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CompactFlash sequel arrives: CFast memory cards

CFast, an overhaul of the higher-end memory card format, is arriving--but only in industrial equipment, not cameras, so far.

Transcend's CFast cards
Transcend's CFast cards Transcend

Transcend, a major manufacturer of flash memory cards, has begun selling models built with the new CFast interface designed to succeed the CompactFlash format.

CompactFlash is still widely used in high-end SLR cameras but is increasingly threatened by the more mainstream SD format, notably the new high-capacity SDXC variety. But CompactFlash allies are working to modernize the technology.

CompactFlash uses the same data transfer technology as hard drives--specifically, the older IDE interface and more recently, the slightly less old UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) variety. While computer hard drives long ago moved to the faster SATA (Serial ATA) version, the CompactFlash format is only making the jump now with a new version called CFast.

CFast offers significantly higher data-transfer speeds--about 375MB/sec compared with 90MB/sec for high-end CompactFlash cards today. Faster data transfer on a camera means the memory buffer can clear out faster when shooting bursts of photos, something that's handy, for example, with sports photographers trying to take multiple sequences.

Transcend's CFast cards, though, aren't for the consumer market. Instead, they're for industrial applications, such as inside train engines or slot machines. And CFast uses a different physical connection, which means the cards aren't compatible with today's CompactFlash.

Transcend announced models with capacities of 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB. It didn't announce prices.

Meanwhile, CompactFlash development continues at the CompactFlash Association. The latest incarnation of the specification, version 5, includes 48-bit memory addressing to lift the previous 137GB capacity limit to a vast and still rather theoretical 144 petabytes (144,000 times the size of a 1-terabyte hard drive on a personal computer).

The new CompactFlash specification also got a new "trim" command to better manage stored and deleted data to help keep data-access speeds from degrading.

Also, it brings optional features to guarantee quality of service for regular and video performance, an idea designed to appeal to the videography market. Read the white paper (PDF) if you crave further detail.