If had found a decent review, then I would not have made the purchase. But I could not find any review, whether positive or negative. So I want my experience to be helpful for the next potential buyer whom searches the Web for reviews.
4GB PixelFlash 400x CF card
Model PF4GCF400S. They do not give much importance to model numbers: no mention of it on the package, nor on the company Web site. This card has 7847280 usable sectors, or 4.01 gigaoctets.
I saw average reads of 52 Mo/s, peak at 54 or 56 Mo/s.
Write speed is much lower than read. When first used, writes peaked at 17 Mo/s, and average 10 Mo/s. When the card is used and all memory blocks are dirty, peak write speed dropped to 11 Mo/s while average remained 10 Mo/s. Zeroing was faster than ordinary writes: about 13 Mo/s. After zeroing, write speed was "refreshed": 17 Mo/s peak, as when new, while average remained 10 Mo/s.
PixelFlash Customer Care
I expected better performance than 10 Mo/s sustained write speed, so I contacted PixelFlash by e-mail.
In my first letter, I only asked why I was seeing write speed of only 10 Mo/s. Robyn Brinks, Customer Care at PixelFlash, Inc., responded to my letter. Robyn sent me a stock answer: a list of bottlenecks associated with common CF adapters. The list was nothing more than non-attributed excerpts from Digital Photography Now and Wikipedia. That stock response mentions that for accuracy, one should test CF cards with a Testmetrix machine.
Robyn's letter was not helpful. I again wrote to customer care, asking the following:
What does "Over 60 MB/s Data Transfer Rate" describe?
What are the internals of the 4GB card (what flash and what controller)?
They did not respond to that letter, so one week later I wrote again to PixelFlash.
Where are PixelFlash products made?
What chips are in the CF card?
Spotlight Media Customer Care
PixelFlash was ignoring me, so I wrote to Spotlight Media, the seller on Amazon. I asked:
What does "lightning fast 400x data transfer" describe?
What are the internals of the CF card?
Where are PixelFlash products made, and who makes them?
Sydney James, Customer Care at Spotlight Media, responded to my letter. Sydney wrote: "The cards utilize Nand flash memory technology. The 400x speed should relate to the read speed."
Wow, really, NAND memory? Who would have guessed! "Everything" in consumer electronics uses NAND memory. I replied to Sydney, saying that "NAND" is not specific enough. I expect better write speed: a six years old Microdrive can almost match 10 Mo/s linear write. I asked:
What NAND? What brand? What controller?
Where are PixelFlash products made, and who makes them?
Sydney got back to me, and apologised because the provided details were not specific enough. Sydney wrote: "All PixelFlash cards are tailored for use in professional DSLR cameras and as such utilize MLC." Sydney told me about bottlenecks, using the same words as Robyn of PixelFlash. I was (again) told that one should use a Testmetrix machine to accurately test write speed, and (again) provided with a list of common bottlenecks.
I replied to that letter with more questions:
SupertechUSA describes all PixelFlash cards as having "RTV silicone coating". Is that true?
Since you seem to have a Testmetrix machine, what are the test results?
They did not respond, so one week later I wrote again to Spotlight Media.
What memory chips are in the card? What memory controller is in the card?
Is that kind of information kept secret? Do you not know?
I immediately received an automatic response, from Sydney James, Support Team:
They did not get back to me. I sent another message, and got the same instant auto-response.Sydney James wrote:Thank you for contacting our support desk. This email is confirmation that we have received your request and a Customer Support Specialist will be working to get back to you with an answer as soon as possible.
… we make every effort to get back to you as quickly as possible. …
We hope this is helpful and again, thank you …
Sincerely, Sydney James
the real hardware
I realise that PixelFlash and Spotlight Media will never answer my questions, so I had to find the answers myself. I broke-open the card. Inside are two Samsung K9GAG08U0M and one Silicon Motion SM2232.
SM2232 info sheet wrote:MLC sustained read rate: 50MB/s
MLC sustained write rate: 35MB/s
Observed read speed exceeds the controller's rating. As for writes, some calculation:K9GAG08U0M preliminary datasheet revision 0.6 wrote:Memory Cell : 2bit / Memory Cell
Page Program : (4K + 128)Byte
Program time : 800μs(Typ.)
Block Erase : (512K + 16K)Byte
Block Erase Time : 1.5ms(Typ.)
block program time = 102400 μs
erase+program time = 103900 μs
dirty block writes = 9.624 operations per second
512 Kio per block = about 4930 Kio per second
With two memory components, theoretical write speed is 10 Mo/s. The 13 Mo/s speed which I observed when writing straight zero is understandable: I think it means the controller is not stupid.
