MINI-REVIEW: Delkin Cardbus adaptor

Tea

Storage? I am Storage!
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Some time ago, on Pradeep's suggestion, I orderd a Delkin Cardbus PCMCIA to Compact Flash adaptor. Here I report on it.

Delkin.jpg


The Delkin adaptor. Underneath is an old style PCMCIA adaptor.

There are many ways of downloading images from a digital camera. The most common is to use a USB cable and connect the camera directly to the computer. This, however, is clumsy, means yet more messy cables, ties up the camera during the download, and can be a problem with battery drain on the camera too. Only the best cameras offer fair-dinkum USB2 transfer rates - you'd be surprised just how many cameras use a slug-like USB 1 or 1.1 interface, even now. If you have a laptop, you are probably struggling to find a spare USB port too. Finally, many cameras - notably the crap that Kodak habitually inflicts on the market but also some otherwise excellent high-end units like the Canon 20D - do not configure themselves as a drive letter in the proper way but insist that you use some pox-ridden Picture Transfer for Idiots software.

The other very common method uses an external USB 2 card reader. This is fast (as long as you have a USB 2 reader, not USB 1), but still creates extra cable mess, and most USB readers litter your system with 4 or 6 useless extra drive letters.

If you have a laptop, there is a much neater way: a PCMCIA card reader. This little thing sits in your PCMCIA slot, requires no cables at all, nor any power source, and just works. Plug the Compact Flash card into the reader, transfer the pictures. End of story.

(By the way, if you are not using Compact Flash, but instead bought a camera which supports one of those pox-ridden other non-standards as its storage method, then I am slightly sorry for you. Only slightly - you have a self-inflicted injury so don't come bleating to me about it.)

Compact Flash, very sensibly, was designed from the ground up to use the PCMCIA protocols, so the device is simplicity itself: no driver software, no electronics, it's just a mechanical adaptor that joins your CF card up to your PCMCIA slot. In a world where things get ever more complex and ever more trouble-prone, simple is good.

In short, PCMCIA is damn-near perfect. Alas, it is S L O W.

The idea of a Cardbus adaptor rather than a traditional PCMCIA unit is that it can use DMA instead of PIO. PIO transfers are very slow by today's standards and, worse, have very high CPU utilisation. So, in theory, Delkin's Cardbus DMA-capable adaptor should be a certain winner.

Supply isn't easy. None of the regular PC accessory wholesalers carry the Delkin gear, nor can they source it on request. Eventually I was reduced to buying one at retail, over the web from a Sydney-based company that I forget the name of already but which provided very fast service and I'd be happy to deal with again. (I have their details at the office and can provide them on request.)

Cost was about $AU80 I think. (Hey - it was Tannin's money - why should I care about the cost?) Compare this with a PCMCIA adaptor that you can pick up almost anywhere for less than $20.

Speed is everything it's cracked up to be. Where a PCMCIA adaptor takes maybe 6 or 8 minutes to empty a 512MB flash card, the Delkin does it in something like 1 or two minutes. (I haven't timed either one - no point, the Delkin is so much faster that there is no point. Call it 5 or 6 times faster at a rough guess - that's lots!.

The other big difference is that, being a DMA device, the computer remains usable while you are doing a transfer. With the PCMCIA transfers, the system slows to a crawl of the same general class as a Hewlett-Packard Celeron 433 with 64MB RAM running Windows XP with the eye-candy on. In the field, it's worse, as you are often running off batteries and have switched the Pentium M down to low speed to save on juice.

So far, the Delkin sounds like a clear winner. Actually, it's crap, and I can't recommend one to you.

The performance and CPU utilisation is great, but the detail design is really, really bad. For starters, you couldn't unplug the device without rebooting the computer! That alone made it useless. I have three cameras and about 6 flash cards and I need to read most of them most days. Rebooting five times just to load my flash cards is not on. If you just pull the card out, Windows complains and tells you to use the eject utility. If you do use the eject utility, that works fine, but when you insert the second CF card, Windows doesn't recognise it! (Unless you reboot.) Hopeless.

Secondly, the mechanical design is terrible. It's almost impossible to insert a flash card without taking the Delkin right out of the computer, and difficult to insert one when it is out. Look at the picture above: see the little cheap PCMCIA thing in the background? With that one (or any of the many others like it) you just slip the flash card in and it slots into place. With the Delkin, there are five different ways the flash card can slot in, and only one of them is correct. It's quite difficult to get the card lined up with the little rails. (Contrast this with the non-name product, where you can't get it in wrong if you try.) The upshot is that you have to pull the Delkin right out of the system, and carefully line the CF card up with it (using both hands), then carefully fiddle about getting the Delkin device lined up with and inserted into the PCMCIA socket. All the while, you are buggerising about trying to hold your camera between your teeth and not drop the other flash card in the mud. In a word, it is crap.

