Overall the Silverstone SDP01 6-in-1 media
reader performed as well or better than comparable products. It looks good, is
relatively easy to install and is quite versatile. Its silver color allows it to
go well with most case colors and is a welcome change from the boring old beige
of other internal components.
In our opinion, the performance, portability
and looks of the external device make it worth purchasing even if you are not
going to install the dock internally.
While the design of the SDP01 is not
necessarily revolutionary, it is a unique product that may appeal to many users
of digital cameras, digital audio players and other portable devices that
require flash storage. If you don’t mind the rather short cables and have an
available onboard USB 2.0 header, the Silverstone SDP01 is a good buy.
With portable media players, digital cameras, cell phones and PDAs utilizing different storage media, multi-card readers are becoming a required accessory for the gadget lover.
Several companies offer external solutions that connect via a FireWire or USB port, but Silverstone has gone a step further with their SDP01 6-in-1 portable card reader. The SDP01 is both an internal card reader that installs in a standard 3.5-inch drive bay and a pocket-sized portable USB 2.0 reader.
This dual-identity is achieved by a spring-loaded docking port in the 3.5-inch bay that the portable reader plugs into with a simple click.
At $34.99 this unit is about average price for internal card readers, but it also offers a bit more than most of its competitors because of the pop-out external reader.
The Silverstone SDP01 6-in-1 card reader is both an external and internal drive.
Features and Installation
With support for Compact Flash Type I and II (CF), IBM MicroDrive, Smart Media (SM), Secure Digital (SD), Multimedia Card (MMC), and Memory Stick (MS) formats, this silver plastic device can handle read and write to most flash storage formats.
Most new motherboards offer a USB 2.0 header onboard specifically for such a device. Manufacturers like Chaintech and Abit offer their own internally connected media readers, but the plugs on the motherboard are basically the same – allowing for after-market readers such as the Silverstone SDP01 to easily connect.
To install the 3.5″ bay, Silverstone includes a cable long enough to go from the header on your motherboard to a connector on the SDP01. Installation requires opening up your case, but once you’re in there, it is quite easy. The header on most motherboards has eight or nine pins to hook internal USB devices to. The cable provided by Silverstone has separate plugs that hook up to each pin individually, since different manufacturers may utilize a different pin layout.
Once you plug the eight pins onto the internal header and install the device to a 3.5″ drive bay, Windows XP recognizes the reader and shows four new available removable drives (CF, MS, MMC, SD). The reader then operates by simply plugging a media card into the appropriate slot.
If you require a portable reader, the device pops out of the 3.5-inch bay by a simple push of a button. Measuring just over 2Â¼ inches wide, 3Â¼ inches deep and 5/8 of an inch tall, the portable reader is compact enough to carry in a pocket and easily fits in a laptop or camera bag. A hide-away USB 2.0 cable pops out of the back of the unit, allowing you to plug it into an available USB port.
Two LEDs on the front of the unit light when the device is powered up and show activity when files are being transferred. The unit also features a USB 2.0 port on the front of the 3.5-inch panel, providing an additional front USB connection.
Shots of the SDP01: rear view, motherboard connection, USB port, and activity lights.
Testing and Use
Since we had several other media card readers on hand, we decided to compare transfer speeds of the Silverstone 6-in-1 reader to the other products. We tested it against the built in 4-in-1 reader on our Compaq Presario R3060 laptop, the Biostar E-Catcher external USB 6-in-1 reader, the internal Abit Media XP Pro 4-in-1 reader and the internal Chaintech CBOX3 six-in-one reader.
The Abit and Chaintech readers take up a whole 5.25-inch drive bay – which on many computer cases may be hard to give up. We liked the fact that the SDP01 goes in a 3.5-inch bay since many cases have two external 3.5-inch locations and only one is used.
We tested transfer speeds to and from a SanDisk 64MB compact flash card and an unbranded 64MB Multimedia Card, using the same 61MB file each time. Once we transferred the file and noted the times, we would delete the file and restart our computer to make sure to clean out the cache.
In our tests, the Silverstone internal reader performed well against the others. For the most part speeds were within a few seconds of each other, without any notable exceptions. As expected, read times were faster than write times and for the most part, the Compact Flash card was faster than the Multimedia Card.
