A Quick Guide to the Express Card

by Reads (310,509)

A number of notebook manufacturers are now exclusively including Express Card slots in their newer models and doing away with the PCMCIA slot.  Some people might not be completely aware what this new slot is for.  Express Cards are the replacement technology for PCMCIA cards — they run using less power and generate less heat while being substantially faster.  Like PCMCIA cards, Express Cards are hot swappable and can be installed and removed without restarting the system.

Express Card slot with card being inserted, the orange rabbit serves as the branding logo for the Express Card technology

Express Card modules are extremly thin and light and currently come in two form factors; if a manufacturer lists “standard” Express Card then they are refering to the larger form, which is 54mm wide and 5m thick. The smaller form ExpressCard/34 is 34mm wide and 5mm thick. The Express/34 model will work in a Express/54 slot, though it won’t work the other way around. The reason for these different sizes is to allow smaller lighter notebooks to make use of the technology without sacraficing space or battery life.

The 54 model card is allowed to generate up to 60% more heat than the 34 counterpart.  The larger power consumption means the Express/54 can be useful for items like 1.8″ Hard drives which are currently being engineered to work with the technology.  In terms of power draw, the 34 model is able to draw up to 1.2 watts while the 54 model can draw 2.1 watts.

The reason for the new technology is three-fold:

  • To take advantage of new PCI express technology that allows data transfer rates of up to 2.5GB/s.  This makes it perfect for HD-TV tuners which were unable to record the high data rate without lag using older PCMCIA card technology (PCMCIA was getting old, nearly 10-years in fact, it was due for replacement)
  • Express Card also has a direct link to the USB bus meaning many USB technologies can be converted to this new technology without needing a bridge.
  • It’s actually cheaper for manufacturers to use the Express Card slot than the PCMCIA slot, so reduces the overall cost of a notebook.

The list of ExpressCard devices is growing but currently the following devices are available:

  • SATA II Raid
  • Firewire a + b
  • AVerTV ExpressCard Module
  • DVB-T TV tuner
  • HP TV tuner
  • Smart card reader
  • Gigabit ethernet adaptor
  • Flash memory card reader

For a continually updated list of devices available visit this web page: http://www.expresscard.org/web/site/cons_wtb.jsp

While ExpressCard adaptors are available for use with both desktop and notebook systems, built-in is of course preferred. Here is a list of notebooks that use built-in Express Card slots, it’s not comprehensive but a good start:

Some notebooks with built-in ExpressCard/34 slot:

  • Sony VAIO FE
  • Sony VAIO SZ

Some Notebooks with built-in ExpressCard/54 slot:

  • MSI-1039
  • MSI-1035
  • MSI-1016
  • MSI-1047
  • MSI-1036
  • MSI-1034
  • Lenovo ThinkPad-T43
  • Lenovo ThinkPad-T60
  • Fujitsu LIFEBOOK E8020
  • Fujitsu LIFEBOOK N3510
  • Fujitsu LIFEBOOK S7020
  • Fujitsu LIFEBOOK N6110
  • Fujitsu LIFEBOOK N6210
  • Fujitsu LIFEBOOK E8020
  • Fujitsu LIFEBOOK C1320
  • Fujitsu LIFEBOOK S7020
  • HP ZV6000
  • Dell E1505
  • Dell e1705

On this right-side view of the Dell e1705 you can see the Express Card 54mm slot in the mid-area (view larger image)

And the knock against Express Card right now?  The fact there’s limited availability of devices that fit this slot of course, and we’re still yet to see a wi-fi card to be sold in mainstream retail that fits in this slot.  A perfect solution is to have a notebook that has both a PCMCIA slot and Express Card slot so you’re ready for the future but can still use all the available accessories on the market.  However, going forward Express Card will become the standard becase more and more manufacturers are selling notebooks with only this slot and so accessory makers will jump on the band wagon for producing all the expansion cards that consumers now expect for the PCMCIA slot.



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