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Lexar 80X second edition: what a difference a weekend makes  
Monday, November 1, 2004 | by Rob Galbraith

On October 29, 2004, we published a story discussing the fact that we had on loan from a photographer in California a Lexar Pro Series 1GB 80X Compactflash card, and that we were able to confirm through testing that it was a second edition model.

The story also noted that because Lexar has not responded to our repeated requests through October for specific information on 80X second edition card ship dates or how a prospective purchaser could identify them at their pro photo retailer, we could only make a few educated guesses about these things. In particular, we weren't sure if only the 1GB 80X second edition card was shipping, and we weren't sure how widely even that capacity was available. Plus, we could only assume that the A4B6 string at the end of the card's edge stamp (which is a checksum for the card's firmware) was the indicator it was an 80X second edition model, since the front and rear labels on the card are identical to first edition cards, right down to the part number.

What a difference a weekend makes in both the quality and quantity of information we have to pass on about the status of Lexar 80X. No, not because Lexar has been any more forthcoming, but because Friday's story prompted messages from over 4 dozen photographers across the US, Canada and UK (the messages continue to stream in even as this is being written).

The majority of correspondents noted that they had purchased 1 or more Lexar 1GB and/or 2GB 80X CompactFlash cards within the month of October 2004 that had the same A4B6 edge stamp code as the 1GB 80X second edition card we tested last week. The dates of purchase, for those that provided that information in their emails and who indicated they had 1 or more A4B6 cards in their possession, extend back to October 11, 2004. Other purchase dates include October 13, 17, 18, 21, 22 and 27. We have not been contacted by anyone who has purchased a 4GB 80X card as yet.

We also heard from photographers who made 80X purchases in the same three week period between October 11, 2004 and today that did not wind up with cards whose edge stamp ends in A4B6. A handful reported that 9D66 was the edge stamp code, while a few others said that their edge stamp ended in F6A4. In September 2004 we tested multiple 9D66 edge stamp 1GB 80X cards and determined that they were all first edition 80X. We've not tested an F6A4 card, and so can't say what lurks under the hood. Of the 9D66/F6A4 group, several noted that they had purchased their card(s) the week of October 25, 2004.


Lexar 1GB 80X second edition (top); Lexar 2GB 80X second edition (middle); Lexar 1GB 80X first edition (bottom)

So, based on just the contents of our email inbox, it's clear that both the 1GB and 2GB 80X second edition cards are shipping and that they have been for perhaps 3 weeks. But there is some  - maybe even a lot - of 80X first edition stock lurking on the shelves of some retailers.

But wait, there's more. While photographing volleyball over the weekend, a conversation with local shooter Pablo Galvez revealed that he had purchased 2 80X 2GB CompactFlash cards recently, and that both showed the same A4B6 edge stamp code. We borrowed one of these for testing and quickly determined that it was in fact an 80X second edition card. The dealer from which Galvez purchased the cards was able to tell us that they were part of a shipment from one of Lexar's Canadian distributors received into inventory at the store on October 14, 2004.

Add it all up and the answer is clear: Lexar has been shipping 80X second edition CompactFlash for some time, and that it's likely that any 80X card with an edge stamp that ends in A4B6 is a second edition card. It's equally likely that 9D66 edge stamp cards are not second edition. The only real unknown here is which category the F6A4 edge stamp cards fall into.

lexar_80x_info_screenshot.jpgNote: the internal information, as reported in OS X when a memory card is inserted into the PC Card slot of a Mac laptop, is also the same. Whether it's a first edition or second edition model, the computer displays the information shown in the screenshot at right.

Since the 80X second edition cards look the same as first edition cards currently, except for the edge stamp, and we've also determined that the retail packaging is similar or identical also, actually purchasing a second edition 80X card may be tricky. Presumably the new labels and packaging promised for second edition cards by Lexar in early September 2004, and shown off later that month at Photokina, will eventually replace the current labels and packaging. That will make it easier to differentiate second edition from first edition. Until that time, however, it appears that the only way to identify the Lexar 80X card you're about to purchase is to open the retail box and peek at the edge stamp through the transparent plastic of the inner packaging.