Interestingly, when the Silverstone external reader was used, its read times were much faster than all of the other devices, while write times were similar. For instance, writing our 61MB file to the Compact Flash card from the Abit, Chaintech, Biostar, and our laptop readers consistently took between 1:02 and 1:13 on each device. Reading that file from the device to the computer generally took about the same – around 1:10. However, when we used the Silverstone reader externally with the USB 2.0 port, the read time was significantly faster – only about 16 seconds. Write times were the same as the other devices. We tested and re-tested this on each of our three test machines to make sure that we weren’t getting these results because of the file being in cache and it consistently scored around 16 seconds. We’re not quite sure what to make of this dramatic speed difference, but we do like it.
Even more puzzling was the fact that the Silverstone even outperformed the other internal devices (both internal and external) while being hooked up to the USB 2.0 port on those very devices. Again, we’re not quite sure what about the USB 2.0 specification makes the external connection faster than the onboard internal connection, but the speed difference was much faster. For example, reading the same file on the 64MB Compact Flash card to the test computer through the Abit media reader took about 1:10 as it did on the others. However, when we connected the Silverstone reader to the test computer, through the USB 2.0 port provided by the Abit reader, our read time averaged only about 28 seconds.
The SDP01 card reader shown with the external reader ejected.
Minor Improvements Suggested
Performance-wise, the Silverstone reader stood up to the other readers and either matched or beat them in most tests. It is an easy to setup and use product and very convenient to use both internally and externally, but there are a few areas in which we would suggest improvements.
Our main problem is with cable length – with both the internal connection and the external USB connection. Most PC cases have the external 3.5-inch drives located near the bottom of the case. In this design, the internal cable included with the SDP01 should be plenty long enough. However, some computer cases locate the 3.5″ external drives at the top, in which case the included cable is too short. We’d like to see Silverstone lengthen this cable by a few inches.
The external USB 2.0 cable cleverly hides inside the reader when not in use or when plugged into the 3.5-inch dock. This keeps it out of the way and makes it easy to carry around, but doesn’t allow for a long enough cable. In fact, when extended, the cable and USB plug combined are only about two inches long. This makes it extremely inconvenient to use if you only have a rear USB port on your computer. Even laptops with rear ports would benefit from a longer cable. The Compaq laptop we tested with has side USB ports and the SDP01 was convenient to use, but with only two inches of play, you’d have to reach around the screen on many other laptop designs.
The Silverstone SDP01 just dangles from a front USB port on most computers unless they are located on the very bottom of the case. As a result, this device would really benefit from a longer cable. We understand that it is kept short in the interest of its compact design, but perhaps Silverstone could include a USB extension cable in lieu of a longer built-in cable.
The internal connection for the 3.5-inch reader relies on an available header on newer motherboards. Many home-built or custom systems do have one or more of these connections available, but systems built by major manufacturers such as Dell, Compaq or Gateway may not have these ports.
The Biostar reader we compared the Silverstone to can be used as both an internal and external reader. It is a 3.5-inch device that has screw holes on the side for internal mounting, but it is finished to be used externally also, and has only a USB 2.0 connection. If you were to mount the Biostar unit internally, you’d have to route the cable outside of your case and hook it up to an external USB port. While we don’t have a preference either way, just make sure that your motherboard can support the Silverstone SDP01 reader before you purchase it.
The only other issue we had was with the eject button. There is a push button on the 3.5-inch dock that ejects the portable reader. Since other readers we have used feature push-buttons to eject the Compact Flash card, we found ourselves instinctively pushing the button to eject the card. This is an easy habit to break, but if you do accidentally eject the portable reader from the dock, you may experience errors. While USB 2.0 is hot-swappable, the docked reader is not.
Overall the Silverstone SDP01 6-in-1 media reader performed as well or better than comparable products. It looks good, is relatively easy to install and is quite versatile. Its silver color allows it to go well with most case colors and is a welcome change from the boring old beige of other internal components.
In our opinion, the performance, portability and looks of the external device make it worth purchasing even if you are not going to install the dock internally.
While the design of the SDP01 is not necessarily revolutionary, it is a unique product that may appeal to many users of digital cameras, digital audio players and other portable devices that require flash storage. If you don’t mind the rather short cables and have an available onboard USB 2.0 header, the Silverstone SDP01 is a good buy.