujfilm
  2. Sandisk
  3. Lexar 300x
  4. Kingston
  5. Lexar 133x
It's faster to put them onto your computer than it is to take them off. Moving the images from the 266x Kingston card takes 42 seconds while 310x Fujifilm card takes 46 seconds. Certainly unusual considering a faster transfer capability. Lexar's 133x card takes 1 minute 2 seconds to transfer 1Gb of information while the higher speed 300x card can do it in 37 seconds. Finally the 300x Sandisk can manage the transfer in 41 seconds.

This means that the Lexar 300x Professional card is the fastest writer using 27Mb/s while in second place, the Sandisk is using 24Mb/s. Kingston has performed better than Fujifilm with a transfer performance of 23Mb/s compared to the Fujifilm's 21Mb/s. Trailing in last is the 133x Lexar which took just under twice as long as the 300x Lexar card. It gave a performance of 16Mb/s which is only slightly faster than its read speed.
  1. Lexar 300x
  2. Sandisk
  3. Kingston
  4. Fujifilm
  5. Lexar 133x
Consistent performance goes to the Sandisk being the second fastest in read and write transfers. The slowest card is understandably bringing up the rear and I'm really surprised that the Fujifilm card was so slow at writing. If I were to position the cards in a league table at the moment it would look like this:
  1. Sandisk
  2. Lexar 300x
  3. Fujifilm
  4. Kingston
  5. Lexar 133x
Let's look at prices in relation to this performance and see if it alters anything. The Lexar 4Gb 300x costs £40 while the Sandisk 8Gb 300x costs £83 (all Picstop). The Lexar 8Gb 133x costs around £45 (WE) with the Fujifilm 310x 4Gb costs around £39 (WE) and the Kingston 8Gb 266x costs £50 (Picstop). Value for money is the Kingston at £50 for 8Gb of memory and a pretty fast performance as their really wasn't much in it with any of them. Lexar 300x speed seems pretty good value for money as well. Fujifilm seem expensive but it's a brand new card and they have the 310x transfer to boast about which will bump the price up.

My final league for Compactflash would look like this:
  1. Lexar Professional UDMA 300x
  2. Kingston Ultimate 266x
  3. Sandisk Extreme IV 300x
  4. Fujifilm Compactflash 310x
  5. Lexar Professional 133x
Winner: Lexar Professional UDMA 300x

ePHOTOzine says: While not the cheapest, combining the performance with the price and also taking into account that it's UDMA enabled and will work faster still on a UDMA firewire port. This means that it has more scope to improve than the Kingston and edges it ahead slightly.
Secure Digital High Capacity
I think it's only fair to use the same system so I transferred the same 1Gb folder over to each card and timed it using the same stop watch.
Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review: Digital memory card group test
Secure Digital comes in three classes of speed and options are available to plug directly into a USB port.
SD cards now have three designations to fall under which will give you an indication of their minimum transfer speed. They're called Class 2, Class 4 and Class 6. They will guarantee transfer speeds of 2Mb/s, 4Mb/s and 6Mb/s respectively and are recognised on the card by the relative number encircled by the letter C.

I started with the Sandisk Extreme III Ducati edition card which is a Class 6. It took 1minute 53seconds while the Transcend Class 6 card took 1minute 59seconds. In stark contrast, the Sandisk Ultra II is a Class 2 card yet transferred the folder in 1minute 9seconds. It does boast a 15Mb/s transfer rate though but has done very well for a card that only guarantees such a low rate.

