Card Export for the Pocket PC

Author: Werner 'Menneisyys' Ruotsalainen, member of the Pocket PC magazine Board of Experts 2005, owner of WinMobileTech.com, tech writer, PPCMag forum moderator, frequent contributor to, say,  PPCMag/FirstLoox/PPCT/Brighthand/PDAMania.hu etc.  forums

Last edited:11-Jun-2005 16:17 CET

 

So far, the Pocket PC really lacked any utility that would have made it possible to access the contents of the the built-in File Store memory cards in its card slots as simple USB Mass Storage devices. It's only Windows Mobile 5, the next version of the Windows Mobile operating system, that will natively support this. It, however, won't help WM2003/WM2003SE device owners.

 

Sure, there are tools that do allow for direct accessing the file system of the device, for example, the desktop version of Total Commander with the WinCE FS plug-in (see for example http://pocketpcmag.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=15577 on setting it up), but they all have had a big shortcoming: they all need ActiveSync ( http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/downloads/activesync38.mspx ) on the desktop to run. This have always made Pocket PC's useless as generic USB mass storage devices in, for example, Internet cafés where guests can't install ActiveSync.

 

Total Commander (or, for that matter, any ActiveSync-based file transfer method) being ActiveSync-based, apart from the need for ActiveSync, also poses other problems. First, the access speed. ActiveSync has always been pretty slow at transferring files, and this can't really be helped. This means you can only achieve 200-250 kbytes/s speed on even the latest high-end devices at most.

 

Furthermore, you can't access memory cards over ActiveSync as real drives - they will be handled like an FTP session (the case with Total Commander with the WinCE FS plug-in). This means you will not even be able to issue the dir "\\\WinCE Device" command for simply getting the directory list of the PDA, let alone running tools like the most-important (see for example http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=39583 and http://pocketpcmag.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=16048 on the importance of this tool) chkdsk utility with commands like chkdsk "\\\WinCE Device\SD-MMCard" /f.

 

Palm OS, the computing handheld platform, has had a tool, Card Export, for years. This application is able to export (make it visible on any USB host-capable tools) the contents of the memory card in Palm OS devices. Actually, being able to do this has been a big advantage of the Palm OS platform - until now.

 

Softick, the developer of Card Export, has just announced the first public beta (http://www.softick.com/pocket-pc/cardexport2/) of the PPC version of their great tool, so I downloaded it at once and tested on both my iPAQ 2210 and my Pocket Loox 720.

 

After installing it (it only takes some 110 kbytes of memory), it displays its icon in the bottom right corner of your screen. At first, it looks like a modified ActiveSync icon to denote the PDA is running in the default ActiveSync-compatible mode, waiting for being connected via ActiveSync. By clicking this icon, you can also bring up its simple-to-use settings screen:

 

 

(Please note that the icon in the above figure is a VGA icon - the screenshot has been taken on a WM2003SE VGA PL720. On QVGA devices, it'll be slightly different because of the much less available pixel count.)

 

By default, the top two menu items are highlighted and you can choose between them. As you may already have guessed, the second (after installing it, activated) menu item, Active Sync, sets the default mode to make the PDA behave like a usual ActiveSync client. In this case, the cards in the PDA won't act as USB Mass Storage drives.

 

By choosing Card Export (the topmost menu item), however, you can instruct your PDA to export your drives as mass storage devices.

 

Please note that you can only switch between the two modes when you are not connected. If you're connected, they both become deactivated (as is in the screenshot above)

 

Default Card is also important: there, you can choose which card should be exported as the first drive. This is of extreme importance when you connect your PDA to a USB host-enabled device that is only able to access the first drive of the available drive letters. Windows CE-based, USB host-enabled PDA's are perfect examples of these devices. If you want to redefine the drive number assignment order on your PDA, you need to do this here. Just choose the drive you want to be the first in here. In the following figure, iPAQ File Store will get the first drive number.

 

 

 

(Screenshot taken on a WM2003 iPAQ 2210.)

 

Advantages

 

-         you can access your cards / your File Store as they were real drives. That is, all commands and programs that work on drives will also work on them. dir, format and chkdsk - just to name a few. All this without the need for a separate card reader.

 

-         just like the Palm OS version (which is also very fast, compared to HotSync), the transfer speed is much larger than that of ActiveSync. Some benchmark results (transferring the same 15 Mbyte-long file from/to the same SD card):

 

Fujtisu-Siemens Pocket Loox 720: download (PDA -> desktop) 680-750 kbytes/s, upload (desktop -> PDA): about 650 kbytes/s; "Use native receive routine" disabled (default).

