CompactFlash/SmartMedia Readers

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The fastest and simplest way to deliver digital files straight to your computer is through a media card reader. This eliminates the need to hook your camera up to your Mac. Media card readers usually come in one of three flavors: CompactFlash (Type I and/or Type II), SmartMedia, or combo readers that accept both types of media. Macworld looked at combo readers and CompactFlash readers with different capabilities and compared them.

After installing the driver, all five of these readers are simple to use. Media cards mount on your Mac's desktop like a zip or a floppy, enabling you to move, copy, and delete your image files easily. VST and AVerMedia's media readers can mount both CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards at once. Additionally, both of these cards enable you to write files from one card to another. The ability to read both types of media is worthwhile for owners of multiple cameras or MP3 players that accept different types of cards. These combo readers are also handy if you plan to purchase a new product that may take a different type of media than the product you already own.

Both Kingston's USB PC Card Reader and the MDCF-FW FireWire Compact Flash card reader from FireWire Depot read Type I/II Compact Flash media, thereby offering some versatility, but not as much as the combo readers.

The most limited media reader of this group is Ratoc's USB CompactFlash Reader/Writer, which only reads Type I Compact Flash Cards. Additionally, Ratoc's reader is incompatible with AGP G4 systems: we witnessed erratic behavior after installing it on a G4 Dual 450. We ran into no problems on G3 systems.

Although FireWire is potentially much faster than USB, unless you have a camera that uses a super high resolution, digital camera and MP3 files are usually small enough to be well served by a USB connection and do not justify the extra cost for the speedier FireWire interface. For those looking for speed (if you plan on saving images in the TIFF format, for example) and are willing to pay for it, FireWire Depot's MDCF-FW FireWire CompactFlash card reader delivers.

The AVerFotoMate is the only reader in this review that includes a PCMCIA adapter for mounting cards into a laptop cardbus slot. This is a neat feature for PowerBook users.

Company Product Mouse Rating List Price Contact Pros Cons
Ratoc Systems CF03U $69 408/955-9400, Reads Type I Media Not compatible with G4 AGP systems; doesn't read Type II CompactFlash media; high price for limited features.
VST Technologies Flash Media Reader $70 978/635-8200, Can mount CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards simultaneously. None.
FireWire Depot MDCF-FW $129 , Uses FireWire interface for faster file transfers. Expensive.
Kingston Technology PC Card CF Reader $50
877/546-4786, Inexpensive. None.
AVerMedia AVerFotoMate $70 408/263-3828, Includes a PCMCIA CompactFlash adapter for notebooks; reads both SmartMedia and CompactFlash. PCMCIA card superflous for some users.
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