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Flash Memory Card Reviews:

SD Cards
ATP Mini SD and SD cards High Speed 60x
Kingston Elite Pro 50x
Kingston Ultimate SD Cards 120x
PQI SD & mini SD High Speed
Ridata PRO 66x
SanDisk (Standard Speed)
SanDisk Extreme III High Speed

CF Cards
Butterfly Media
Delkin eFilm
Kingston Elite Pro High Speed
Ridata PRO 80x

Memory Stick / Memory Stick Pro

MMC Cards

RS-MMC Cards

PC Card Hard Drives
Toshiba 2 & 5 gig

Multifunction Drives
Ridata QuattroDrive

USB Flash Drives
Kingston DataTraveler Elite
Crucial Gizmo

Card Readers
Asante Gini 6 in 1
Crucial 6 in 1 Reader

Dazzle 6-in1 Reader
Proporta 7-in-1 Reader
Sandisk ImageMate Memory Stick Pro Reader

Card Cases

Handspring Springboard
MemPlug CF & MemPlug Smart Media

Storage Options for your PDA: expanding memory with storage cards
by Lisa Gade , Editor-in-Chief, March 27, 2002 (updated 2/2004)

(don't need the background info but rather want to jump to the reviews page? Click here.)

So you've had your PDA for a while, and you've found all these great programs, digital photos, Adobe Acrobat files and e-books your dying to load. But where will it all fit? Throw them all on an add-on storage card, available at many retailers in stores and online. All modern PDAs accept some form of storage card which allows you add more memory for programs and data on our PDA. In fact, you can own many cards and swap them out as you need the data on them. One card for digital photo albums, another for Acrobat files or e-books and a card just for games.

What's the difference between all the storage mediums?

CompactFlash (CF) cards are the cheapest since they've been around since 1994 and both digital cameras and PDAs use them. CompactFlash cards are designed with flash technology, a non-volatile storage solution that does not require a battery to retain data indefinitely. CompactFlash storage products are solid state, meaning they contain no moving parts, and thus are immune to damage from movement, vibration and etc. (conventional magnetic disk drives used in computers don't like being bounced: they may be suffer damage, resulting in data loss). They are quite fast, transferring data on a 16 bit data bus (the more data lines, the faster the transfer). Pocket PCs, Handheld PCs and the HandEra Palm OS PDA have CF card slots. You can get CF cards up to 1 gig, with a 4 gig model looming on the horizon. These two larger capacities come in a type II card. Type I cards are thinner (and the HP Jornada, for some unknown reason still comes with only a type I card slot). Type two cards are about twice as thick as type I cards and most other PDAs have type II slots . Type II slots can also accept type I cards, so don't worry!

MMC cards (MultiMedia Card) are the size of a postage stamp and wafer thin. Casio was the first PDA manufacturer to include an MMC slot in their EM-500 Pocket PC. Some MP3 players also use this type of card. Their benefit is their incredibly small size. However, they generally aren't available in capacities above 64 megs and they are slow, having a 1 bit data bus. Pocket PCs and Palm brand PDAs with expansion slots can accept MMC card as well as SD cards, but SD cards are faster.

SD cards (Secure Digital) are the same wafer-thin postage stamp size as MMC cards. However, they have a sliding lock on the side (like a floppy) to protect the data on them from being modified or erased when needed. They also have cryptographic copyright protection (useful for such things as books and music sold on SD cards). SD cards are faster than MMC cards since they have a 4 bit data bus and a max transfer rate of 2 MB(megs)/second. Does this make a difference? If you're running programs from a memory card or playing MP3 files, you'll notice that programs run much more quickly off of SD cards and that your songs are less likely to stutter, jump and skip. PalmOne brand devices with an expansion slot accept (and were intended for) SD cards, as were the Dell Axim, HP iPAQs, Toshiba Pocket PC and more.

Memory Stick is Sony's own trademarked invention. They're fairly small long rectangular purple cards that range in capacity from 16 to 128 megs. For years they've sold MP3 players, digital cameras and notebook computers with a slot that accepts Memory Sticks. When the CLIÉ line was introduced, it too had a memory stick slot and still does to this day. Memory sticks used to be quite expensive, but prices have dropped and are more competitive with SD card prices. The Memory Stick will only work in Sony products. Transfer speed is 2.5 Mb/second, about the same as SD cards and some of the faster CompactFlash cards. Like SD cards, MemorySticks have a slider that allows you to lock the card.

