Personal Storage Devices: Digimate III vs Hyperdrive Space

Prior to actually making a purchase, I did my research and one thing I noticed is how adamant that some people are against the concept of a personal storage device (PSD). They talk about how the price of CF cards (or SD/SDHC) have fallen to the point where it is cost-prohibitive to invest in a storage device. Then they go on to discuss the short-falls of a hard drive based storage device and how hard drives are more prone to failure.

What I think most of these haters don’t understand is the need for a backup solution, not a replacement for additional flash memory. It doesn’t do me any good to have multiple 8GB CF cards if I only have 8GBs worth of images. The idea, at least to me, is to backup your 8GB of images. If you’re spending a whole day in the blazing heat trying to capture images of racecars (or whatever), the last thing you want to happen is to lose those images. “Why not invest in quality CF cards so that you dont have to worry about losing your images?”, is usually the next response. Well, what about theft? What if you misplace your 8GB card? And contrary to popular belief, FLASH DOES FAIL. The mere fact that NAND flash chips HAVE a lifetime should give you an idea. So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let us move on to my comparison.

Here\'s what a Digimate III looks like..


Digimate III High-Speed

I originally bought the Digimate III, well, because it was cheap. It cost about $35 shipped from Dealextreme.com. You simply provide your own hard drive (2.5″ IDE), pop it in, charge up the “generic” Li-Ion battery (Fuji NP20 battery available all over eBay) and you’re ready to rock. Going with the Digimate III, I knew it was going to be slower than what some of the more expensive units claim (the manual says 5.5MB/second max), but $35 was music to my ears.

Feel: It doesnt feel like a quality piece of equipment. That’s not to say its a POS, but it just feels “thin”. The materials are thin and the whole unit is kind of lightweight. One thing that was nice was that the edges are “rubberized” plastic, so you can get a good grip on the unit.

Appearance: The color OLED screen is.. umm, crap. the viewing angle sucks. From some angles the whole screen looks lit up. There’s not much information on the screen, aside from the bare essentials (remaining hard drive space, card space, and progress in the form of a XXX%). My Digimate III was silver, but I’ve seen the black one. I think the black would look much better. The silver is kind of cheap looking, but the quality of the paint is OK I guess.

Operation: There are only two buttons on the unit. One that doubles as “power” and “confirmation”. The other button is “copy” and “select”. You basically turn it on, plug in a card, select a partition (if your drive is partitioned), then hit copy. Once the backup is done, the unit stays on for a bit then shuts off to conserve power. When it copies to the hard drive, it stores your card’s contents in a “serialized” folder, like XX0001, XX0002, etc, where ‘XX’ is the type of card you copied. So if you were copying CF cards to the Digimate, the folders would be ‘CF0001’, ‘CF0002’, etc. All in all, its quite simple to use but lacks pretty much anything “special”.

Sanho Hyperdrive Space


Sanho Hyperdrive Space

However, after using the Digimate for a few months, I wanted to see if I could find a Hyperdrive. I had orignally wanted a Hyperdrive Space, but couldn’t force myself to part with $149 (+tax+shipping) for the Space case only. So I started cruising the regular outlets to see if I could find a used one (Fredmiranda.com, Photography-on-the.net and eBay). I came across an old listing (1 month old) and decided to PM the original poster to see if he still had it. As luck would have it, he did and he offered to sell it to me at the same price, $100 shipped. I received it yesterday.

Feel: This thing feels much more solid. With the drive in it, it actually feels quite a bit heavier than the Digimate. If the Digimate didnt feel like a piece of quality equipment, the Hyperspace Space definitely does. It doesnt feel flimsy at all. However, being a painted black surface, it is much more slippery. Unlike the Digimate III with its rubberized sides, the Hyperspace Space does feel like it could slip out of your hand if you weren’t careful. If you’ve ever held an iPhone, its kind of like that, just all smooth and slick, no texture or anything to provide extra grip.

Appearance: Its kind of plain, but not as plain as the Digimate III. There are 5 buttons on the face that allow you to operate the many functions and features of the Hyperdrive Space. The buttons are the membrane-type, which I kind of like. That way its harder for dust to collect there or whatever. Its a bit longer than the Digimate III, but its a bit thinner and narrower. I’d take thinner over shorter anyday. The screen is a plain ol’ LCD (not color) with the Indiglo type illumination. The screen provides much more information. Although I originally didnt think I needed anymore info than the Digimate provided, having more information is nice.

Operation: Using the 5 buttons, you can be a lot of things, which I wont get into here. But things like formatting the drive, browsing the drive contents, copying from hard drive to memory card, etc are all built-in and accessible using the 5 buttons. For copying memory cards, its just as simple as the Digimate. In fact, you can set it up so that as soon as you stick in a memory card, it will turn on and begin to copy the card’s contents (so, basically, buttonless operation). The card’s contents are copied to the Hyperdrive into their own folders, just like the Digimate. However, on the Hyperspace, you can either use a date/time combo naming convention or create your own (serialized) name. The Time/Date folder names look like this “YYMMDDHH.MMS”. Or if you create your own name, you can use, I think 5 characters, and the rest would be the serial number, starting from 000″. Pretty cool, but the Digimate’s naming convention was fine too.