 

iPAQ 2210: download : about 480 kbytes/s, upload: 560 kbytes/s; "Use native receive routine" enabled (default). With the latter disabled, the speed of upload decreased to around 350 kbytes/s.

 

That is, Card Export can utilize almost the entire bandwidth of the USB1.1 port on high-end devices like the PL720, unlike ActiveSync, which still crawls at around 230 kbytes/s when downloading and about 100 kbytes/s when uploading. That is, the upload speed is about 6-7 times larger using Card Export than with the ActiveSync + Total Commander/ Explorer combo! That' what I call difference!

 

This means you don't need to remove your memory cards to be put in your card reader if 100-200 kbytes/s is too low for you for your needs, but 500-700 kbytes/s is enough (and you don't necessarily need USB2 speeds). You just toggle between the two modes if you want to switch between the slowish, but synchornization-capable ActiveSync-compatible mode and the superfast, but not synchornization-capable Card Export mode with two screen taps. No need for removing/reinserting the card with all the related possible problems, for example, bent pins (which are quite common with devices like the iPAQ 3970).

 

Note that I've also tested the speeds in a USB2 host; as I've guessed (the PDA's I've tested are both USB1.1-only), it delivered no speed boost. I wonder if there is any speed boost with the only current USB2 PDA available, the HP iPAQ hx4700, though. With it, the achievable speed may be much higher.

 

Disadvantages / bugs I've run into so far

So far, I haven't noticed anything unusual. The applet doesn't poll the USB connection and its CPU usage is 0% when the device is not connected; that is, having it on your PDA won't result in any kind of battery life decrease / excess CPU usage. This also means running Card Export won't result in a more sluggish Pocket PC either.

 

It doesn't mess up connection settings either and can even work together with system-level bandwidth saving/compressing services like the Globility AcceleNet.

 

I've also made some binary comparisons and CRC checks after doing some heavy transfers. I've never encountered CRC problems.

 

The only problem I could find was that on the Pocket Loox, Card Export doesn't see the built-in File Store.

 

Also, it's best to leave the "Use native receive routine" checkbox in Preferences alone on the PL720. I've crashed my Total Commander on the desktop after I checked it and tried to transfer some stuff to the PDA to see if it's equally fast than in the other transfer mode. On the 2210, it worked flawlessly - it's just that it wasn't worth checking out, because in native mode file uploading is at least 1.5 times faster than in non-native mode.

 

Bottom line

This application rocks if you

 

1, want to transfer a lot of files but don't necessarily want to remove/reinsert your memory cards all the time to be read in a desktop card reader. The transfer speed Card Export offers is sufficient for many purposes except, maybe, for transferring hundreds of megabytes each day.

 

2, don't have a card reader but want to access your cards/ your File Store with desktop based tools like chkdsk

 

3, frequently go to netcafés or other restricted places where you would want to use your PDA as a USB memory stick.

 

Despite its being a pre-beta, it turned out to be very good and reliable.

 

EDIT (16:14 on 11-Jun-2005): Links, feedback:

http://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=4262 - the File Store can't be exported on the Dell Axim x50v either; the author measured up/download speeds of 640/768 kbytes/s.

 

http://www.firstloox.org//forums/showthread.php?t=4066: others have also confirmed my remarks on PL720.

 

http://www.aximsite.com/boards/showthread.php?t=74033 and http://www.aximsite.com/boards/showthread.php?t=58917 : discussion at AximSite.

 

EDIT (16:04 on 12-Jun-2005):

 

http://discussion.brighthand.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=118778 : discussion at BrightHand.

 

http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=349277 : discussion at PPCThoughts.

 

As it has turned out, not only the x50v/PL720 (that is, WM2003SE devices) can't export their File Store. Furthermore, some (even recent) devices don't work yet: the HTC Mini (Magician) and the Dell Axim x30 is known for not working right now. You may want to check out the compatibility list at the bottom of http://www.softick.com/pocket-pc/cardexport2/ - it's constantly updated.

 

EDIT (09:54 on 14-Jun-2005):

 

http://pocketpcmag.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=16354 - the PPCMag thread

 

EDIT (13:04 on 28-Jul-2005):

 

http://www.ipaqhq.com/forums/showthread.php?p=101253 – a great post in the iPAQ HQ  forums.