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Kingston FCR-HS4 & CF/64GB-U3 Review

14 April 2015 | Written by Maxxum, with contributions by Andrew H.

Kingston recently released its newest multi-card reader, the FCR-HS4, as well as a larger capacity CompactFlash card (an update to Kingston's 600x speed CF), the CF/64GB-U3, a.k.a. the Kingston Ultimate 600x 64GB CF card.

No longer as ubiquitous as their smaller SD counterparts, the CompactFlash now sees usage primarily in professional camera systems, and industrial devices (firewalls, GPS systems, park meters, etc...) due to their robust construction and fast read/writes.

Kingston ships the FCR-HS4 and CF/64GB-U3 in sealed, plastic packaging that requires scissors to open. One is advised to cut along the edges as the activation code for the downloadable file recovery software that Kingston provides (Windows or MacOS) for free with the purchase of the CF/64GB-U3 is printed on the paper inside.

The FCR-HS4 is lightweight plastic and brushed aluminum with good fit and finish, and much smaller in hand than I'd envisioned from the product photos on Kingston's site; measuring approx. 3.67" x .2.07 " x 0.63", or roughly 3/4 the size of a wallet. Even with the 3ft USB3, both items can be put comfortably in a jean pocket.

As an update to the previous FCR-HS3, the HS4 is a USB3 device that supports:

- CompactFlash: CF Type I & II (UDMA 0-7)
- Secure Digital: SD/SDHC UHS I-II/SDXC UHS I-II
- microSD: microSD/microSDHC UHS-I/microSDXC UHS-I
- Memory Stick: Memory Stick PRO/Duo/PRO Duo/ PRO-HG Duo.

For its part, the CF/64GB-U3 is a UDMA7 CF Type-1 card rated for 90MB/s Read and 90MB/s Write.

CF/64GB-U3 Testing

Since the audience that would be most likely to purchase a CompactFlash is a professional photographer, speed testing of the CF/64GB-U3 was conducted with the FCR-HS4 connected to a medium performance laptop to replicate conditions of a photographer working on a field assignment, though the results of these tests would be equally valid (if not faster) on a properly configured home system. Benchmarks were first conducted on CrystalDiskMark x64 @ 50MB, 100MB, 500MB, and 1000MB run for a total of five cycles each, with the card formatted for FAT32.

50MB File Transfer 100MB File Transfer 500MB File Transfer 1000MB File Transfer

The CF maintains speeds higher than its rated performance in every test. One might have noted the drop in 512K write speeds during the 1000MB random write test. While curious, it's not a concern since cameras and camcorders write sequentially (they start writing at the beginning of the card and continue till it is filled). We completed testing with AIDA64 to get a full picture of the sustained read and write speeds throughout the entire capacity of the card in linear read/writes.

In the AIDA64 tests, we see that the Linear (a.k.a. sequential) benchmark demonstrates that the CF/64GB-U3 again maintains average read/write speeds above product specifications.

FCR-HS4 Testing

The FCR-HS4 supports four card formats, so we continued testing against the MemoryStick, microSD, and SD ports using the fastest card of each type at our disposal. The data we were most curious to see was that for the Sony PRO-HG Duo HX MemoryStick test. In the past we've seen that card readers are typically compatible with the HX format, but not compliant, therefore unable to reach the maximum I/O performance for the HX specification.

32GB Sony PRO-HG Duo HX 64GB G.Skill FF-TSDXC64GA-U1 128GB Sony SDHX U3

To be honest, I already knew the FCR-HS4 would be able to support the HX format MemoryStick; the first thing I did after receiving the package from Kingston was to look through the clear plastic to see if the MS port had the 14-pins required to support 8-Bit parallel reading. When I saw that it did, I knew that it would perform well, but I didn't expect it to max out the performance. Even Sony's own readers are only able to do 42/19 read/write at best, so this was an impressive result and I'm glad Kingston's engineers adhered to the HX spec. The G.Skill microSD, which was only rated for U1 Class 10, also exceeded it's R/W rating. The Sony 128GB SD, which was formatted in exFAT, came in just below its rated speed of 94MB/s read, but above it's rated 60MB/s write, which we expected as we've never maxed out read speeds for this particular card on any reader we've tested with it. Nonetheless, it's a good benchmark result.

CF/64GB-U3 Further Testing

With the above tests having been completed with one card in one port on the FCR-HS4, the following test was completed with all four ports (CF/microSD/SD/MemoryStick) populated, and a read/write test conducted on the CF port to verify that the FCR-HS4 controller was properly accessing only the port being used.

The reader was accessing the port as it should be. We then conducted tests against all the ports at the same time to see how the reader would respond. This is not a use case that is likely to happen, this was a test conducted to determine if we could crash the device's controller with overwhelming I/O requests.

Rather than becoming over-saturated, the device allowed I/O against only three of the ports, while surprisingly maintaining good, albeit reduced throughput.

MediaRECOVER Testing

Lastly, we conducted a short analysis of MediaRECOVER, the file recovery software that Kingston bundles with its memory cards. We'd expected a limited program that was locked to support brand specific devices, something we've seen other memory companies do, however that was not the case. Moreover, the software allowed for recovery from the local hard drive, supports simple and advanced "deep scanning", secure file deletion, and also has a number of tools designed to recover files from damaged file systems - again stressing that this is free and that the code is inside the product card, so be careful not to cut it.

We tested only the simple file recovery option, something we would expect a non-technical photographer to use if they were to accidentally delete a file:

Here you see that the software was able to recover a file that we'd deleted.

Conclusion

We use a binary scoring system to avoid interpretation (0 for "no", or 1 for "yes"), and we accordingly rated both the FCR-HS4 and CF/64GB-U3 a "1" with no reservations. The card comes with a lifetime warranty, and the reader a 2-year warranty. The added free bundle of MediaRECOVER (with the card) provides for good savings as the software, if you were to buy it alone, sells for $39 online. Kingston maintains a list of stores through which one can purchase the devices here.

End of line.

Photos by Maxxum