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Lenovo ThinkPad W700 CompactFlash Reader Throughput is about 1.2 MB/s - too slow for a Photographer’s Workstation

I am using a new Lenovo W700 “mobile workstation“ notebook for editing photos by using Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2.1. Both these applications are available for 64-bit Windows Vista - this is only way to use more then 2-3 GB of the memory. I am using Windows Vista 64-bit Ultimate and 64-bit version of the Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. I am excited about the W700 performance, screen, built-in calibration, and Wacom tablet. The built-in RAID (I am using two Fujitsu 320GB hard disks in the RAID 0 strip configuration) is very flexible for large storage for photographers. Only disappointment so far is the performance of the CompactFlash reader - a must for digital photographer. I tested throughput of the CompactFlash reader of my ThinkPad W700 mobile workstation with several generations of the CompactFlash cards: Lexar Professional UDMA 300x (4GB), SanDisk Extreme III 30MB/s ( 8GB), SanDisk Extreme III (16GB), Kingston Elite Pro 133x (4GB), and SanDisk Ultra II 4GB. With all these cards the reader cannot achieve higher throughput than 1.2MB/s. Moreover at this transfer rate the processor use is about 50%. To be sure this is not problem with operating system or drivers I also tested transfer rate on same W700 notebook by using external SanDisk Extreme USB 2.0 reader (red columns in following chart) and with the same reader connected to desktop PC.

Conclusion: Internal the CompactFlash reader of my Lenovo ThinkPad W700 mobile workstation is up to 25x slower comparing to the external SanDisk USB 2.0 reader. The internal W700 reader cannot achieve higher throughput than 1.2MB/s. To download a full 16GB card will require almost 4 hours.


Here is a performance comparison between internal ThinkPad Lenovo W700 reader and an external SanDisk Extreme USB 2.0 reader (connected to the same W700 notebook):


#

Lenovo W700 CompactFlash Transfer Rate

Lenovo W700 SanDisk Extreme Reader (MB/s)

Lenovo W700 internal CompactFlash reader (MB/s)

How many times is W700 internal reader slower

1

Lexar Professional UDMA 300x 4GB

27.7

1.1

25.2

2

Kingston Elite Pro 133x, 4GB

23.5

1.2

19.6

3

SanDisk Extreme III 8 GB (30MB/s)

21.8

1.2

18.2

4

SanDisk Extreme III 16 GB

16.5

1.2

13.8

5

SanDisk Ultra II 4GB

11.8

1.1

10.7

 

To be sure this is not problem with operating system or drivers with the same reader connected to desktop Core 2 Quad desktop with same Vista 64-bit operating system:

COMPACTFLASH CARD READER TRANSFER RATES & PROCESSOR USE

Lenovo W700, internal CompactFlash reader

Core 2 Quad Desktop, SanDisk Extreme USB 2.0 reader

CompactFlash Card

Transfer rate (MB/s)

Processor use

Transfer rate (MB/s)

Processor use

Lexar Professional UDMA 300x 4GB

1.1

63.0%

29.0

10.4%

Kingston Elite Pro 133x, 4GB

1.2

49.9%

25.2

16.9%

SanDisk Extreme III 8 GB (30MB/s)

1.2

51.7%

23.7

10.2%

SanDisk Extreme III 16 GB

1.2

52.1%

17.3

8.7%

SanDisk Ultra II 4GB

1.1

49.7%

12.1

11.4%

 

As you see transfer rate of the Lenovo W700 internal reader is more than 26x slower.
This is a serious design flaw by Lenovo especially if they call this notebook “photographer’s workstation” – every professional DSLR is using a CompactFlash card. Based on the Rob Galbraith article “Lenovo unveils ThinkPad W700 laptop…” (August 11, 2008): “The CompactFlash reader is rated by Lenovo at 40MB/second (which means it probably supports the UDMA data transfer protocol of today's quickest CompactFlash cards). “... this is evidently not true on my Lenovo W700 2757CT notebook.


Example of the Lenovo W700 CompactFlash card reader throughput rate: extremely low 1.1 MB/s, with extremely high processor use 63% using the Lexar Professional UDMA 300x 4GB CompactFlash card; probably caused by using obsolete hardware.

The throughput 1.2 MB/s is the same as on my five year old Dell C400 notebook with Pentium III processor when using PCMIA adapter to transfer files.

Test Conditions

I was using the Vista 64-bit Ultimate operating system Service Pack 1 with all updates installed; also all updates by the Lenovo ThinkVantage System Update were installed (including BIOS update). The Windows Vista 64-bit is good choice for photographer’s workstation: both the Adobe Photoshop CS4 and the Adobe Lightroom 2.1 are available for this operating system; use of the 64-bit operating system is only way to use more than 3GB memory on the Windows systems (old Windows XP 64-bit is not officially supported by Adobe and many important drivers are not available).
To eliminate potential problems with the Vista 64-bit Ultimate I ran same test with the desktop system using same CompactFlash cards and by using same test software (HD Tune 2.55 and PRO 3.10) – same cards with same operating systems, same drivers can achieve 29 MB/s.
I also tested the internal W700 4-1 card reader by using a (slow and old) SanDisk SD card – throughput was 7.5 MB/s – this card reader throughput rate is OK.

Tested Notebook Configuration

Lenovo ThinkPad W700 Mobile workstation model 2757CT, Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 2.83 GHz processor, 4GB  PC-3 (1067 MHz) dual channel memory, RAID 0 (strip) 2x 320GB 5,400 RPM Fujitsu hard disks, Nvidia Quadro FX2700 graphic card, 43Y4802 CompactFlash & Express Card (34mm) adapter, Microsoft Vista Ultimate 64-bit, Service Pack 1 and all latest drivers are installed.

Tested Desktop PC Configuration

Nvidia 680 SLI motherboard, Intel Core 2 Quad 2.66 GHz processor (overclocked to 2.93 GHz), 4GB  (800 MHz) dual channel memory, RAID0 (strip) 2x 74GB Raptor 10,000 RPM hard disks for operating system, Nvidia Quadro FX1500 graphic card, Dell 3007WFP 30” LCD monitor with built-in card reader, Microsoft Vista Ultimate 64-bit, Service Pack 1 and all latest drivers are installed. Also the BIOS was updated to the latest version.

Software used for cards transfer rate measurements: HD Tune 2.55 and PRO 3.10.

This software is available for download – PRO version as a 31-day evaluation.

Lenovo Support Response

The low level support don’t know what a CompactFlash card is (they talked about Smart card reader or general -for example SD- card reader); their advice – problem is with Vista 64-bit operating system or problem with drivers; advice of the “escalated”, higher level support was to check on-line forums – they are full of the complaints about the slow transfer rates on the card readers of the Lenovo notebooks- this is not particularly helpful.

Solution?

 If you need Lenovo W700 for photographic use you should order a good external CompactFlash reader either for Firewire or USB 2.0 with the UDMA support.