There has been a long standing debate regarding the speed of Compact Flash cards and which one truly is the fastest versus which company markets their products as being the fastest. The company that stands out the most as being one that markets their products as being the fastest Compact Flash cards is Lexar Media. Lexar is the company that started actually rating their cards using the speed ratings given to CD-ROM drives. They state that their latest cards can actually have read and write speeds greater than 24X. What does that imply exactly? Considering each 'X' equals 150KB, it implies that a 24X card should be able to read and write at 3.6MB per second. Several test sites have rated the top name brand flash cards such as SanDisk, Lexar, Viking and SimpleTech. They have even rated the lesser known brands of flash cards such as Kingston, Pretec, and Delkin. What these test sites have proven is quite shocking. They have proven that the read and write speeds of the different cards: A. Are vastly different from brand to brand. B. Can vary vastly depending on whether you compare write speeds or read speeds. C. The fastest brands are not necessarily the brands that market themselves as being the 'industry leader' or 'fastest card'. One site that does a superb job of comparing the different test results is DPReview.com. You can find their comparisons to be unbiased, thorough and user friendly for the novice digital camera user or the technical high-end professional user. I highly recommend you take about an hour sometime to look at DPReview's site. Go to their digital film comparison page and read the information very carefully. Click on the different links for different chart layouts to compare the several different brands listed on the site. If you don't have an hour to compare the different brands of cards, I have taken the time to highlight one portion of the DPReview site for you below. For example if you go to the page: http://www.dpreview.com/articles/mediacompare/default.asp?sort=fwwrite#fwperf You will note that the IBM 1 GB Microdrive CompactFlash with PC Card Adapter, Pretec, RiData, and SimpleTech STI-CF/512 512MB CompactFlash Card cards are rated faster than the Lexar Media 512 MB 16x High Speed CompactFlash Pro (CF512-16-278), SanDisk 512 MB CompactFlash Card Ultra and Viking CF256M 256 MB CompactFlash Card cards even though Lexar, SanDisk, and Viking market their cards as high performance cards.
Read vs. Write Speeds You will note that on the DPReview.com site that there are both write speed comparisons and read speed comparisons. It is important to note that a card that has a fast write speed doesn't necessary have a fast read speed. The write speed will be the most important as a card with a slower write speed won't be able to write the picture you take to the card as fast, thus forcing you to wait until you are able to take your next picture. The read speed in comparison will only be used when you want to few your images either on your camera or to transfer them to your computer for viewing. While it may be quite frustrating waiting for your images to transfer from your card to your camera's view screen or to your computer, it is not nearly as frustrating as missing a shot because you were forced to wait for your camera to finish writing an image to your flash card. Again, write speed is far more important than read speed.
Consumers are Seeing Through the Smoke and Mirrors or Marketing In conclusion, it appears that the brands offering the fastest ACTUAL performance are not the companies that market themselves as high speed. The trick is whether or not the public is seeing through the marketing and purchasing the cards that actually perform the best. I have noticed that here on Amazon the SimpleTech STI-CF/256 256 MB CompactFlash Card is currently the top selling CompactFlash card while the Lexar Media 256 MB USB 12X High-Speed CompactFlash Card (CF256-12-251) or even the Viking CF256M 256 MB CompactFlash Card don't even appear on the top sellers lists. This tells me that the Amazon shopper is seeing through the smoke and mirrors of marketing. Hopefully this guide will help to continue that trend.