ROI Review: Panasonic AJ-PCD35
Five-Slot P2 Solid-State Memory Drive with PCI Express Interface
I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when I copied a single 32GB P2 card (from Panasonic’s new E series) to my desktop Mac, using both the PCD35 and Panasonic’s previous-generation PCD20 reader. Using FireWire 800, the PCD20 transferred the 32G card in 19 minutes, 23 seconds, but the PCD35 copied the same card in just 4 minutes.
Of course, your mileage may vary depending on your hardware/software setup. I used a Mac Pro to copy the P2 footage directly to a fast eight drive Sonnet DX800 RAID (configured as RAID 6 for extra crash protection). By copying to a RAID, my Mac was able to write the card data as fast as it could read it from the PCD35. If you copy to a single non-RAID hard drive, the drive itself becomes a bottleneck, and will slow things down (copying the 32GB card to a single FireWire 800 drive required 14 minutes, seven seconds).
However, you don’t need an eight drive RAID to achieve fast results. I also tried copying my 32GB card to a simple two-drive RAID (two internal Mac drives mirrored in RAID 0 mode using the Mac’s Disk Utility software), and my copy time wasn’t much slower than when copying to the eight drive Sonnet (five minutes, 11 seconds).
Finally, I used Imagine Software’s popular ShotPut Pro utility to run all my data transfer tests. ShotPut Pro double-checks all the data to make sure it’s copied perfectly from the cards, and also lets you transfer multiple cards with a single button click.
As much as I like the PCD35, I do have some gripes. First of all, installing its PCIe card into your computer can cause hassles. The card itself isn’t the problem (it’s the smallest PCIe card I’ve seen, runs cool and silent, and doesn’t interfere with your computer’s sleep functions) but some computers may not have a free PCIe card slot available. For instance, a brand new Mac Pro has only three open card slots, which you might already need for a RAID card, a capture card, an eSATA card, etc. I wonder why Panasonic didn’t design the PCD35 to work with existing eSATA cards, which are common and usually have a spare port for adding gear.
The PCD35 also can’t work with laptops directly, since it doesn’t include a USB 2 or FireWire 800 port. You can, however, buy a Magma ExpressCard/34 interface card for your laptop (model EX34, $199) and connect your PCD35 to that.
Finally, there’s the PCD35′s price – $2,190 is a little steep for a five card reader, even a greased-lightning one. Panasonic should lower the price so more people can enjoy the pinnacle of P2 workflow. After all, more people enjoying the P2 workflow means more people buying P2 cameras and cards.
Still, if your business calls for shooting/offloading a lot of P2 footage, then the PCD35 is well worth it. It really does put the fun (and productivity) in P2, and should be at the top of any P2 user’s wish list.