Smaller PC card format debuts

The trade group behind the PC Card has released the standard for the PC Card's successor: A smaller, faster card that goes in a slot that could become as common in desktops as in mobile devices.

That's because the new card--called ExpressCard - is based on USB 2.0 and PCI Express interfaces that will be standard in the coming generation of desktop systems. Today's PC Cards require a PC Card controller, which desktop vendors typically don't bother to install because of the expense and because desktop systems can add all the peripherals they need via USB or PCI.

Aiming at Desktops

The first ExpressCard slots could first appear in desktops about nine months from now, and in notebooks three months later, says Brad Saunders, mobile systems architect for Intel Corp.'s Mobile Platform Group and chair of the PCMCIA Special Interest Group, which is releasing version 1.0 of the ExpressCard standard. ExpressCard peripherals should begin appearing in about the same time frame, he says.

The technology should prove increasingly useful for systems with small form factors as well as notebooks, Saunders says.

"A lot of vendors are seriously looking at trying to minimize the clutter of USB devices," Saunders adds. PC vendors see the ExpressCard "as an uncluttered add-on, and as long as the application fits, they see the value in adding this to a small-form-factor desktop."

A desktop card could prove attractive to those who want to add high-performance peripherals such as TV tuners and video decoders without having to crack open a case to access a PCI slot, Saunders says. ExpressCards could also be useful to people who want to easily transfer such peripherals between desktops and notebooks.

ExpressCard Options

ExpressCards will be available in two sizes: One card is 34 millimeters wide, the other, 54 millimeters wide. Both will be 5 millimeters thick and 75 millimeters long (slightly shorter than today's 54 millimeter-by-5 millimeter-by-86 millimeter PC Cards). The 54 millimeter card has a cutout corner at its plug end, so it narrows to the same 34 millimeters as the smaller card, and both use the same 26-pin connector. The PCMCIA Special Interest Group had originally planned on just one smaller design, but vendors said they needed more room for certain applications, such as flash memory readers, optical disk drive connectors, and GPS receivers. Saunders says he expects most applications will eventually be able to use the narrower 34 millimeter cards.

Compliance standards are set by the PCMCIA and either the PCI or USB Special Interest Groups, since ExpressCards must be able to connect via one or both of these interfaces. Compliant cards will be allowed to display a new ExpressCard logo, which looks like a cross between a rabbit and a lightning bolt.

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