As the world’s largest supplier of flash memory products, SanDisk is a company that’s well respected among advanced and professional digital photographers. Indeed, it is this type of more demanding user that SanDisk’s latest Ultra II range of memory cards has been designed for. SanDisk claim the Ultra II can support a minimum sustained write speed of 9MB/sec and a read speed of 10MB/sec, and as such is well suited to the latest high megapixel digital cameras. As it happens, I’m hoping to take delivery of a new eight megapixel digital SLR in the next few weeks so I was extremely interested to find out what the Ultra II has to offer.
I was sent a 256MB CompactFlash card for testing, which currently retails for around £32. However, that amount of storage is unlikely to be sufficient for most professional camera users out there so it should come as no surprise to hear that the Ultra II is also available in capacities of up to 2GB. The 512MB and 1GB sized cards can be purchased for £51.50 and £88.40 respectively, while the largest 2GB version will set you back £176.80. When looked at in terms of pounds per megabyte, it is the larger capacity cards that currently offer the best value for money.
Although CompactFlash is probably the most popular card format at the moment, not all high-end digital cameras support it. Fortunately, the Ultra II range is also available in SD and Memory Stick PRO formats, with maximum capacities of 512MB and 1GB respectively. Naturally, all three types of memory card are compatible with a whole host of other digital devices such as MP3 players, PDAs an card readers.
In terms of performance, the high speed Ultra II CF card turned in some fairly respectable results using our standard set of file transfer tests. For example, writing 205MB of mixed files from a PC to the SanDisk card via a USB2.0 card reader/writer took just 49 seconds, which was more than twice as fast as a typical consumer orientated CompactFlash card. Read speeds were equally impressive with the Ultra II card taking 39 seconds to copy back the 205MB of mixed files, compared with 71 seconds using the standard CF card. Taking the fastest times for reading and writing, and converting them to MB/sec, the results of 5.3MB/s and 4.3MB/s are obtained, respectively. These do not match the stated speeds from Sandisk, but are likely to be closer to "real world" speeds.
I also decided to see how the Ultra II compared against our standard CF card when used in one of the latest high megapixel digital cameras. Ideally, I would liked to have tested the Ultra II using a professional digital SLR, as they tend to have much faster memory interfaces than consumer cameras, but unfortunately I couldn’t get hold of one in time. So instead, I used one of the very latest ‘prosumer’ orientated cameras - an eight megapixel Sony DSC-F828. The tests consisted of shooting several photos in quick succession and timing how long the camera’s memory access lamp remained illuminated. The total size of each set of files was then calculated separately for each card and divided by the recorded time to obtain an average write speed. In both cases, the write speed via the Sony’s CF interface was pretty impressive, but it was the Ultra II card that delivered the significantly better write performance, equivalent to nearly 15X (where 1X equals 150KB/sec).