Kingston have a Class 4 card available and that managed a read time of 1 minute 40 seconds and Lexar have a Class 4 in the Premium series which can transfer the 1Gb of information in 2 minutes and 2 seconds. This means that the transfer speeds that the cards are actually using are 8.84Mb/s for the Sandisk Extreme III Ducati card, 8.40Mb/s for the Transcend card while the Sandisk Ultra II card managed a 14.49Mb/s performance. Kingston's Class 4 card finished the transfer at 10Mb/s and the Lexar Class 4 trailed behind them all sluggishly transferring the information at 8.19Mb/s. Ok so it's only a three second difference between the second slowest but going over the two minute threshold looks bad.
  1. Sandisk Ultra II
  2. Kingston Class 4
  3. Sandisk Extreme III Ducati
  4. Transcend Class 6
  5. Lexar Premium
The main problem with this is that they don't really have a boast of the transfer speed with the exception of the Lexar advertising 60x which actually ran at a slightly slower 54.6x so isn't all that bad. The Sandisk Ultra II also says it has a 15Mb/s speed and ran at 14.49Mb/s which is very close to what it says. I think this is all down to the equipment used to transfer the information. Faster card readers will have sped the Compactflash cards up making them look like they're performing as they should.

Moving the same file back to the computer was faster on the Compactflash cards and the same rings true of the Secure Digital cards as the Sandisk Extreme III Ducati card managed to complete the work in 1 minute and 2 seconds. Meanwhile the Transcend card took 1 minute 12 seconds and the Sandisk Ultra II took 1 minute and 6 seconds. Kingston's Class 4 card took 1 minute precisely and the Lexar Premium Class 4 card brings up the rear again at 1 minute 36 seconds.

In Mb/s, this puts the Sandisk Extreme III Ducati card writing at 16.13Mb/s, Transcend managed it at 13.89Mb/s, Sandisk Ultra II did it at 15.15Mb/s, while Kingston's Class 4 did it at 16.67Mb/s and the Lexar Premium managed it at 10.42Mb/s.
  1. Kingston Class 4
  2. Sandisk Extreme Ducati
  3. Sandisk Ultra II
  4. Transcend Class 6
  5. Lexar Premium
Kingston have provided a pretty fast card competing and in most cases beating the big names in memory technology. The Sandisk Extreme III Ducati card is the oldest of them all and yet still outstrips the larger, faster cards at both reading and writing information.

It's worth seeing them compared to the price that they retail at and the Sandisk is the most expensive at about £35 for a 4Gb card. However, it is the dual type of card that has the fold down area for plugging directly into a USB port. The Kingston Class 4 8Gb and Transcend Class 6 card can be picked up for about £14 while the Sandisk Ultra II and Lexar Premium are both £1 more at £15. These are the 8Gb prices and for a smaller 4Gb prices start at £7 for the Kingston, £8 for the Transcend and £10 for the Sandisk Ultra II and Lexar premium.

The exception being the Ducati which I've mentioned is £35 and isn't available at 8Gb that I could find. It should also be mentioned that the Lexar premium card on test is the 16Gb version which is at £32.

Despite having only a few pounds difference, it's worth saving some money if you can and the Kingston has come pretty high in the performance tests as well as being the cheapest.

My final results in the SDHC test look like this:
  1. Kingston Class 4
  2. Sandisk Ultra II
  3. Sandisk Extreme Ducati Edition
  4. Transcend Class 6
  5. Lexar Premium
Winner: Kingston Class 4 SDHC

ePHOTOzine says: Sometimes it's not the branding that wins the day as this result shows. Although Kingston are a big name in memory, the everyday “on the street” consumer will be more familiar with Lexar and Sandisk.
Sony and Sandisk worked on the higher capacity cards together which seems to be the only reason that Sony allowed Sandisk to manufacture them. If this wasn't the case then Lexar and Kingston would've been making them at least.

Sandisk have produced three versions of the Memorystick in various capacities. The Ultra II has a 100x transfer speed or 15Mb/s while the Extreme III is a Pro-HG for ultra fast performance of 200x or 30Mb/s and all three feature Magicgate copyright protection technology. This is an advantage for sensitive material but does take up some space on the card so you don't get the full cpapacties stated.
Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review: Digital memory card group test
Memorystick was developed by Sony but Sandisk also manufacture them now.
Using a Lexar USB 2.0 Multi card reader, I transferred the same 1Gb file that I used in the SDHC and Compactflash tests and the Sony Memorystick Pro Duo managed to complete the task in 2 minutes and 2 seconds. This card uses Magicgate technology and is a Mark2 card which means that it can be used in hardware with a higher transfer capability. It also comes with a full sized Memorystick adapter for using in an older card reader that doesn't accept the shorter Duo version.

