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The History of the CFast 2.0 Memory Card

The History of the CFast 2.0 Memory Card

September 18ᵗʰ 2012, at the Photokina trade fair in Cologne, Germany, SanDisk officially announces the creation of a new specification of CFast card, the CFast 2.0.¹ Using the SATA 3.0 interface, these cards were theoretically capable of 600MB/s bus speeds². A logical progression in the memory card timeline as cameras were demanding evermore larger resolutions, frame rates and file sizes. CFast 2.0 would not be compatible with the older CompactFlash system due to the redesigned connector. CFast 2.0 was an evolution of CFast 1.0 and first hit the market in 2009 after its debut at CES. CFast 1.0 cards used the SATA 2.0 interface.

 
CFast is developed by CompactFlash Association to break the speed limit from 133MB/s (PATA) to 375MB/s (SATA) while keep the small and popular original CF mechanical form factor. Pretec CFast Storage Card contains a single chip controller and flash memory module(s) in a matchbook-sized package with a 7+17-pin connector that consists of a SATA compatible 7 pin signal connector and a 17 pin power and control connector. This single chip controller interfaces with a host system allowing data to be written to and read from the flash memory module(s). Measured only 36mmX43mm, Pretec CFast Storage Card is the smallest SATA interfaced SSD in the world.
The transfer speed of 1st generation Pretec CFast Storage Card is up to 160MB/s, about 300% faster than the fastest CF card today. Merited to such hasty speed & small size offered by Pretec CFast, professional photographers can now make the best use of high-end cameras and ultimate technology image devices by relishing continuous shots without waiting time for catch up; Industrial, embedded or PC users such as IPC, Mobile Internet Device (MID), and Ultra-Mobile Personal Computer (UMPC) can now simultaneously obtain the desirable features of next generation fast, small and reliable mobile storage¹³.
Pretec Press Release - Jan 9th 2009
 

It wouldn't be until September 13ᵗʰ 2013, at IBC in Amsterdam that SanDisk launches the worlds first CFast 2.0 card. The 120GB SanDisk Extreme Pro CFast 2.0 memory card was capable of read speeds of up to 450MB/s and write speeds up to 350MB/s³.

ARRI would go on to be the first manufacturer to implement native support for this new specification with the ARRI AMIRA. ARRI also produced the XR Module to allow CFast support on the ALEXA Classic and XT cameras. Because of their high data rate, CFast 2.0 cards, at the time, supported higher frame rates than the then current SxS PRO cards, enabling recording of ProRes 4444 up to 120 fps.

On January 6ᵗʰ 2014 at CES in Las Vegas, a competitor arose; Lexar announced the confidently claimed "worlds fastest CFast 2.0 memory card". Topping SanDisk's effort of 450MB/s with a staggering 500MB/s.

SanDisk Logo
Arri Logo
Lexar Logo

A battle had emerged akin to the VHS and Betamax days, and over the next few years each company brought out ever faster and ever larger capacity memory cards. Other manufacturers stepped in to take a piece of the CFast market, with cards being produced by Delkin Devices, Wise, Transcend, ATOMOS, KingSpec, Swissbit, Integra, Anglebird, Super Talent, Komputerbay, Toshiba, PixelFlash and Kingston. With so much support from high end cinema cameras, SanDisk and Lexar were always the go to brand in this arena. In the end, with Lexar stepping down, SanDisk would be left to dominate the market as the number one CFast brand.

CompactFlash Association

In 1995 a group of 11 companies banded together in the hopes of promoting the adoption of a new specification of memory card. Among the companies involved were HP, Apple, SanDisk, 3COM, Eastman Kodak Company, IBM, NEC and Canon⁹,¹⁰. Along with this new format, they hoped to create an industry standard for flash based memory cards. Over the following years these standards would ensure that all memory cards under the CompactFlash Association would be made to the same high standards. Of these standards was VPG Profile 3. VPG Profile 3 was announced by the CompactFlash Association on September 10ᵗʰ 2015.

 
The VPG Profile 3 specification enables guaranteed sustained capture of video streams at up to 130 MB/s for professional video capture... This includes guaranteed video capture over multiple capture files and across file system updates without dropping frames, enabling high quality 4K RAW capture at high frame rates with the highest quality⁶.
 

SanDisk

At the time of writing, SanDisk produce the Model D, 64GB, 128GB and 256GB capacity CFast 2.0 memory card, which are all capable of read speeds of 525MB/s and write speeds of 450MB/s.

These cards are currently supported by the Canon C300 Mk II, C700, XC10 1D X mk II and the C200, as well as the Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro 4.6K, URSA Mini 4.6K, URSA Mini 4K and URSA cameras. All Model D, SanDisk CFast 2.0 memory cards are VPG-130.

SanDisk CFast 2.0 Memory Card

Lexar

Lexar, at the time of writing, had two specifications currently in production, the 3600x and the 3500x.

The Lexar 3600x range were specifically optimised for use with ARRI cameras. They had a unique heat sink designed to handle continuous shooting and a firmware optimised for dealing with the larger file formats of the ARRI camera. The 3600x are currently also compatible with the Blackmagic URSA, URSA Mini, and URSA Mini Pro and came in 128GB and 256GB capacities. The 3500x range are supported by the Canon C300 Mk II, C700, XC10, 1D X Mk II and the new C200, as well as the previously mentioned Blackmagic cameras.

