Photographers are always interested in fast flash memory card readers. Traditionally they use the slow USB2.0 interface, and some of the faster ones the 1394b Firewire 800 interfaces. For some reason unknown to me we haven’t yet seen any USB3.0 card readers which I’m sure would be very welcome.

Introduction

Lian-li is the premier PC case builder.  Analogies of their fit and finish have been made to Rolls Royce and Maybach. Some say they’re Apple’s only true competition to case design, quality, and functional beauty.  Personally I think they’re better.  Lian-li makes spectacular looking well designed 100% aluminum cases unequalled in the industry.  I’ve reviewed them here, and used them in PC builds here and here.  So imagine my interest when I noticed they made a SATA Compact Flash (CF) reader!

Photographers are always interested in fast flash memory card readers.  Traditionally they use the slow USB2.0 interface, and some of the faster ones the 1394b Firewire 800 interfaces.  For some reason unknown to me we haven’t yet seen any USB3.0 card readers which I’m sure would be very welcome.

Several years ago I read about and purchased an Addionics SATA CF card reader which was designed to be mounted internally to a PC case.  Ultimately I was disappointed and never brought it into my workflow because the speeds while better than USB2.0, were still lackluster, and you could not ‘hot mount’ a new CF card.  This means you needed to reboot the PC each time you inserted a new card.  No exceptions.

Time passes, new motherboards which have solved and now support Esata and SATA docking stations have become the norm, and I see the Lian-li CR-CF01 uses a new improved chipset.  I can’t stop myself, the promise of a high speed CF card reader is too great, soon my order is placed and I’m watching the mailbox.

 

Lian-li CR-CF01 SATA CF Card Reader

 

The CR-CF01 is really solid and beautifully made from the same brushed aluminum used in their first class cases. The CF socket is also first class, providing a snug sure fit that won’t damage your card. It’s 3.5 inch form factor and you’ll need a 5.25 inch bay adapter if your case doesn’t have a spare 3.5 inch bay.

 

The CR-CF01 is really solid and beautifully made from the same brushed aluminum used in their first class cases.  The CF socket is also first class, providing a snug sure fit that won’t damage your card.  It’s a 3.5 inch form factor so you’ll need a 5.25 inch bay adapter if your case doesn’t have a spare 3.5 inch bay.

 

Once mounted in the adapter you’ll notice it fits perfectly and the aluminum skins are an exact match.  I’ve seen and used many such 3.5 to 5.25 inch adapters, most of them ill fitting, many of them a cheap plastic, screw holes don’t align properly.  In contrast the Lian-li adapter is a work of art, they couldn’t make it any nicer.

 

Once mounted in the adapter you’ll notice it fits perfectly and the aluminum skins are an exact match.  I’ve seen and used many such 3.5 to 5.25 inch adapters, most of them ill fitting, many of them a cheap plastic whose screw holes don’t align properly.  In contrast the Lian-li adapter is a work of art, they couldn’t make it any nicer.

 

Installation

The Lian-li CR-CF01 SATA CF Card Reader comes packaged with a SATA interface to USB adapter so you can use it externally via a USB2.0 slot if desired, but it was really designed to be mounted internally and matched to Lian-li’s spectacular cases.  Once secured in place it looks as close to a single piece unit as separate pieces can look.

Once mounted I ran a SATA power connector from the power supply, and a SATA data cable from an available SATA port on the motherboard and secured the case side back in place. That’s it, simple and fast.

 

The Lian-li CR-CF01 SATA CF Card Reader comes packaged with a SATA interface to USB adapter so you can use it externally via a USB2.0 slot if desired, but it was really designed to be mounted internally and matched to Lian-li’s spectacular cases.  Once secured in place it looks as close to a single piece unit as separate pieces can look.

 

 

Performance

Transfer Rates

Looks and high build quality are nice, but performance is why we really purchase a SATA CF card reader.  We want the fastest transfer speeds possible.

My CF cards are all Sandisk Extreme cards with a 60mbps rated speed for both reading and writing.  I have many slower cards, but these are my fastest CF cards.  To get a true speed rating you need to exceed the buffer/cache depth of both the CF card and the SATA controller, so only large transfers will give you a feel for the readers sustained transfer rate.

Using the Sandisk Extreme 60mbps CF cards, freshly formatted in a Canon 5d Mark II (yes, it makes a difference) I then made the following file transfers , both read and write, in the stated times:

20gb’s of 24mb RAW files. Total transfer time 440 seconds. 22 seconds per gigabyte.

4gb’s of 24mb RAW files. Total transfer time 72 seconds. 18 seconds per gigabyte.

12gb’s of 7 video files. Total transfer time 248 seconds. 20.75 seconds per gigabyte.

Granted this is a small sample set since I only tested a single CF card, but we can already see this reader allows sustained transfers of 55-58mbps, right at the cards rating.  Burst rates for smaller 2gb files showed brief activity of over 200mbps.  It’s clear the Lian-li CR-CF01 SATA CF Reader allows transfer rates right up to the 3gbps/SATAII interface limit.  This is faster than any other card reader out there.

It’s no secret that Rob Galbraith’s excellent site is the authority on CF/SD card ratings and they’ve tested most every card and card reader made (except this one), so you can get a good feel for how your CF card will perform in one of the CF card readers they tested.

 

Hot Mounting

If a card reader makes you reboot to recognize the card then it’s not an acceptable card reader.  Fortunately most current SATA controllers, motherboard BIOS’s, and the Lian-li CR-CF01 allow hot mounting.  There is one more piece of the puzzle to consider.  The CF card controller.

Yes, every CF card has its own controller ran by its own firmware.  Not all CF cards allow hot mounting.  Fortunately most every current CF card does.  If you’re using older CF cards be aware they might not allow hot mounting.

When you insert a CF card into the Lian-li CR-CF01 SATA CF Card Reader it won’t be instantly recognized like a USB card reader.  USB card readers will prompt the system for recognition immediately upon connection.  A SATA connect ‘polls’ for a connection and this may take up to 30 seconds.  If you’re in a hurry just bring up your Disk Manager and instruct it to “Scan For New Devices” and it will poll immediately.

 

Summary

 

Finally! A super fast SATA CF card reader which is hot mountable and issue free! Not bad for $33 dollars on Amazon including the 3.5-5.25 inch bay adapter.

 

Finally! A super fast SATA CF card reader which is hot mountable and issue free!  Not bad for $33 dollars on Amazon including the 3.5-5.25 inch bay adapter.

I really wish this was available years ago, and I can’t help but question how much longer it will be until more convenient USB3.0 multi-card readers become available.  You’d think anytime, but the industry can sometimes disappoint so I’m happy we now have the Lian-li CR-CF01 SATA CF Card Reader available.  It really is an aesthetically beautiful unit which matches my Lian-li cases and functions as well at it looks.

USB3.0 will certainly allow faster transfer rates in the future when such readers become available, and when flash memory cards are that fast.  Until then the Lian-li CR-CF01 SATA CF Card Reader is the fastest CF card reader available.  A real quality reader.  You won’t be disappointed.