Sandisk's Ultra II card managed the transfer in 1 minute 19 seconds and the Extreme III took 1 minute 14 seconds. Only five seconds faster than the Ultra II despite boasting a speed twice as fast. In contrast the standard Pro Duo card took 6 minutes 22 seconds which just goes to show how well the newer cards are performing.

In terms of transfer rates, the Sony Mark 2 card transferred at 8.2Mb/s while the Ultra II managed 12.7Mb/s and the Extreme III used 13.5Mb/s. Trailing behind is the standard Memorystick Pro Duo transferring at 2.6Mb/s.
  1. Sandisk Extreme III Pro-HG Duo
  2. Sandisk Ultra II Pro Duo
  3. Sony Memorystick Pro Duo
  4. Sandisk Memorystick Pro Duo
It's an obvious line-up although I'm really surprised at the lack of speed from the Sandisk standard card. The top two used around half of the capability which is unfortunate although using a faster transfer method would probably yield better results.

In the past two tests, writing has been faster than reading even in cards that say they will perform equally either way. This is proved in the first card I tried which was the Sandisk standard Memorystick that gave such a snails pace performance in the reading stage. It finished in 2 minutes 40 seconds which is much faster. Of course the others will leave it for dead and the Sony card managed it over a minute faster at 1 minute 31 seconds. The Ultra II card did the transfer to computer in 1 minute and 9 seconds while the Extreme III completed the task in 1 minute 7 seconds.

These results mean that the standard Sandisk Memorystick Pro Duo writes at 6.3Mb/s but is trampled on by the others providing a faster service. The Sony card wrote at 11Mb/s while the Ultra II did it at 14.5Mb/s. Interestingly, that's nearly at its full transfer speed and in stark contrast, the Extreme III wrote the data at 14.9Mb/s despite a 30Mb/s top write speed.
  1. Sandisk Extreme III Pro-HG Duo
  2. Sandisk Ultra II Pro Duo
  3. Sony Memorystick Pro Duo
  4. Sandisk Memorystick Pro Duo
Looking at the prices of the cards throws light on whether it's best to get a bigger or faster card at all. Waiting those few extra seconds might save you a lot of money at the till and if you're using a similar set-up to whgat I used then it certainly will. The Extreme III card is around £51 but does have a possibility to get to 30Mb/s and offers a few other things built-in such as Rescue Pro for if you accidentally delete the images and ESP (Enhanced Super-Parallel Processing) which ensures the fastest performance possible.

At half the price, you lose the built-in extras but that means more space for data and essentially you can buy two of the Ultra II cards for the price of one Extreme III card. If you were considering the Sony card simply for the adapter, they're available separately at around £4 so you could think of going for the Ultra II anyway. The Sony standard pro Duo and Sandisk Standard Pro Duo are both £17.99 and provide a decent memory facility for those of you on a budget or not in a rush.

Taking the price into consideration, I'd place the cards in this order of preference:
  1. Sandisk Ultra II Pro Duo
  2. Sandisk Extreme III Pro-HG Duo
  3. Sony Memorystick Pro Duo
  4. Sandisk Memorystick Pro Duo
Winner: Sandisk Ultra II Pro Duo

ePHOTOzine says:
While it didn't win either category, it was placed high enough with a good price point to compete effectively with the Extreme III version. All cards were 4Gb in the memorystick card test.

xD Picture card
Olympus have made some changes to the xD cards meaning that if you have an Olympus camera then it's best to use their cards. Not only do they support the panoramic mode that Olympus digital cameras have but they also support the new Art/Scene and 3D modes found on the newer cameras. A download is available on the Olympus website to update the Olympus Master 2 software if you use it.
Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review: Digital memory card group test
Olympus xD format supports the extra features in Olympus cameras.
Because the maximum sized cards I had were 1Gb, it was unlikely that amount of space is available. I tried it but gave up after 20 minutes as the computer predicted I had another 45 minutes to wait.