The 3500x are capable of up to 525MB/s read and 445MB/s write speeds, while the 3600x are capable of 540MB/s read and 445MB/s write speeds. The 3500x are also VPG-130 certified whereas the 3600x are not.

Lexar 3600x Memory Card

On January 31ˢᵗ 2017 Lexar released the 512GB 3500x CFast 2.0 card as well as announcing a 512GB 3600x variant.

 
As professional imaging technology continues to advance, it's crucial that memory storage formats keep pace with ever-evolving data needs... When shooting 200 FPS on a high-end, production-level camera, it's easy to fill up an entire 256GB card with content in just 17 minutes. Comparatively, the new Professional 512GB 3500x CFast 2.0 card can capture up to more than twice that time. It's essential that professional content creators shooting in bandwidth-heavy applications such as RAW, 4K, burst-mode, time-lapse, and beyond have access to increasingly higher capacities and faster transfer speeds like those offered by the new 512GB Professional 3500x CFast 2.0 card.
Jennifer Lee, Product Marketing Director, Lexar - Jan 31ˢᵗ 2017
image

Despite this innovation in CFast technology, and the support Lexar had gained from the likes of ARRI, on June 26ᵗʰ of 2017 Micron announced that it would be discontinuing its Lexar removable storage business¹¹.

 
The decision was made as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to focus on its increasing opportunities in higher value markets and channels.
Jay Hawkins, Consumer Products Group Vice President, Micron Technology.
 

Just two months later on August 31ˢᵗ 2017, the Shenzhen based electronics company Longsys announced that it had acquired the Lexar trademark and branding from Micron¹².

The Future of the CFast Card

The CFast cards days have always been numbered. CFast 2.0 cards use the SATA 3.0 interface, which has a maximum bus speed of 600MB/s. Think of bus as a motorway for data transfer. The XQD card, announced by the CompactFlash Association on December 7ᵗʰ 2011, had a theoretical top bus speed of 625MB/s thanks to the use of PCIe rather than SATA 3.0¹⁴. If you are confused by these terminologies, they are simply different types of connections, but in some contexts you can think of SATA and PCIe as a form of language between the computer and memory. The more efficient the language, the faster data can be transferred.

XQD 2.0 was later capable of a maximum of 1000MB/s nearly double the top speed of a CFast card. But none of these speeds would come close to the CFexpress card. Announced on September 7ᵗʰ 2016¹⁵, the CFexpress card would be based on PCIe and NVM Express (a new, far more efficient language) with the first generation cards being capable of bus speeds of 2GB/s.

The CFast cards life, in terms of evolution, may be far from over, but with so much support from high end, cinema camera manufacturers, it will have a long standing place in the world of film and television. While it may feel like there is a new type of memory card being released every few years, we can be comforted in the thought that organisations like the CompactFlash Association are striving to deliver universal standards for memory cards. After all, if the demand for more data heavy, larger format and higher frame rate cameras stopped, so would the need for ever faster, ever larger storage devices.

The real pain comes when companies decide to opt for their own proprietary media, and we all know who they are.

 

Lewis Logan - Senior Digital Client Contact - VMEDIA

 

References

¹] https://www.sandisk.co.uk/about/media-center/press-releases/2012/sandisk-announces-development-of-cfast-memory-cards
- SanDisk announcement of the new CFast 2.0 specification
²] http://www.compactflash.org/cfast-cards
- CompactFlash Association
³] https://www.sandisk.co.uk/about/media-center/press-releases/2013/sandisk-launches-world%E2%80%99s-first-cfast-20-memory-card 
- SanDisk launched the CFast 2.0 card
⁴] http://www.arri.com/news/news/in-camera-cfast-20-for-alexa/
- Arri announce CFast 2.0 support
⁵] https://petapixel.com/2014/01/07/lexar-announces-cfast-2-0-card-claims-worlds-fastest-memory-card-title/
- Lexar announce their own CFast 2.0 card
⁶] http://www.compactflash.org/assets/docs/cfapress/vpg_150910.pdf
- CompactFlash Association press release
⁷] http://www.realhardwarereviews.com/lexar-pro-3600x-3500x/4/ 
- Lexar heat sink 3600x
⁸] http://investors.micron.com/releasedetail.cfm?releaseid=1009764
- Lexar announce the 512GB CFast 2.0 Memory card
⁹] Goldstein, H. (1995). PC Card News. The Palmtop Paper, 4(Bonus Issue #2), p.5.
- Information on the formulation of the CompactFlash Association
¹⁰] Bangia, R. (2007). Dictionary of Information Technology. 1st ed. New Delhi: Firewall Media, p.124.
- Information on the formulation of the CompactFlash Association
¹¹] https://www.micron.com/about/blogs/2017/june/micron-discontinuing-lexar-removable-storage-retail-business
- Micron announces the discontinuation of the Lexar removable storage business.
¹²] http://www.longsys.com/longsys-acquires-lexar-brand-a-leading-brand-for-high-performance-removable-storage-solutions/
- Longsys announces their acquisition of the lexar brand.
¹³] http://www.pretec.com/com/news-event/press-room/item/press-room/press-release-2009-vol-1
- Pretec announces the CFast 1.0
¹⁴] http://www.compactflash.org/assets/docs/cfapress/xqd_111207.pdf
- The announcement of the XQD card
¹⁵] http://www.compactflash.org/assets/docs/cfapress/cfexpress_family_pr_160907.pdf
- CompactFlash announces the CFexpress

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