For the first three months of its life, my Delkin card was consigned straight to the junk box, saved for emergency use (such as an elephant stomping on my $15 no-name PCMCIA adaptor).

But then I bought the 20D, which an fill up a a 2GB flash card in less than five minutes. (Awesome camera!) Faced with the possibility of needing the best part of an hour to unload my flash cards each day, more in hope than expectation, I tried Delkin's web site for a new driver, just in case they had fixed the terminally broken pile of pox driving software the card ships with. Yup, thre was a new driver. But after you download it and run it, it unzips itself invisibly to a folder and doesn't tell you where the folder is located! I thought the EXE was corrupt after I'd run oit the first four times so I downloaded it again. Same. Eventually I took a guess at what one of the contained driver files might be called and tracked the folder down using a global search function. I absolutely defy any non-computer expert to install that driver without calling tech support for help. (If Delkin has tech support, that is, they can't do anything else much right.)

But after all that, to my astonishment, the new driver actually works. You can remove the card and replace it with another one without rebooting your system.

Will I use the Delkin now? I don't think I have a lot of choice anymore. The sheer amount of data I have to transfer has gone beyond what I can sensibly do with the little PCMCIA card. But I'll curse the damn thing every time I have to buggerise about swapping flash cards in it.

Would I buy another one?

No way.

Yes, buy a Cardbus CF adaptor. No, don't buy a Delkin.

Find another brand - any other brand would have to be better.
 

LunarMist

I can't believe I'm a Fixture
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Tony,

I have been using the Delkin adpater for almost two years and have downloaded around a terabyte of data without any difficulties. I can also unplug the card and/or remove the adapter without any problems whatsoever. The notebook uses XP SP1 if it makes any difference.

I recall reading that the other brands of cardbus CF adapters all use the same chips and perform similarly. It would be nice to see a true CF rev. 3 adapter in my lifetime. 10MB/sec. downloads for the Extreme 3 are acceptable, but much slower than the theoretical 20 MB/sec. read speed of the CF cards.
 

LunarMist

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You should also get Downloader Pro. It is the best downloader around and allows creation of simultaneous backup copy to another drive. The ideal travel setup is to download from CF card to the notebook and backup to an external 2.5" drive or PSD. It is much faster than making a second copy to an external backup drive since files are copied one by one and still in RAM. Small thumbnails of each file are displayed during the download (without any speed penalty). There is a free trial period, so give it a shot. ;)
 

Tea

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My laptop runs Windows 2000, Lunar. This may have been the problem I had. Or possibly my PCMIA chipset in the Thinkpad. Or else perhaps it was a random glitch somewhere. In any case, this particular problem is now resolved satisfactorily. (But few thanks to Delkin. We should note how poorly thought out the packaging of the downloadable driver is. We work with everyday computer users on a daily basis, and I'd estimate that 1 average (i.e., non-geek) user in 10 would be capable of figuring out how to load the required driver update without someone like me to help. (Amongst moderately serious photographers, who are a pretty tech-savvy bunch as a rule, make that 1 in 2 or 1 in 3.) But still - bad marks to the software moron who dreamed that one up.

Mind you, the problem isn't completely fixed. Just now I discovered that if you forget to stop the device before ejecting (as I just did a moment ago because I thought the reader was empty and wanted to try something out with another card) you still can't access the device again without rebooting. More bad kharma. (I got around it by resorting to the PCMCIA card again.) But it may be a chipset issue, or a W2K issue, or perhaps something to do with the requirements of DMA devices in general, so I'll extend the benefit of the doubt and not definately blame Delkin for this one.

<off-topic>
W2K, by the way, is not as good with hot-pluggable devices as WinXP is - without the excellent little IBM eject utility that comes with Thinkpads, W2K is unable to properly stop and restart even the PIO-only PCMCIA cards.

But even XP, the "latest and greatest" M$ product is unable to handle removable devices gracefully without user intervention at the keyboard. This is, when you think about it, inexcusable slackness on Microsoft's behalf. Hell, Tannin (who is whispering in my other ear) well remembers the last time that you couldn't eject a standard removable storage device without explicitly telling the operating system what you were about to do first: it was CP/M 2.2, which was replaced by the much-improved CP/M 3.0 back around about the time my grandmother was born. (About 1979 or 1980, if Tannin's memory is to be trusted.)