I used a 256Mb folder instead and it transferred onto the Fujifilm card in 2 minutes 58 seconds. The Olympus xD card did the transfer in 3 minutes 33 seconds which is unusual considering that it's the M+ card and supposed to be 1.5x faster than the Fujifilm M card.

It means that the Olympus card used a transfer speed of 1.2Mb/s while the Fujifilm card managed to use 1.4Mb/s which isn't anywhere near the reported speeds.
  1. Fujifilm xD M 1Gb
  2. Olympus xD M+ 1Gb
Transferring the folder back to the computer took the Olympus card 58 seconds which is a massive improvement on the read speed. Fujifilm transferred the information in a similar time at 54 seconds. It still means that the Fujifilm card was faster running at 4.7Mb/s compared to Olympus' 4.4Mb/s. Although the gap is minimal it makes you wonder why the Olympus card is slower and it could be attributed to the 3D, panoramic and Art/Scene support built in?
  1. Fujifilm xD M 1Gb
  2. Olympus xD M+ 1Gb
At £11 for the Olympus, I'd be inclined to go for the Fujifilm card if you can but at risk of repeating myself, the Olympus cameras have features that can only be supported on Olympus cards. That's not to say that Fujifilm cards won't work but your features will be limited.

Theoretically, a Fujifilm M+ card will be loads faster than the M card so that could be a viable alternative at the same price as the Olympus version. However, if space is a need for you then all but the lowest end compacts also accept SD/SDHC cards and you may wish to look at that option.

Winner: Fujifilm xD M 1Gb

ePHOTOzine says:
The final line up is the same as the read/write results with the Fujifilm seemingly battering the Olympus into the ground. That's not to say that the Olympus isn't capable it's just difficult to accept that two cards seemingly identical can be so radically different, especially with the faster card taking longer to work.

Memory card group test: Verdict
Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review: It's impossible to give an all out winner from the entire test as not all cards are compatible with every camera. This presents a dilemma that I can only resolve by awarding more than one first place position.

Needless to say that all cards are pretty much identical when it comes to build quality. Tests have proved that they can withstand all abuse with the exception of being nailed to a tree or hit with a sledgehammer.

The fastest card should win but I also took price into consideration which is a good job seeing as there's little between them otherwise. To get the maximum performance out of a compactflash card you need the fastest transfer systems possible. USB 3.0 will increase that further and the recent announcement of SDXC could also make things difficult for CF with a maximum capacity of 2Tb (2000Gb).

It's amusing to see the performance of the standard memorystick and to think that kind of speed was considered super-fast just a few years ago. In this test, I got bored waiting.

The Nikon Coolpix P90 doesn't accept multi-media cards (MMC) and we've already seen the demise of the inferior smartmedia and microdrive. Which will be next? Personally I think xD because I don't see Sony backing down and getting rid of memorystick. SDHC and CF are simply too popular although SDHC is starting to get used in more DSLRs.

Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review: Digital memory card group test
Lexar Professional UDMA 300x
Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review: Digital memory card group test
Secure Digital:
Kingston SDHC Class 4
Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review: Digital memory card group test
Sandisk Ultra II Pro Duo
Digital memory group test Recordable Media Review: Digital memory card group test
xD Picture card:
Fujifilm xD M 1Gb

Memory cards range in capacity and speed. For more information, take a look at
Compactflash cards

Secure Digital High Capacity


xD Picture card

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IanA Avatar
IanA 20 3.0k 12 England
6 Apr 2009 10:19AM
An interesting comparison Matt, but you seem to have missed one of the main points of fast cards, and that is their abilities in the camera where considerable differences occur dependent on the abilities of the camera.
For example, a UDMA card, fitted in a UDMA enabled camera, will clear the buffer far faster than a non-UDMA card in the same camera!

In real terms, this increases the buffer capacity of the camera significantly, and in situations where buffer capacity is the limiting factor in image capture, the read speed whilst sitting in front of a PC and using a limited USB2 connection is totally irrelevant!

Try using them in a Firewire 800 reader, where the reader is not causing a bottleneck and you will get considerably different results! Wink


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