What's the difference between a regular purple Memory Stick and the white MagicGate Memory Stick? The Magic Gate sticks are designed to do all the stuff a regular Memory Stick does, and in addition it supports ATRAC3 audio format and has strong copy protection. What does this mean to you? Unless you're one of the few folks using the ATRAC3 format (used by minidisc players), then stick to the standard purple sticks. They're much cheaper, easier to find and won't cause you any hardship when it comes to MP3's and copy protection.

a variety of storage cards

Relative Size

Top: above the Compaq iPAQ a Viking 128 MB card and a 32 meg Kingston CF card.

To the left of the iPAQ you'll see an adapter that allow you to use CF cards in a PC Card slot (handy for use in notebook computers and the iPAQ with a PC Card sleeve. They cost about $15.

Far left: a 64 meg MMC card at top and a 128 meg SD card, both from SanDisk.


Memory Stick Pro and Memory Stick Select

These cards were released in the Spring of 2003. The Pro cards were a joint development effort between Sony and SanDisk. These cards come in 3 capacities: 256 meg, 512 meg and 1 gig. Not only do they offer larger capacity than regular Memory Sticks, but they're faster. Just how fast depends on the device you're using the card with. Devices with native Memory Stick Pro support show nearly 2x faster speeds compared to regular sticks. Sony NX, NZ and TG models are compatible with the Memory Stick Pro format. The NX73V, NX80V and TG50 have native support. For older NX models and the NZ90, you'll need to install a Sony-supplied driver.

Memory Stick Select cards come in 256 meg capacity and offer all Clié users a way to use a stick with more than 128 megs capacity. How does it work? Internally, they're actually double-sided, and in effect are like two 128 meg Memory Sticks glued together. They're actually the same size as standard Memory Sticks, despite the added chips inside.

IBM MicroDrive is the product that makes you wonder just how small can you make a hard drive. These are the same size as a CF type II card and come in capacities of 340 megs, 500 megs, 1 gig and higher! The data transfer is fast given that the MicroDrive runs on the same 16 bit bus as CF cards. These drives have tiny hard drive platters (just like your desktop and notebook hard drives) and thus take energy to spin. You may notice shortened battery life when using one of these, but the power management is pretty sophisticated, so the penalty shouldn't be too high. Also note that these drives do have moving parts, while the other storage mediums listed here do not. This means that you must be more careful with the MicroDrive.

Which Brand?

You're not limited to buying memory cards from the same company that made your PDA. Those often cost more and are rebranded anyhow. That means the Compaq or Palm branded memory cards are actually manufactured by the companies listed in this article (among others). Some no-name CompactFlash cards may actually offer slower data transfer rates since the CF standard has a wide range of acceptable transfer rates. Check out the left sidebar for some memory cards that we've reviewed and tested. They are widely available in stores and are companies with excellent reputations.

But which PDA takes what? Use this table as a guideline.

PalmOne (newer models), several Palm OS Smartphones, Tapwave and Garmin iQUE: SD cards (preferred) and MMC cards
Handspring Visor: Springboard Modules
Sony CLIÉ: Memory Stick (NX and NZ models can also use CF)
Pocket PC and Handheld PC: CompactFlash (CF), (SD & MMC cards on many Pocket PC PDAs), PC Card memory and hard drives for 3000 and 5000 series iPAQs with PC Card expansion sleeves, IBM MicroDrive for those with a type II CF slot. Note: The HP Jornada 540, 560 and 720 series have type I CF slots, not type II.


Software Tip for Pocket PC Users

Pocket PC and Handheld PC users: For some odd reason, Microsoft didn't think we'd ever need to format our storage cards or manage them. Enter FlashFormat by CNetX, an indispensable utility that allows you to format, verify and repair storage cards. Not only that, FlashFormat can add digital camera support to your cards, automatically create a "My Documents" folder on the card and allow you to auto-run any application on your card upon insertion. Pretty amazing stuff for only $11.95 US.




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