Until then, you had to press <CONTROL-C> before you ejected a removable storage device. (It was floppy discs in those days, of course, or even cassette tapes.)

I mean to say, WTF are Micro$oft bloody doing when they can't even match a technology that was commonplace twenty years ago?
</off-topic rant>
 

Tea

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Complete change of topic.

Downloader Pro looks truly excellent. Unlike some members here (not looking at anyone in particular as I say this) I have no objection at all to paying a few dollars for useful utility software, and Downloader Pro looks like a real winner. But I have a glitch to resolve before I shell out for it.

My current routine, which works well, is as follows:
  • Insert first flash card.
  • Create destination directory. Imagining that I was in Darwin today, it would be m:\2005\10-September\02-Darwin\ - i.e., date with a suitable placename added so that I can remember which date was what.
  • Open flash card folder(s), select all, copy to folder
  • Repeat as required. (Sometimes I use the excellent ZTree instead - no real difference.)
  • Use the excellent freeware utility Set Name to Time to rename all files from EXIF date and time: for example, 051002-095507.jpg for a picture taken at about five to ten this morning.
  • Burn the whole lot to CDR. (Sometimes I skip this, if I'm not far away from home and I don't think there is anything too important in today's shots. They will all get copied to my desktop machine soon enough anyway, and that gets backed up to USB hard drive hard drive and DVD.)
  • Sort, rotate (PMView does this with a single keystroke, or batch transforms if desired), admire my best shots, curse my rotten luck with the ones that got away, drink cups of tea till bedtime.
Downloader Pro does all of that without me having to do anything except feed the flash cards in. (Well, all of it except for the admiring and the drinking cups of tea till bedtime bit.)

But now - with the renaming - we get to the tricky bit. What happens when you have two pictures taken in the same second? Set Name to Time simply appends a "-001" to the filename (e.g., 051002-095507-001.jpg) or a "-002", and so on. This is a good scheme. (I'd actually prefer it to do 051002-095507a.jpg and 051002-095507b.jpg, but that is not user-configurable.) The nice thing about it is that it only appends the "-001" if the filenames are the same. This means that most images retain a nice short filename, which is good.

Now I have to figure out how to make Downloader Pro do that. In the ten minutes I've spent playing with it, I've worked out how to make it add an upload sequence number to every image, but that makes the filenames needlessly long and cumbersome.

If I can figure this little mystery out, I'll go with it for sure. If I can't figure out an answer, well, I'll probably go with it anyway, and just continue with the extra step of using Set Name to Time afterwards. (Which only takes a few moments anyway.)

It's a great little program, Lunar, thanks for the link!
 

Mercutio

Fatwah on Western Digital
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Tannin, if you try to hotswap out of your Delkin, does the new card show up in disk management, just without a drive letter, or does it not show up at all?
 

mangyDOG

Learning Storage Performance
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Feb 15, 2003
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Ballarat, Vic, Aust.
I currently use a Legend USB2 card reader to transfer my images to my notebook. It has the neat feature on integrating the USB cable into the reader. It is also fairly fast (63 RAW files / 444Mb in 1 min 47 seconds, with the notebook on maximum battery save) and I can swap flash cards without having to soft-eject the reader or card first (in WinXP)

Reader_Bottom.jpg
Reader_Top.jpg


Reader_Connected.jpg



Cheers,
mangyDOG
 

Tea

Storage? I am Storage!
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1: Downloader Pro is an absolute winner. I really, really like it now that I've had a chance to get used to it, and can't imagine going back to any other method. Good tip, Lunar Mist! (Still no cure for my minor issue above, but using Set Name to Time after downloading takes a few seconds and is no hardship.)

2: I'm getting used to the el-crappo Delkin mechanical design. Used enough to it that the card is now something I'm using regularly. But it remains a stupidly, needlessly difficult mechanical design.

3: No more eject problems since I got a better driver, Merc. (But only if I remember to eject it in the software first, which I do 98% of the time.) When it goes into stupid mode (i.e., if you don't stop the device now, or any time you eject it using any method with the old driver) you get a PCMCIA "device inserted" beep when you reinsert, but no drive letter. Remove, reinsert, same thing. You have to reboot.

4: Currently, Mangy Dog, just the 18-55 kit lens. I actually ordered the 17-85 IS one, but they delivered the 18-55. No big deal, I can still buy the 17-85 on its own and have spent around the same amount in total. I may do that, or may not. Haven't decided yet. I'll start a new thread for that though. And I have the 100-400 IS on order.
 
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