Home>Posts>Technology>Hello CFast: We Have Been Expecting You

Hello CFast: We Have Been Expecting You

By ·Categories: Technology·Published On: September 29th, 2011·2.2 min read·

CFast, the successor to CompactFlash, has happily arrived on our shelves. We’ve been eager to offer our customers complete solutions around this new technology. To that end, we already offer systems and mainboards sporting CFast connectivity and support, with many more soon to come. The Emphase line of CFast cards comes in both industrial and wide temperature flavors, offering capacities ranging from 4 GB to 32 GB. Though they look similar, CFast is not compatible with CompactFlash physically or electrically, so CFast cards can only be installed in boards and systems featuring an onboard CFast slot or by using the handy CFast to SATA adapter.

The performance you’ll get with these cards is greatly enhanced, due to the fact that they use the SATA bus interface and not the PATA/IDE bus used by older CompactFlash products. No longer held back by the transfer rate limitations of IDE (which offered maximum speeds capped at 133 MB/s), new SATA devices can support transfer rates up to 6 Gb/s. These Emphase CFast devices feature 3 Gb/s data transfer rates, offering a substantial step up from previous CF cards. Read and write speeds also see a jump, with the 16 and 32 GB capacities offering 120 and 110 MB/s read and write speeds, respectively.

Additional specifications for these cards include:

  • Endurance: Unlimited read cycles; 2,000,000 Program/Erase cycles
  • MTBF: >4,000,000 hr.
  • Vibration: 20 G (7 ~ 2,000 Hz) (max.)
  • Shock: 1500 G/0.5 ms (max.)
  • Operating temperature range: 0°C ~ 70°C and -40°C ~ 85°C for wide temp versions
  • 10-year data retention
  • S.M.A.R.T. Health Monitoring supported
  • Hot-swap capability for rapid data exchange

So, now that you know what these are, where can you stick ’em?

We already have a few mainboards and systems that can support these cards via onboard CFast slots. They are the MSI MS-9887 Core i5/i7 Sandy Bridge Mini-ITX Motherboard and the PT912 and AU912 Extreme Environment Core i5/i7 Arrandale Fanless Systems. You’re not limited to onboard support, though: the CFast-100 adapter can be used and mounted in any enclosure with a PCI slot with a board offering SATA and SATA power.

The hot-swap functionality allows the drive to be ejected using the Windows device manager utility or Ubuntu Unmount command while the system is still running (provided the OS is installed to a different drive). The next card can then be installed and, voilà!, a new drive is detected. This feature is great for servers and rackmount applications where externally accessible storage is desired.

Compact, reliable, and convenient to use, CFast will make your next embedded OS install so happy.


About the Author: Kristina Bond

Kristina Bond was the Marketing Director for Logic Supply from 2007 to 2012. She graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia with an M.F.A. in photography and a B.F.A in photography and communication from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV. While technology and Logic Supply remain close to her heart, she moved on from the company in June 2012 to do marketing for the restaurant industry. To get in touch with Kristina, please contact kristina@kristinadrobny.com.
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  1. Craig October 4, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    If motherboards appear with an integral CFast slot that can still be stuffed into a 1U case, then I’m all for it. However, previous CompactFlash experience suggests boards that offer a CFast connector will stuff it underneath the motherboard, which is a pain in the bum, both in terms of getting a motherboard to fit into 1U and also for maintenance if you ever need to swap out the card (requiring the motherboard to be removed to get at it).

    The thing I’m most annoyed at is Emphase’s SATA SSD series. We’re on, what, the 4th generation of their family now? The newest version makes the same mistake as all of its predecessors – at a shade over 39mm, they’re all simply too tall to fit in a 1U case. These have such great promise, and are essentially rendered useless for a lot of applications due to what is a pretty fundamental oversight.

    mSATA is promising for the same reasons as integrated CFast slots (effectively zero footprint, and no cabling). It takes up a little more board space, but Intel’s 311 series offers SLC flash at a much lower $/GB than any of Emphase’s offerings. It’s a pity there are so few mini-ITX boards available that provide mSATA.

  2. Kristina October 6, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Hi Craig,
    Yeah, we’ve seen that a lot from motherboard manufacturers: sticking a CF slot on the bottom of the board. There have been some case manufacturers (G-Alantic is one of them), who have added removable trapdoors to the bottom of cases for quick access to a CF slot. However, I’ve never seen anything like this for a rackmount. There are some cases that allow you to mount a CF adapter (CFast now, too) into a designated space. The Casetronic C146, C159 and our SL1UR-B feature this functionality. Do these options not work for you?

