Flash RAM bargains: check the speed before getting excited about low price!

by Guy J Kewney | posted on 21 June 2006

Seven pounds sterling, for a half-Gig memory card for a digital camera seems too good to be true. What can possibly go wrong...? - well apparently, quite a bit, especially on the speed front. In a nutshell, can you bear to wait half a minute between photos?

The need for a new memory chip arose because I'm upgrading the Tablet (if upgrading is the right word!) from Windows XP to Windows Vista beta.

Vista has Windows SuperFetch - which is the ability to use Flash memory as a cache between main computer memory and disk, and I was curious to see how effective this is. But alas and alack and waily waily! - I have dozens of 64 megabyte USB cards and a few 256 megabyte USB cards, and no half Gig flash SD cards, which is what I really want, as a minimum.

Amazon obligingly pointed me to a Sandisk SD card: £ 6.79 - a ridiculous price for so much memory. And then I noticed that the average buyer-review was only three stars. What on earth can go wrong with a piece of silicon that has no moving parts?

First, it seems you have to remember that there is a moving part; there's a little "lock/unlock" switch on the side. True: I've been caught that way before. It's a fail safe device; but it can fail. That means, the little sliding piece of plastic can fall out. When that happens, you can't take any more pictures until you bodge a new switch. I found that a short bit out of the centre of an InterDens toothpick will work, but it's hardly satisfactory.

But modern cameras have huge picture resolutions. And according to one reviewer, if you get a fast rapid-shoot multi-shot or video camera like the Canon Digital IXUS then the Sandisk device advertised on Amazon won't work the way you're hoping. In the words of a reviewer:

"Sorry guys; this is no good for the IXUS 750. It does state in my user guide that you really need high speed cards but because it does not specify what speed you need I assumed this card would be OK. However it takes up to 40 seconds to upload each picture from the camera to the card which means you have to wait for ever between each shoot. In fact I found problems when trying to use most of the different functions this camera has. I will arrange sending this product back and speak to Canon about a solution.

If you're buying from Amazon, the one you should go for is probably the Ultra II Gigabyte card - which is fast.

I'll see if I can bully Sandisk and EdgeTech and Kingston and so on, into letting me try a couple of fast chips, and report further...

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