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UHS-1 supported in new SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC, Extreme Pro ExpressCard Adapter (updated)  
Monday, January 17, 2011 | by Rob Galbraith
SanDisk has launched a new series of SDHC memory cards and companion ExpressCard adapter that support the higher-speed UHS-1 protocol, the first products from the company to do so. The Extreme Pro SDHC cards in 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities are beginning to ship now, while the Extreme Pro ExpressCard Adapter is slated for release in early February.

SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC

The 8GB, 16GB and 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC cards support UHS-1, a data transfer mode introduced in v3.0 of the SD specification that promises much faster throughput when paired with a UHS-1 camera or card reader. SanDisk rates the card as capable of 45MB/s read and write speeds when operating in UHS-1 mode.

Extreme Three: The Extreme Pro 8GB, 16GB and 32GB cards and the Nikon D7000. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

There are currently few devices that can take advantage of the performance boost that UHS-1 provides. The Nikon D7000 is the only Canon or Nikon digital SLR we know of that supports UHS-1 right now, while UHS-1 card readers are just beginning to emerge. The situation for UHS-1 should brighten considerably this year, however, as camera and accessory companies alike bring UHS-1 to the gear they make.

In the D7000, UHS-1 support allows the Extreme Pro SDHC cards to deliver faster write speeds in our testing than all non-UHS-1 cards, edging out - though only by a small margin - the next fastest: SanDisk's Extreme SDHC. For example, the Extreme Pro 16GB SDHC managed a sustained speed of 25.6MB/s while transferring 17 D7000 JPEGs. This is about 1MB/s quicker than the 24.7MB/s achieved with the Extreme 16GB.

Both the D7000 and any of SanDisk's 30MB/s-rated SD cards support a proprietary data transfer protocol developed by SanDisk and implemented by Nikon in several of its digital SLRs. This allows the Extreme series to very nearly match the performance of the new Extreme Pro series in this camera. By comparison, the fastest non-UHS-1 cards from companies other than SanDisk top out at 18-19MB/s in the D7000.

Compared to these cards, the Extreme Pro SDHC results, while very good, suggest the D7000 isn't mining the full potential of UHS-1. Subsequent UHS-1 cameras will almost certainly wring out more write speed from the new memory card specification.

Also, a strange quirk cropped up during D7000 testing: at times, the Extreme Pro 16GB and 32GB would transfer at non-UHS-1 speeds, dropping from the 25MB/s range to closer to 16MB/s. We eventually figured out that inserting the card, shooting a picture, removing the card and then reinserting it into the D7000 would clear away the problem for the rest of the session, and testing was completed with the help of this workaround. SanDisk was made aware of the slowdown quirk on Friday, but as of now we don't know what the cause might be, whether it's restricted to the sample cards we've been given or what solution, if any, will be required. The 8GB card has so far not exhibited this problem.

Because of the slowdown quirk, it's hard to sum up the UHS-1 performance of the Extreme Pro line. Assuming the slowdown was an isolated thing, then the new cards will be among the fastest available for Nikon's latest digital SLR, perhaps even the fastest.

Update, February 1, 2011: We've traced the slowdown problem to what appears to be a formatting error, as opposed to a problem in the 16GB and 32GB cards' firmware. Some additional testing has to happen before we can sound the all-clear, but as of this writing we're reasonably sure the speed drop comes from something other than a problem in the cards themselves and instead was caused by a formatting quirk that purchasers of these cards are not likely to ever encounter.

In cameras like the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV which don't speak UHS-1, the Extreme Pro revert to a non-UHS-1 transfer mode that, in our testing, still puts them among the quickest SDHC cards available. That said, they trail by a few percentage points the speeds offered by, for example, the company's Extreme series as well as Lexar's 133X line.

If your camera isn't the D7000, then you might be more interested in an Extreme Pro SDHC card so that you can more quickly offload pictures to the computer. As you'll read ahead, SanDisk's Extreme Pro ExpressCard Adapter should bring on the fastest card-to-computer transfer speeds possible from an SD-format card, as long as that card supports UHS-1. We've not had an opportunity to test the new adapter yet, however, so we can't confirm that card-to-computer throughput will be as fast as the new cards' speed rating would suggest.

SanDisk claims that the Extreme Pro SDHC cards, like the rest of its SD lineup, can withstand all manner of environmental extremes. These include temperatures ranging from -13F to 185F (-25C to 85C), up to three days in fresh or salt water and shock levels of up to 500Gs.

The Extreme Pro SDHC cards, when purchased direct from SanDisk, are US$100.99 for the 8GB, US$159.99 for the 16GB and US$299.99 for the 32GB. All three capacities are to ship immediately and include a copy of SanDisk's RescuePRO photo recovery software for Mac and Windows.

SanDisk Extreme Pro ExpressCard Adapter

Also introduced today is a new card reader for laptop users, the SanDisk Extreme Pro ExpressCard Adapter. The ExpressCard/34 adapter is designed for fast transfers with UHS-1 cards, including Extreme Pro SDHC as well as UHS-1 SDHC and SDXC cards from SanDisk and others.

Ready to Run: The SanDisk Extreme Pro ExpressCard Adapter for SD memory cards (Photo courtesy SanDisk)

The SanDisk Extreme Pro ExpressCard Adapter is compatible with both Mac and Windows computers equipped with ExpressCard/34 or ExpressCard/54 slots A driver is required.

ExpressCards can communicate internally with the computer over slower USB 2.0 or faster PCIe data paths. SanDisk's adapter goes the PCIe route. This means the new adapter, if it's well designed, should be capable of delivering the full speed capabilities of UHS-1 cards like the Extreme Pro. It's compatible with non-UHS-1 and SDXC (capacities over 32GB) cards too.

The SanDisk Extreme Pro ExpressCard Adapter is US$49.99 when purchased direct from SanDisk's online store. It should be possible to place an order for the adapter as soon as today. Shipping is to commence in early February.
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