Thinking about buying a compact flash card to add programs on it as well as backup to it? Think they’re all the same? Well maybe, read on. Card technology has gone a long way. I have a color 16 MB + 16 MB HP 680LX Jornada with an 80 MB Lexar compact flash card in the CF slot for programs and a 16 MB Simple CF (w/adapter) in the PCMCIA slot for database backup. Add those together and that’s a whopping 138 MB device that I stick in my coat pocket. Whoa! Good stuff is happening for us power users who need that type of capacity. But should I have bought one of the hot new Simple Technology cards, or the Lexar who touts being the fastest, or the old standby Scandisk? What do Viking and HP have? Which one is the fastest? Who’s the cheapest? What about a used one? How do I know any of them will work in my unit? Good tough questions, and here’s some answers. Testing For these tests I collected the following cards that I have. Many were bought from Shore Systems, whom has a good card information site as well as some the Sandisks were loaned to me from others. 1. Viking Components 45M compact flash card, serial #0003757101. Made in 1998. 2. Simple Technology 16M compact flash card, serial #90000-00695-024. Made in 1998. 3. Lexar 32M compact flash card, no serial number. The card has 4X written on the front. Made in 1998. 4. Lexar 80M compact flash card, no serial number. The card has 8X written on the front. Made in 1999. 5. Sandisk 20M compact flash card, 1997 era. 6. Sandisk 10M compact flash card, 1997 era. 7. HP 10M PCMCIA card, #F1013A, made in 1993. All the manufacturers web sites said they would work with my HP 680, my wife ‘s HP Casio E-105 and my son’s HP 660LX. Are we a PDA family, or what? The test was a technical no-brainer and consists of only backing up my HP 680 to each one of the cards. The parameters were: 1. The HP was installed in an HP docking station with the AC adapter attached. 2. Another test was the done but the PDA was running on half empty batteries. 3. The built in HP 680 backup program was used. 4. All taskbar startup programs were closed and the unit was soft reset before each test. 5. The following databases were backed up: a. 1,441 Contacts b. 318 Appointments c. 65 Tasks d. 20 Inbox’s e. a few smaller databases The total backup file size was 772K as read by the Properties of the backed up file. The time to backup each card were as follows: Sandisk 10M – 11 seconds Simple 16M – 12 seconds Viking 45M – 18 seconds Lexar 32M – 23 seconds Lexar 80M – 25 seconds Old (made in 1993) HP PCMCIA 10M – 27 seconds Sandisk 20M – 32 seconds Analysis There was no discernable time difference between whether the unit was on AC power or a battery, although I never recommend backups to be done, if possible, on batteries due to the loss of backup data that could occur if the unit goes down due to insufficient battery current. So what did we learn? Is the highly touted 4X and 8X speed Lexar faster? Maybe not, on this small database file. Does card capacity make a difference? Probably. What about this years latest model vs. a few years ago? Hmmm. startling to me. I also learned that this awesome HP 680 accepted all the cards I threw at it without one bitch. Great job, HP! My thoughts are that they are all OK if you’re backing up only your Pocket Outlook databases. The 16 second difference between the fastest Sandisk at 11 seconds and the big, old, slow HP PCMCIA card at 27 seconds is a hardly anything to be concerned about. Also I have over 1,400 Contacts and yours are probably half that. So you can probably halve the average down to 10 seconds for you. Recommendations My recommendations? Pick the capacity you need, find a financially solid manufacturer that has good telephone and web support like the above, and buy on price. Check the suppliers, also, that advertise in our magazine. Don’t forget the used market as these devices very seldom fail and people like me are always upgrading to a larger card. If you want to push me into picking a brand for you I guess I would suggest you first look at Lexar due to their (1) interest in improving speed, (2) good controller technology and compatibility, and (3) I have never had one not work flawlessly in 6 Windows CE devices I have owned. Your mileage may vary. There is a time where you might need the fastest card, though. BSQUARE is now shipping a gorgeous backup program named BUseful Backup Plus. It backs up your complete unit including all of your databases, all of your installed programs, and wherever they are located, the main memory or the cards memory. It even backs up the registry, something that the built in HP 680 program doesn’t say it does. I timed the “backup and verify” speed of 41.4 M (the program compresses the backup) and 1,299 objects and it took 29 minutes on the Viking 45M, which has many programs installed on it. A 50% faster card would make a lot of difference but do we sit and stare at the screen while these backups are going on? No, not me, I head for a cola. My above recommendations stand. I recommend all owners have a CompactFlash card to load programs on and backup to. Previous tips and pointed you on whom to buy as well as other ideas. But now that you’re going to buy one what are the items one needs to think about. Here are a few: I have found little, if any, speed degradation if a program is executed from a card so load most of your programs there, if you can. If you have a card modem with add-on programs that need the modem, you’ll need to load them in main memory, as you’ll have to remove the CF card to install the modem. Don’t think that all the program will be installed on the card, far from it. Many programs put up to 1/3rd into the Windows directory in main memory, eating up you precious memory. Consider buying 2 cards, one for the backups that you keep in your desk, and the other for programs and doc files. Buy a larger card than you think you need. Believe me, you will use it. Buy at least two backup programs and alternate their use. Reason: I have tried to do restores before and have gotten corrupted backups – don’t ask me why. If you run out of main memory your card probably won’t be accessible, as the card program requires main memory. Here’s another good use of a card. Say you’re traveling and your Windows CE PC Companion crashes. No problemo, you say, I have a backup. So you do a Restore, as I did once on an airplane, and the Restore is corrupted! I don’t have anything and my desktop backup is 5,000 miles away, yikes, what do I do? No problemo, again. Just carry your Contacts, Appointments and Tasks on the card in an .xls format. Go to your desktops Outlook – File – Import/Export and send them to you desktop in .xls format and then drag them to your card, while Mobile Devices is running. Always have a backup and in multiple ways! P/PC users will have to buy a spreadsheet program, of course. A CompactFlash card shouldn’t impact battery life but to prove it to myself I did the following: turned the backlight and volume all the way up and started HUM playing MP3 files from my 40MB Lexar CF card. The 68 minutes of tracks were set to repeat. I got 2.5 hours before the low battery warning came up. The test time was within a few seconds w/o a card. My wife’s Casio E-105 and 40 MB Lexar CF card was then tested with a Casio Mobile Audio MP3 Player looping on an MP3 file in the internal memory, headphones plugged in, maximum volume, and screen turned off. There was no CF card inserted. The same test was done, but with the CF card inserted w/MP3 playing off the CF card. The results were essentially the same at 3 hours when the first “low battery” warning came on. Conclusion So what did we learn? CompactFlash Cards make essentially no battery time difference when operating, although one would think they would draw a little more current during a reboot. Also, the batteries were fully charged before each of the above tests. Here’s another thing that happened to me once. I had loaded a lot of new programs to my card to test for you and all of a sudden, no card! Here’s the reason. when one adds programs to a card it also adds files to your main memory, typically in the Windows folder. Upon checking available main memory I was out of it. The solution was to move the memory bar right to free some up. Bingo. All the programs came back.