HPLX.NET REVIEWS Microtech storMate-ATA Triple Speed Flash RAM

 Vital Statistics

Publisher/Manufacturer: Microtech International
Contact: http://www.microtechint.com 
Price: varies with capacity 

About the Product

At first glance, Microtech storMate might not seem like a logical choice for the 200LX.  Microtech is a company that specializes in making products for Macintosh computers.  Their storMate flash cards are designed with digital cameras in mind, not palmtops.  The name on the card even proclaims: "Digital Flash Film."  Plus, the current useage is quite large for a flash card: 150 mA read, 160 mA write.

However, there are a number of good reasons to consider this card for your palmtop.  Number one would be price.  Microtech frequently has special sales and deals.  I purchased my 40MB card for $399 at a time when most other companies were selling them for $500+.  And price is, of course, a prime consideration.  But that's not the only good part about these cards.  The most noticeable aspect of the card is its speed.  For reads, the card performs about on par with normal flash cards.  For writes, however, the cards have a special controller that permits data transfer to take place at speeds up to three times faster than normal flash RAM.  This is especially important on the relatively slow 200LX.  Backups go very quickly.  Programs that need to swap to disk will scream on this card.  The high performance alone is an excellent reason to make your next flash card a Microtech storMate.

The card is extremely durable and well-constructed.  Most flash cards these days are mainly plastic.  The storMate is a good, solid-feeling metal card, and the seams are firmly welded together.  It's withstood abuse that no ordinary flash card could take.  Card falls out of your pocket onto concrete?  No problem for the mighty storMate.  It's solid case will protect the delicate memory inside.  Doing a little portable computing in a dusty area?  Not a big deal.  The tightly welded seams will keep dust out, preserving your valuable data.  Playing Tetris in the bathroom when suddenly you hit the card release and your flash card plunges into the toilet?  Well, that might be stretching the limits of any flash card.  Try to avoid that situation.

Though the card specs claim the storMate uses a maximum of 150 mA for reading and 160 mA for writing (which is more than the 200LX is designed to supply), there is no evidence that it uses an inordinate amount of current in my palmtop.  Sure, you have to expect that a card that writes three times as fast will use more current.  And it does.  But not anywhere near the maximum of 160 mA.  And reading (which is the vast majority of what I do with my palmtop) is not as bad as the specs sound, either.  The card reduces battery life probably 10% over a regular, slower flash card.

Is the performance gain worth the battery life expended?  Judge for yourself.  I set up a 540K Software Carousel session on the A: drive on two flashcards, one a Pretec and the other the storMate.  Both were similar, large-capacity cards that had been formatted freshly for the occasion.  Once this was done, I tested the times it took to switch back and forth between 540K sessions.  This is basically the time it takes to write 540K to the disk.
The result:
With the Pretec card, it took around 7 seconds on a double-speed palmtop to make the transition.  With the storMate card, it took less than two seconds.

There are some bad points to the card.  The warranty is only one year, not a lifetime warranty.  This means that should the card ever wear out, you won't be protected if it's out of warranty.  Normally I wouldn't worry about this, but with the high-speed controller on this card, it may wear out sooner than normal.  I make daily backups, and after a few weeks I sometimes notice it slow down by up to 10 times during backups.  Defragmenting the drive causes the speed to return to normal, but I'm still not positive that that's the entire story...  Also, if weight is critical, remember that this sturdy metal card will definitely weigh more than a plastic alternative.

And if you're using cheap, low-capacity batteries, or if you're using alkalines, this card isn't for you.  You need a good, sturdy battery like the 1350 mAh NiMH batteries from Times2Tech.  Alkalines will often shut down in the middle of a backup on this card, due to the higher-than-normal current draw during writes.  With a good pair of NiMH or nicad batteries, however, it's smooth sailing.  

The Verdict

If you have good batteries, get a Microtech card.  You won't regret it.

Copyright 1999, David Sargeant.
Last Updated 1-2-1999

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