Unity Digital Firewire CompactFlash card reader review
Phil Askey, March 2001

External card readers are popular amongst digital camera owners, they give you the flexibility to be downloading the contents of one card while slipping another in they also don't require the camera to be connected (saving battery power) and are often much faster than downloading directly from the camera.

(Card is not actually fully inserted in this shot)

The Unity Digital Firewire reader connects to your computer by the high-speed Firewire (IEEE 1394) connector. Firewire is a fairly common option on Macintosh computers and some Windows notebooks / laptops. Firewire connectivity is also common on high end professional digital cameras.

Understandably not all PC's have Firewire (often this can be solved by a relatively inexpensive OHCI compatible Firewire PCI card; approx. US$50). Assuming your computer already has USB, why would you want to go to the expense of adding a Firewire card just for this reader? SPEED! The Unity Digital CompactFlash card reader takes advantage of the higher bandwidth Firewire standard (up to 400mbit/s) which means it should be pretty fast...

Unity Digital Firewire CF Reader specifications

Product Type Desktop CompactFlash card reader
Connectivity IEEE 1394 (Firewire, 100/200/400 mbit/s)
Interface 6-pin IEEE 1394 connector
Operating systems Windows 98, Me
Windows 2000
Apple Mac OS 8.5.1+, Firewire enabler 2.2.2
Media support CompactFlash Type I
CompactFlash Type II (inc. Microdrive MK I/II)
Power supply via. Firewire buss, DC 8 - 30V, 1A
Operation current <200 mA
Dimensions 90 x 90 x 20 mm (3.5 x 3.5 x 0.8 in)
Weight 175 g (6.2 oz)
Price $149.95

Media Support

This is where the review got tough, just how many different angles can you shoot this product from? Enough complaining... The images below show you that CF cards slide almost completely into the reader, the eject button pushed out by the mechanism as soon as you've fully inserted the card. The entrance slot and internal guides are designed to take either CF Type I (3.3 mm thick) or CF Type II cards (5 mm thick).

Unity Digital reader with Type I flash inserted Unity Digital reader with Type II Microdrive inserted

My only niggle was that occasionally my Microdrive cards would jam, the problem appeared to be with the front bottom lip, it required a gentle lift of the card while pressing the eject button (maybe this will go away with further use).

Installation - Windows 2000

Look no drivers required! Assuming you've already got your Firewire card installed, the device itself will be recognised immediately by Windows 2000 which will install generic Microsoft drivers. It's truly plug-and-play, you can plug or unplug at any time (don't forget to use the "Unplug or Eject Hardware" button if you want to completely unplug the reader - not something you'll do every day. Once Windows 2000 has installed its drivers a new drive letter will appear in explorer with the label "Removable Disk". And that's pretty much it.

Here's what Windows 2000 device manager sees of the reader (Devices by connection).

Popping a a CF card into the reader I was soon downloading images from my CF card. One problem which dogs all card readers (at least under NT / 2000) is what to do when you want to remove the card. Sometimes if you just take the card out the OS will complain that it was attempting to write data to the device, I personally use a utility called sync from sysinternals.com (for Unix techies it works the same way as the sync command under Unix) and created a shortcut on my Windows 2000 QuickStart bar, this simply "flushes" any data in the Windows 2000 buffers (for the particular drive letter) before removing the card.

Installation - Mac OS 8.5.1+ (9.0.4)

Installation on a Mac is almost as easy as Windows, though it does require you have Apple's Firewire extensions v2.2.2 (minimum, our Mac had v2.6) and a driver (from the supplied CD-ROM) and reboot. Once that's done just pop a CF card into the slot and it will appear on your desktop as a removable drive. From there you just treat it as any other storage device. Don't forget to drag it to the trashcan once you've finished (to flush and close the device) before you remove card. We had no problems using the reader and it was just as quick and reliable as it was under Windows 2000.

Install the reader driver by simply double-clicking on this icon and rebooting Once rebooted you should see something similar to this in the Apple System Profiler.
Insert a CF card and it will appear on your desktop just like any other removable drive. A 1GB Microdrive removable drive window title.