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D1 startup delay appears squashed  
Saturday, January 27, 2001 | by
D1 shooters who use higher-capacity Lexar Media CompactFlash cards can breathe a sigh of relief today. With all-camera compatibility testing nearly complete, Lexar Media is gearing up to announce early next week the details of their card firmware update program aimed at D1 photographers experiencing a wake-from-sleep delay that is noticeably longer than the D1's 1/3 to 1/2 second spec.

See the note at the end of this article for information on why the firmware update will need to be performed by Lexar, and not available as a download for end users.

Though the company had originally suggested they might roll out the update for D1 owners earlier this week, they opted instead to first ensure that the changed firmware wouldn't trigger problems in other cameras. To do that, Lexar engineers have spent the last week running new-firmware cards through a battery of compatibility tests. It was anticipated that those tests would be completed late yesterday.

The final (barring any last minute tweaks) firmware 320MB 12x card I received yesterday morning from Lexar has performed without a hitch in a Nikon D1, Canon EOS D30 and a mix of SCSI, FireWire and USB card readers on both Mac and PC. The additional startup delay feels completely gone, leaving only the D1's brief wake-from-sleep delay.

Lexar Media 320MB 12x CompactFlash card

In comparison testing between the Lexar 320MB 12x card and 7 other CompactFlash brands, the wake-from-sleep time with the Lexar seems to be no longer than the others. In fact, the camera's time-to-fire when coming out of sleep mode is comparable to Sandisk 128MB CompactFlash card I've been using as my no-additional-delay reference.

Users of cameras other than the D1 need not apply

If you don't shoot with a D1, it's unlikely, says Lexar, that you will derive any performance benefit from the startup sequence change in the new card firmware. Most cameras, including point-and-shoot models like the Coolpix 990, and even the D30, have such a long power-up time that even if the firmware update were to shorten it slightly, it would still be 1.5 seconds or more in most cases. The D30's power up time, for example, is over 1 second even with no card inside, and 3-5 seconds when any brand of card is inserted. Part of the reason, then, that the additional startup delay has surfaced as a concern for D1 users is that the camera's own wake-from-sleep time is much shorter than most if not all competing cameras. This has made the additional delay of certain Lexar cards noticeable.

In addition, the modification in the new firmware will only shorten the time it takes for the card to respond to the camera when the camera has shut off power to the card slot, and is now sending power to the card slot again. This scenario plays out when the D1 is asleep and is then reawakened to shoot a picture, because the D1 powers down the card slot when the camera goes to sleep after a specified period of inactivity. That period is determined by Custom Setting 15, and can be set to be no longer than 16 seconds.

The D30, by comparison, does not shut off power to the card slot until the camera is switched off by the user, or until it's idle longer than the duration specified in the camera's Auto Power Off setting. The Auto Power Off Setting can be disabled, or set to, say, 30 minutes, to ensure that the card slot is always receiving power when the camera is grabbed to make a photo. As a result, the new card firmware should have no real impact on D30 shooters, since the camera must be powered up all the time to be usable at all in fast-moving shooting situations, regardless of the card inside.

Over the weekend I'll continue to compare previous and new firmware Lexar cards in the D1, as well as the D30, Kodak DCS 520 and Nikon Coolpix 990. I'll also be following up with Lexar on Monday, and will post details of their plan to get the new firmware into the cards of affected D1 photographers. Previously, Lexar had anticipated that D1 shooters with 128MB and larger Lexar CompactFlash cards would benefit from the firmware update.

Note:Loading new firmware into a Lexar CompactFlash card is not something that can be accomplished by an end user. Most Lexar card owners will have to ship their card(s) to Lexar for the firmware update to be performed. There are several reasons for this: the utility that performs the update is a geek-level DOS program, for one. And only certain combinations of PC hardware support Lexar's firmware update utility. In addition, if a malfunction occurs during the update process, the card will no longer function. At that point, disassembly of the card is required to bring it back to life. That kind of repair is as expensive as it sounds.

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