Who are these companies?
I think that PixelFlash Inc. and Spotlight Media are one company. I think that Spotlight Media is not just an authorised distributer of PXF products: Spotlight Media is PixelFlash. Their Customer Care departments use the same stock answers. A few months ago, PXF was selling products from their Web site: now, the PXF site just hyperlinks to Spotlight Media on Amazon.
SupertechUSA is the same company as Spotlight Media. Sydney James works Customer Care at Spotlight, and publicly appeared on Digital Photography Review Forums representing SupertechUSA. I did not receive the "CF Best Practices" insert which Sydney described, not that I wanted one. I would rather have a "Who makes this stuff?" insert.
I believe Outsourced Webmaster is either part of the same team or a good friend of the PXF people. They do marketing and search engine pollution. They might be doing the graphics design for PXF and Supertech.
How old is PixelFlash?
Deshko says 2009-09-24 on Better Business Bureau.
Deshko "SupertechUSA" joined Flickr November 2010.
supertechusa went by that name on eBay since 2009-09-29.
Feedback for selling CompactFlash cards since 2009-09-21.
First feedback for selling PixelFlash 2009-12-18.
supertechglobal.com was created 2011-07-12.
pixelflashmemory.com was created 2011-04-09.
pixelflashusa.com was created 2009-09-04.
PixelFlash (_PixelFlash_) used twitter since 2010-12-03.
Outsourced Webmaster (Webmastered) used twitter since 2011-05-25.
outsourcedwebmaster.com was created 2011-05-24.
Spotlight Media has feedback on Amazon from 2011-09-29.
Under the Hood
We are Marketers
PXF cards are called Extreme, Ultimate, Light Speed, and Reference One. It seems that they once sold a High-Speed Series, or they at least planned how such a product would look. If I were to purchase such a card, labeled 20MB/s, then I would be satisfied with 10 Mo/s write speed. A read speed to write speed ratio of 20:10 is not bad. But I opine that 52:10 or 60:10 is not "extreme". And I doubt that real professionals look for that balance of performance. Yet PXF suggests that the card I bought exceeds a professional's speed requirement.
From the Extreme Speed page:
"Momentum Technology" "Precision Mastery" "Intent Data Management" Blah, blah. I would rather you just be serious and honest, just say "Silicon Motion SM2232".
"A Lifetime Guarantee means you have nothing to lose." If Customer Care ignores you, then you have money to lose.
"America's Flash Memory Brand of Choice" B.S.
"Rugged. Durable. Tough as nails." Solid storage is what it is. "Tough as nails" is exaggeration.
Supertech even says "RTV silicone coating added inside for protection against moisture and humidity". What a lie! I opened my card, and I found no silicone coating! The CF card is like any other, and the case is like any other. It has no extra shock protection compared to any other card.
Supertech in particular uses fear, uncertainty, and doubt. In a graphic with a completely useless bar graph, SanDisk and Lexar are degraded for being worth more. It says PixelFlash is "Authentic American" with "Lifetime Guarantee", just next to where it says about SanDisk, "Guarantee not available for most eBay purchases" and "Over 30% suspected to be counterfeit". That is such a lie! SanDisk CompactFlash has a lifetime warranty, no matter where the product is purchased. And suppose one were to buy a counterfeit SanDisk card from somebody on eBay: SanDisk will verify right away whether the card is a fake, and eBay Buyer Protection ensures that one gets their money back. eBay treats the matter of counterfeit goods seriously.
Lexar is Micron, is a member of JEDEC, and so is SanDisk. These two companies not only lead in sales, but also lead the industry in creating standards. Both of them sell their CF cards with a lifetime warranty. SanDisk and Lexar are proven to be trustworthy.
Check-out these phoney bar graphs. The graphic is "Authentic American", because an American graphics designer/marketer created it. I could not care less that PixelFlash is an "Authentic American Brand". I do not care whether a brand is from Antarctica, Brazil, or China. The cards do not come from PixelFlash's own factory. They do not contain PixelFlash silicon. Only two things make them PixelFlash: label, and name programmed in the controller.
PixelFlash (and its two distributors, Spotlight Media and SupertechUSA) make the phrase "Authentic American Brand" almost meaningless. They spend too much time designing graphics. Customer support failed a competence test: when asked about where the products are made, the answer was always "American Brand".
My card is marked MB107C4G322SM MADE IN TAIWAN. If you find another CF card with a similar numbering scheme, then please let me know about it.