FlashGO! Media Reader/Writer Packs A Lot Of Punch In Small Package

| Reviews

Introduction

One of the great features of todayis portable devices (such as your authoris recently acquired Palm i705) is that many of them support memory expansion via one of several media card formats. This opens up the possibility of being able to transfer data between the device and your Mac. But the variety of media card formats is also the bad news. In addition to Compact Flash, there are also Multimedia Card, Secure Digital, Memory Stick and Smart Media, to name the most popular.

How do you deal with all these different form factors?. Sure, one can get an adapter for any single format, but what to do when faced with all of them? You could carry around an adapter for each format, but what a pain in the neck, especially if you are on the road. If only there was an adapter that could read from and write to all of these different formats...


Documentation

The FlashGO! documentation consists of a few steps on the insert contained in the packaging, but this is about all that is necessary. It covers the three major steps involved in using the FlashGO! First is driver installation, which you probably wonit need to do. Second is how to install media adapters into the FlashGO! Third is how to plug the FlashGO! into your USB port.


Software

As mentioned, you probably wonit need to install any drivers in order to use the FlashGO! The system we tested on recognized the FlashGO! under both OS 9 and OS X. But a CD-ROM with drivers is included, in case you are running an older Mac or PC operating system.


Hardware

The hardware consists of the FlashGO! reader/writer, a light (1.21 oz.) small (0.62 in. high, 2.56 in. wide, and 3.73 in. deep) unit which has a USB plug on one end, an adapter slot on the other, and a green activity LED on top. The unit is thoughtfully designed so that if you have two USB ports, you can use the FlashGO! in one port, and still be able to use the adjacent USB port. There are also 3 media adapters, which plug into the FlashGO! adapter slot. Finally, thereis a 4 foot USB extension cable, in case you need to make a bit of a stretch.


The Three Media Adapters That Come with FlashGO!


Operation

The operation of the FlashGO! couldnit be more straightforward. If you have a Compact Flash Type I or Type II device, or an IBM Microdrive, it plugs directly into the FlashGO! adapter slot. Otherwise, youill need to plug one of the included adapters into the FlashGO! adapter slot. Thereis an adapter for Memory Stick, another for both Multimedia Card and Secure Digital, and another for Smart Media. Just plug the media into the adapter, then plug the device into one of your Macis USB ports.

After a few moments, you should see a new device appear on your desktop. As far as your computer is concerned, the memory card is just another disk, which you can read from and write to. Under both OS 9 and OS X, the device appeared to be another disk, and the format was identified as Macintosh PC Exchange (MS-DOS). We even took a moment to pop the FlashGO! into a Windows 2000 PC, and saw it appear as another "Removable Media" device.

We then wanted to put the FlashGO! through its paces, and decided to read from and write to different types of memory modules. A multi-megabyte file was used for all tests. Our test media consisted of a Simple 128MB Compact Flash, a 64MB SanDisk Multimedia Card, a 64MB SanDisk Secure Digital Card, and a Sony 4MB Memory Stick.

Media OS Adapter Write Rate Read Rate
Compact Flash 9 USB 696K/sec 683K/sec
Compact Flash X USB 460K/sec 445K/sec
Compact Flash 9 PCMCIA 1024K/sec 1280K/sec
Compact Flash X PCMCIA 569K/sec 931K/sec
Multimedia 9 USB 238K/sec 569K/sec
Multimedia X USB 49K/sec 60K/sec
Secure Digital 9 USB 410K/sec 569K/sec
Secure Digital X USB 246K/sec 301K/sec
Memory Stick 9 USB 171K/sec 128K/sec
Memory Stick X USB 96K/sec 162K/sec

Data Transfer Rates for Different Media Types

Discussion of Results

As the chart shows, your mileage will definitely vary, based on what type of media you are using, what operating system you are using, and if you are doing a read or write operation. Since we had a PCMCIA adapter for our Compact Flash card, we decided to try it, and got the best results, when compared to the FlashGO! This should be no surprise, since the maximum throughput of the PCI to Cardbus interface in the PowerBook G4 (which, for the curious, uses the Texas Instruments PCI1211 PCI to Cardbus bridge chip) is up to 130 MB/sec, compared to the relative pokey throughput of 1.2 MB/sec for USB.

With one exception, the performance of the FlashGO! under OS 9 was better than that under OS X. We can only conclude that the USB drivers under OS X are not as streamlined as those under OS 9, since all other factors were the same. When queried, our Imation contact informed us that the specs for different types of memory vary widely, so that even with the same memory capacity, the speed of the memory can differ. So when purchasing your memory, try to see if you can get info on the read and write performance if this is a concern. When transferring large files or lots of small files, the difference between cheap memory and high-performance memory can add up.


Conclusion

We couldnit find much not to like about the FlashGO! unit. It is portable, works with modern operating systems without requiring a driver, and with the clever adapters, can handle just about any type of memory expansion that you can throw at it. And being a USB device, it will work with just about any modern computer, Mac or PC. Our only minor gripe is that the speed of the FlashGO! isnit up to par with some other devices, but the flexibility and usefulness of the device more than makes up for this minor shortcoming. For those that need to read from or write to their various memory devices, the FlashGO! is a winner.

Product: FlashGO!

Company: Imation

ClubMac Price: US$53.99

Pros: - Plug-and-Play on Mac and PC - Can handle virtually all memory card formats - Small and light

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