    In terms of new generations of Emphase SSDs, they have been releasing different versions pretty close to each other. I think this is the nature and pace of the flash market. The nice thing is that they do keep older versions around for awhile for customers who have standardized on older products. If the height is a problem for 1U integration, then this doesn’t necessarily help, though!

    We’re starting to see more boards with mSATA and hope to see it present on some of Intel’s new Atom platforms soon to be released this quarter. In terms of price for these units, I would have to agree with you there. We only offer Intel mSATA at the moment because of its excellent price-point.

  3. Craig October 7, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Funnily enough, the C146 is pretty much our standard 1U rackmount case. However, a lot of the time we can’t spare the space for a separate flash card reader.

    Many of the systems we’ve built for various projects have a bunch of custom I/O boards crammed into them. We take all of the C146’s 3.5″ drive mounting plates and throw them away, and shove as much stuff into the case as possible.

    We also tend to use the space for the two PCI slots for connecting up to the outside world. We punch out holes and add connectors to a couple of PCI blankoff plates, so I can’t rely on that space being available either.

    If I had to find space internally for a CFast adapter, then I’d almost be inclined to try and make a little more room and use a standard 2.5″ drive. I might consider Emphase’s slim SATA drives at that point, but I don’t know if they’re just a short-lived fad, and mounting them would require more hassle than just going with a standard 2.5″ SSD.

    I’d grown accustomed to using Emphase’s 40-pin ATA flash drives as they sit within the footprint of the motherboard’s IDE slot. These were a very clever idea, and we’ve found them to be very useful, but motherboards with an IDE port are becoming extinct, and our in-house supply is running out. We bought up a bunch of Little Valley 2 boards a while back as they were dirt cheap, and although the chipset is completely ridiculous in terms of power draw and heat generated, they’ve done fairly well for us. We only have a couple of those left, though, and it’s time to move on.

    I’ve been starting to looking for a similar zero-footprint flash replacement, but haven’t decided on anything yet.

    Emphase’s SATA flash module was a big disappointment. I bought one of the first-generation units as soon as they were available, only to find they’re slightly too tall to fit in a 1U case. As far as I can tell, every successive generation has been basically the same height (39mm plus change) meaning none of them are suitable.

    I can physically force the SATA module to fit by removing the plastic housing and then bending the pins from the PCB to the SATA connector by about 20 degrees or so. According to a pair of calipers, the end result is some 37.2mm in height, and “fits”, if you can call it that. Some Kapton tape on the end would likely make the end result safe from an electrical standpoint, but I wouldn’t want to use one in an operational system after doing that to it unless I had no option.

    mSATA became interesting when Intel decided to launch the 311 series. They’re amazingly cheap for SLC drives, and nets 20GB of space for the price of 8GB from Emphase, which could prove very handy for a couple of applications. If there are Atom boards on the way that also do mSATA, then it may well point to the standard becoming accepted (and hopefully entrenched) in mini-ITX land.

    However, Logic Supply’s note about Intel’s Mount Washington and Kingston boards and auto AC power-on doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, especially as the same comment was made about their predecessors. That functionality really isn’t optional at a remotely-controlled installation.

  4. Kristina October 11, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Hi Craig,
    I’m curious to know what your application is. Do you mind sharing those details?

    I would have to agree that most customers share your disappointment with the height of the SATA flash modules. There are horizontal ones available, but that obviously introduces a whole slew of other potential compatibility issues. The IDE direct-plug flash has been extremely popular for many of the reasons you list off above. But, as you also mentioned, mainboards offering IDE connectors are becoming rare. It’s been quite some time since I even heard someone mention the Little Valley!

    The Intel Mount Washington, Kingston, Mount Olive, and Packton boards really are entry-level boards and although invoke the reliability of Intel, have their own kinks that can be frustrating for our customer base. It’s a shame because they are a great value for what you get, but occasionally have issues that are incompatible with industrial and automotive applications. For us, we want to keep our customers informed, thus the note on the site. I know it doesn’t offer a solution, but if someone requires that functionality, then there are other options that are comparable in price. Jetway makes a few Intel Atom boards that are good alternatives.

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