CEBIT : Faster ExpressCards on tap for PC expansion media

A new standard for PC expansion cards is starting to appear in notebooks, bringing wider bandwidth and standards compliance practices to the thousands of products used to add capabilities to PCs. The Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA) showed some of the first ExpressCard products, including new notebooks from companies such as Fujitsu-Siemens Computers (Holding) BV, IBM Corp. and Toshiba Corp. at the Cebit trade show in Hanover, Germany on Friday.

ExpressCard is designed as the successor to the PC Card standard for expansion cards, said Manny Pitta, marketing committee chairman for PCMCIA, a nonprofit standards organization. It takes advantage of the new PCI Express interconnect technology and the USB 2.0 standard to improve the bandwidth of peripheral features such as television tuners, Bluetooth adapters, or flash memory cards.

PCI Express and USB 2.0 are becoming standard features on new chipsets from companies like Intel Corp., Nvidia Corp., Silicon Integrated Systems Corp. and Via Technologies Inc.

The new ExpressCard modules are smaller than the older PC Cards, at just 34 millimetres (mm) wide, as compared to the 54mm-wide PC Cards. Some of the first new ExpressCard products will be 54mm wide at the end of the card that remains visible when plugged into an ExpressCard slot, but the end of the card with the connector pins will be just 34 millimeters wide, Pitta said.

The smaller cards use less power, and are less expensive to manufacture, Pitta said. The PCMCIA envisions a gradual move to the 34mm cards, but some current cards require the extra width for the electronics required to run their applications, Pitta said. Examples of ExpressCard products that require the 54mm width include smart card readers, Compact Flash adapters or even miniature hard drives.

Most of the initial notebooks to feature ExpressCard technology will also come with a PC Card slot, reflecting the enormous number of PC Cards currently in use, Pitta said. Older 54mm-wide PC Cards will not fit in ExpressCard slots. The IBM ThinkPad T43 and Toshiba Tecra S2 come with both slots, and were on display at the PCMCIA booth at Cebit.

The PCMCIA is also running a more comprehensive compliance program with the move to ExpressCard technology, hoping to avoid some of the interoperability problems that plagued PC cards, Pitta said.

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