It seems like no two portable digital devices use the same type of flash memory. Between Compact Flash (Types I, II, and the high-power II variant used by Microdrives), Smart Media, MultiMedia Cards (MMC), Secure Data (SD) cards, and Memory Sticks, you probably have to support as many different kinds of memory cards as you do portable digital devices.
With sizes ranging from an almost-pitiable 4 MB up to at least 256 MB on most formats, with Microdrives able to reach over 1 GB, managing that data requires having media readers, likely many media different readers, to get that data onto your network. Dazzle, maker of a variety of media-crossing devices, has combined this multitude of readers into the 6 in 1 Universal Media Reader, a single, relatively low-profile device equipped with a fast USB 2.0 interface that retails for $49.99. Capable of reading all Compact Flash cards, including Microdrives, MMC, SD cards, Memory Sticks, and 3.3-volt Smart Media cards, it can clear a lot of clutter off your desk.
The packaging is a typical blister pack containing the reader, warranty cards, and a CD with the drivers and user manual PDF. The presentation card has the basic installation instructions printed on it, something I wish more products that don’t include printed manuals did.
Installation is a simple matter of plugging the device into a USB port on Windows Me or XP. For Macintosh OS 9.x and Windows 2000 or 98 SE, you have to run the installation process first and reboot the computer before attaching the device. Macintosh OS X and Linux support is not available from Dazzle.
The reader itself is fairly unobtrusive. It is only a bit larger than a mouse and has a similar profile. The black and gray casing does not draw attention to itself, nor, in my opinion, should it. There are two ports on the front of the reader—one for Compact Flash devices and the other for the SD cards, MMCs, Smart Media, and Memory Sticks. A green LED is located on the left side of the reader to signal operations.
For the purposes of this Daily Feature, I used 8-MB, 16-MB, and 64-MB Compact Flash cards. I was particularly curious to see if the Dazzle 6 in 1 Media Reader displayed any problems with older Compact Flash cards. Transfer rates averaged 1.3 MB/s when connected to a USB 2.0 port, except where the older card was involved. Occasionally, the Dazzle reader experienced errors. Switching the Dazzle reader to a USB 1.1 port prevented the errors but caused lower transfer rates, topping out at 0.8 MB/s.
I used a generic 32-MB Smart Media card that came with a digital camera to test the other port. Smart Media tests had transfer speeds of 0.78 MB/s in USB 2.0 vs. 0.5 MB/s in USB 1.1.
The Dazzler 6 in 1 is not the fastest reader I’ve ever seen, but it is one of the most functional. Its wide media support is its real appeal. And with a retail price of $50, almost $20 less than the Compact Flash-only Memory Bank, it is a very attractive upgrade. The only possible addition I can see making would be to add an ejector mechanism, as it can be difficult to remove the tight-fitting flash devices. I give the Dazzle a B+, with speed being its only significant weakness compared to dedicated readers.