I have had this little box for a couple of months now, but until the recent release of SxS drivers by Sonnet you couldn’t use it as an SxS card reader. There are two versions of the EchoExpress, the standard one, which is the one I have and a “Pro” version that offers higher speed transfers when using PCIe 2.0 adapters. When Apple removed the express card slot from their MacBook Pro laptops, they severely restricted the ability to connect high speed external hard drives. I have a Convergent Design Gemini which records on to SSD’s and the fastest way to offload these on location (for me at least) was to plug an eSATA PCI Express card into the slot on may older MacPro and then connect the Gemini Docking station to one port and then an external eSATA drive to the other. However, the processing power on my older MacBook was falling somewhat behind the modern machines and when trying to transcode from the uncompressed Gemini DPX files to ProRes or DNxHD was taking ages. So I decided to upgrade to a new MacBook Pro, but this then meant the loss of the Express Card slot. This is where the Sonnet EchoExpress became a “must have” add on, as it provides an external ExpressCard slot connected to the computer using Thunderbolt.
By using the EchoExpress box along with a Sonnet eSATA express card adapter I can connect eSATA devices to my MacBook Pro. The transfer speeds with my original version EchoExpress are not as fast as when I had a built in ExpressCard slot, but it’s still a massive improvement over USB, about 4 times faster. Initially SxS cards didn’t work with the EchoExpress, but Sonnet recently released a dedicated SxS driver that allows the EchoExpress to work as a SxS card reader.
So how fast is it? One thing to consider is that when using the EchoExpress as a card reader, on a MacBook Pro or 21″ iMac you only have a single Thunderbolt port, so there is no way to connect a second EchoExpress to add an eSATA port. That restricts you to using either the computers internal drive or an external Firewire 800 drive. For my tests I made copies of a full 16Gb Blue SxS card to both the internal drive as well as an external Seagate GoFlex FreeAgent drive fitted with a Firewire 800 interface. There was very little difference between the transfer speeds to the laptops internal drive and the Firewire drive, so I suspect that the transfer speed is limited to that of the Sonnet EchoExpress.
Copying 16Gb from the SxS card via the EchoExpress took just a shade over 4 minutes. That’s pretty good performance and only marginally slower than when I had an express card slot built in to the computer. Typically with a built in slot it would take about 3 1/2 minutes. Compare that to copying the exact same data from the camera using USB which took 11 minutes! So, as an SxS card reader the Sonnet EchoExpress works really well offering transfers around 3 times faster than USB which is a big time saver. Imagine you have been shooting all day and have 5 hours of footage. With USB it would take you at least an hour to transfer your data, with the EchoExpress just 20 minutes.
I give the Sonnet EchoExpress a big thumbs up. Now all I need is a Thunderbolt hub.