Transfer Speed Comparison

Now, here’s where the two begin to differ drastically and you’ll realize why a Hyperdrive Space is $149 and the Digimate III is only $35.

Although this is not scientific, it should give you an idea of what to expect. You should also know that copying speeds from memory card to PSD will differ drastically depending on the type of card and the brand/model of card. Additionally, how “full” or “empty” a memory card is could affect its speed as well (meaning, a full 4GB card may transfer slower than a 4GB card that only has 2GB worth of content). Oh, and one last thing, my tests were all done with a Seagate 2.5″ 160GB 5400RPM 8MB buffered IDE drive. The faster the drive and the more buffer you have, the faster the transfer from memory card to hard drive should be.. but I wouldn’t know. I do hope to test a SSD in the Hyperdrive case in the coming future, so check back for that.

I read an article that mentioned Compact Flash (CF) cards have a 16-bit data bus and SD/SDHC cards only have a 4-bit data bus. Now, how this factors into manufacturers’ claims of “150X” or “233X”, I don’t know. But I will find out once I speak to my flash engineering buddy (edit:: my buddy told me that a 233x SD card should be the same speed as a 233x CF card.. although the CF card uses 16-bit parallel processing versus the SD card’s 4-bit serial processing, the SD card controller is clocked higher so the resulting read speed should be the same). So keep that in mind. As a matter of fact, Hyperdrive advertises “1GB per minute” when used with Sandisk Extreme III CF cards (that’s 17MB/second for the math challenged).

PSD: Digimate III
Memory Card: Kingston Ultimate 100x 2GB Compact Flash (this is an old card, hence 100x)
Card Contents: 695MB (as reported by Digimate)
Time to Copy: 124 seconds (2:04 minutes)
Time to Copy 4GB: 730 seconds (12:10 minutes) (calculated based on actual transfer of 695MB)
Transfer Rate: 336.29 Megabytes per minute

PSD: Sanho Hyperdrive Space
Memory Card: Kingston Ultimate 100x 2GB Compact Flash (same card as above)
Card Contents: 1.62GB (as reported by Hyperdrive)
Time to Copy: 158 seconds (2:38 minutes)
Time to Copy 4GB: 390 seconds (7:30 minutes) (calculated)
Transfer Rate: 629.95 Megabytes per minute

PSD: Digimate III
Memory Card: Kingston Ultimate 100x 2GB Compact Flash (same card as above)
Card Contents: 1.62GB (as reported by Digimate) (same contents as above)
Time to Copy: 300 seconds (5:00 minutes)
Time to Copy 4GB: 740 seconds (12:20 minutes) (calculated)
Transfer Rate: 331.78 Megabytes per minute

PSD: Sanho Hyperdrive Space
Memory Card: Kingston Elite Pro 133x 8GB Compact Flash
Card Contents: 4.0GB (as reported by Hyperdrive)
Time to Copy: 358 seconds (6:58 minutes)
Time to Copy 4GB: 358 seconds (6:58 minutes) (actual)
Transfer Rate: 686.48 Megabytes per minute

In testing my Kingston Class 6 8GB SDHC, you can see the Hyperdrive’s advantage diminishes greatly. So much so that I would even recommend against purchasing a Hyperdrive if you’re main use is going to be SD/SDHC. For $35 (or almost 1/5 the cost of a Hyperdrive), the Digimate III is only about 15% slower than the Hyperdrive Space when copying SDHC cards.

PSD: Digimate III
Memory Card: Kingston Class 6 8GB SDHC
Card Contents: 5.26GB (as reported by Digimate)
Time to Copy: 1224 seconds (20:24 minutes)
Time to Copy 4GB: 931 seconds (15:31 minutes) (calculated)
Transfer Rate: 264.30 Megabytes per minute

PSD: Sanho Hyperdrive Space
Memory Card: Kingston Class 6 8GB SDHC
Card Contents: 7.17GB (as reported by Hyperdrive)
Time to Copy: 1388 seconds (23:08 minutes)
Time to Copy 4GB: 775 seconds (12:55 minutes) (calculated)
Transfer Rate: 317.38 Megabytes per minute

PSD: Sanho Hyperdrive Space
Memory Card: Kingston Class 6 4GB miniSDHC
Card Contents: 435.2MB (as reported by Hyperdrive)
Time to Copy: 84 seconds (1:24 minutes)
Time to Copy 4GB: 791 seconds (13:11 minutes) (calculated)
Transfer Rate: 310.86 Megabytes per minute

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