That's too bad, because the performance of the card, based on our testing of both the 1GB and 2GB 80X second edition models we have in-house, is substantially better than the first edition (as our tests of the engineering sample second edition cards suggested it would be). As of this writing, we've put the cards through the Canon EOS-1D Mark II, EOS 20D and EOS-1Ds Mark II, as well as the Nikon D2H and D70, and in all cases the cards are at or near the top of the performance charts. We've also tested card-to-computer transfer speed, where the Lexar 80X second edition units are quite a bit quicker than their first edition counterparts, though they still trail the speediest Sandisk cards in this test by a significant margin.

Lexar 1GB 80X first edition (left); 1GB 80X second edition (right)

You might be wondering why Lexar has chosen to keep us in the dark about the rollout of 80X second edition cards, when they promised that we would be informed in a timely manner so that we could let readers of this site know that the cards were out. Especially when our test results so far show that Lexar has produced a fine new product, and when the company was eager to have us test and report on the engineering sample versions of these cards back in July 2004.

We have a pretty good idea of what's transpired, and we'll be exploring this topic thoroughly with Lexar this week. But we don't want to expend any more bandwidth than necessary here discussing why Lexar has chosen their particular course of action, in the belief that few site visitors will see the back story as relevant to their selection of a CompactFlash card. But if you think it's strange that Lexar would conduct themselves this way, as well as ship the second edition cards so that they appear like first edition cards in every way except for the edge stamp, we agree. 

Ultimately, what is important are the performance numbers, so that you can use that information as part of the criteria by which you select a CompactFlash card for your digital SLR. We're beavering away now to get the CompactFlash Performance Database updated with test data for the Lexar 1GB and 2GB production-level 80X second edition CompactFlash cards. We'll start by updating the sections for the newest cameras from Canon and Nikon, plus card-to-computer transfer rates, and follow with the remainder of the cameras we're actively testing as soon as possible. Look for announcements on the front page of this site as the sections are updated.

Update, November 2, 2004: A new wave of email from photographers reveals a new twist in the 80X second edition saga. A total of 8 photographers indicate that Lexar representatives in customer service and/or tech support are informing customers that the second edition cards are not yet available but will be coming available either in two weeks or sometime in the next two weeks. Most or all of these photographers contacted Lexar to request a swap of a first edition card for a second edition card. This information is obviously not correct, or at least incorrectly describes the availability of 80X second edition cards in the marketplace. It may correctly describe that Lexar internally may not have any 80X second edition cards to swap for first edition cards at this time, however. But this is only a guess on our part.

We continue to hear from photographers with Lexar 80X CompactFlash cards with an edge stamp ending in F6A4. Unfortunately, we still don't know if these cards resemble first edition or second edition 80X.

Update, November 4, 2004: We've now heard from a photographer who was able to purchase a 4GB 80X card with an edge stamp ending in A4B6, which probably means Lexar is also shipping second edition 80X units at this capacity.

Sprinkled among all the correspondence from photographers in the past 6 days are a dozen or so messages indicating that Lexar is offering, to any photographer who contacts the company directly it appears, to exchange first edition cards for second edition cards. We've made a couple of references to this already, but as we waded through the batches of emails again it seemed like a good idea to call out this fact specifically. So, while Lexar hasn't announced an official card exchange program that we know of, it looks like they're attempting to placate first edition 80X owners by agreeing to a swap for second edition 80X units.

Update, November 6, 2004: Over the last two days we've begun to hear from photographers purchasing 512MB 80X cards with A4B6 in the edge stamp; this suggests that Lexar is now shipping 80X second edition CompactFlash cards at all planned capacities up to 4GB. In addition, we received confirmation yesterday from Lexar that 80X second edition cards began shipping several weeks ago. We expect to have more complete information from the company sometime during the week of November 8, 2004.

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