Product Review: Lexar Professional Workflow Reader Solution

December 17, 2013

By Theano Nikitas

The name may explain the end result rather than the product, but Professional Workflow Reader Solution (PWRS) is a fairly apt description of this modular device that allows simultaneous downloads from up to four media cards. The system revolves around a four-slot hub that accommodates Lexar Professional Workflow card readers, which are available for CompactFlash/UDMA-7, SDHC/SDXC (including UHS-1) and XQD media. A single type of reader can be used, or they can be mixed and matched to accommodate whatever combination of card types you use.

The hub comes with a USB 3.0 cable but is backward compatible with USB 2.0. The device requires Mac OS 10-6+ and is compatible with Windows 7 and 8. At 3.3 x 4.3 x 6 inches, the hub doesn’t take up much space. Four covers to help prevent dust from entering unused slots are included along with a power supply and two plug adapters (one for the U.S. and one, as far as we can tell with its angled, flat prongs, for Australia). It’s also solidly built and should withstand an accidental fall off the edge of a desk, although it’s probably best not to test out whether the hub is shockproof.

Purchased separately from the hub, each card reader can be removed and used on its own for traveling or shooting on location. A USB 3.0 cable is bundled with the reader, which is USB-powered when used on its own. A silicon dust cover for the front slot is included as well, so you can throw it into your camera bag without worry. That’s a nice touch, though after many years of tossing card readers into a bag or purse, we’ve never had a problem with dust or debris mucking up the device. But it’s always better to be safe and use the cover.

In one of its online demos, Lexar’s Jeff Cable reports that he downloaded 50 GB of files in less than four minutes with the hub. In the video, he does a quick demo using Photo Mechanic—one of the software applications that does support simultaneous downloads. We were really hopeful about speeding up the transfer of images from card to computer, something that would be especially beneficial when shooting assignments that result in multi-GB cards filled with images.

Putting the Hub To Use

Don’t look for directions when you get ready to set up the PWRS. There aren’t any. But that’s OK because you don’t need them, though Lexar has some FAQs and info on its site. Perhaps the most difficult set-up task is getting the parts out of the packaging. After that, all you have to do is remove the slot covers, slide the card readers into the hub bays, and plug in the power adapter and USB 3.0 cable.

Unfortunately, the power adapter cable is way too short and we had to use an extension cord or keep the hub in close proximity to a laptop. We also found that when the USB 3.0 cable is stretched to its limits, it tends to disconnect from the port, delivering an error message. This happened several times during testing until we reconfigured the setup (it was an issue with the port on the laptop, not the Lexar device).

We tested the PWRS device on a mid-2012 MacBook Pro with 8 GB of RAM running OS 10.7.5. Because not all software (including Lightroom) supports concurrent downloads, we initially set up four separate folders on our desktop to download each of the four cards by dragging and dropping each DCIM folder from two CompactFlash and two SDHC/XC cards filled with JPEG, RAW and video files. While Lexar may be able to download 50 GB of files in less than four minutes, our test laptop wasn’t up to the task and it took almost twice the time to download 28 GB of files. And, one of the older SD cards (an 8 GB SanDisk Extreme III) got hung up so we had to physically remove the card from the reader.

We then downloaded a trial version of Photo Mechanic 5, and tried again (but this time we used a different SD card than the one that caused problems during the first test). While we still didn’t reach the speeds that Lexar showed in its demo, this download was slightly faster and, frankly, a lot easier than dragging and dropping DCIM folders to the desktop.

In fact, the entire setup—with and without Photo Mechanic—is really convenient and the Lexar Professional Workflow Reader Solution now has a permanent place on our desk.

The Bottom Line

While the device didn’t meet the obviously too-high expectations given our test laptop’s generally slow behavior, being able to download four cards at the same time is, at any speed, a time saver—especially if your laptop or desktop computer has only two USB ports. And, if your laptop is faster than ours and you use high-speed cards like the Lexar and SanDisk CF cards, we wouldn’t be surprised if you can match the 50-GB-in-four-minutes speed demonstrated online.

Pros: Multiple, simultaneous card downloads; mix-and-match card readers; USB 3.0 connectivity

Cons: Power cord too short; not all applications support simultaneous downloads

Prices: $100 for hub; $37 for CF card reader; $37 for SD card reader; $45 for XQD card reader;

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