It's been all over the web (well at least the digital media parts of it) in recent weeks about new portable MP3 players shipping with removable Hitachi Microdrives that can be used in anything with a compact flash socket - notably there's been a lot of discussion in the forums at dpreview.com. The theory is that the Creative Labs Muvo2 comes with a 4GB Microdrive that is easily removable and works in digital cameras. I was a bit of a skeptic at first about this, particularly the reliability and effect on battery life of the drive, but after doing a bit of research I decided to give it a try. I need a lot of storage for my camera - a Canon 10D, a 512MB card will normally store about 200 images, which is fine for normal purposes, but it's not enough for more than a couple of days of shooting - I ran out of space after four days in Las Vegas. In a few weeks I'll be going to China for two weeks and I plan to take a lot of photos, so the more storage space I have the better.
It's possible to buy a retail 4GB microdrive, they're around $500, whereas a Muvo2 is about $200 so it's easy to see why they are flying off the shelves. I looked around locally but couldn't find a Muvo2 and apparently although the same drive is used in the mini iPod it's got some funky firmware on it that stops it being used elsewhere. eBay came to the rescue with numerous drives being for sale at around $250, all of them coming from Muvo2 MP3 players. I got my drive this morning and put it first in my PocketPC - an iPaq 2215 - that was a mistake. It worked perfectly in the iPaq with the system reporting 3905MB of free space, but I couldn't get it out of the iPaq again. That particular model of iPaq doesn't have an eject mechanism for the CF card; you just have to pull it out which isn't as easy with the microdrive as it is with regular flash cards - regular cards have a small lip at the end so there is something to grip, the microdrive doesn't so I couldn't get hold of it. Thankfully my office mate had a pair of tweezers which I used to get a good enough grip on it to get it out of the iPaq. Next I tried it in my 10D. I switched it on and the display flashed "Error CF", so I formatted the card in the camera and saw "Error 99" instead. That wasn't good. I took the card out and put it back in again. Switched the camera back on and it worked. The display showed that I had 999 shots left - it can only show three digits, so it can display that there's probably space for 1600 photos on the card. I took a few shots and the camera coped well with buffering and writing to the card. It's not as fast as flash memory, but with the camera buffering before writing to the card, it shouldn't be a problem. I'd heard that using a PC to format the card with 32K cluster sizes makes the card faster in the Canon 10D so I gave that a try. The way to specify cluster size is to use the Disk Management part of Computer Management - right click on My Computer and choose Manage, then in Computer Management select Disk Management, right click on the drive and select Format. I used the FAT32 filesystem with 32K cluster sizes and put it back in the camera - it still worked. I can't tell if it's any faster yet as I haven't given it a full workout to see how it performs.
I'll shoot a load of photos this weekend to see what the battery life is like with the card and if there are any issues with using it, but so far it looks good!
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