Monday, August 07, 2006

Laptops Without PCMCIA Slots?

Since the dawn of the Pentium processor in the 1990's, virtually all laptops have come with at least one PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) slot. PCMCIA slots accept PCMCIA cards which are an easy way to add additional functionality to a laptop, such as a modem card or wireless card. Many of the laptop products we sell, such as the Orinoco and Senao brand wireless cards, are PCMCIA cards. In the past, one could almost always count on the fact that a laptop they were going to buy came with a PCMCIA slot. Any doubts could be erased by looking for a small slot or pair of slots stacked on either side of the laptop.

Recently though it has come to our attention that both Dell and Compaq have released budget laptops that no longer have a PCMCIA slot. Instead, these laptops come with a new PC card architecture called "Express card" or "Express 54". These new "pc cards" are different from PCMCIA cards in that they are thinner and they have smaller ends. However the front of an Express card slot is about the same width as the front of a PCMCIA card slot, so at first glance it would appear that these laptops do have a standard PCMCIA slot when they really don't. To make matters more confusing, manufacturers like Compaq identify this card slot in the manufacturer specs as a PCMCIA slot and only denote in parentheses that the slot is an Express card slot. It is important to remember that standard PCMCIA cards will not fit into an Express card slot. There is no adapter available that will allow you to use PCMCIA cards on a computer that does not have a standard PCMCIA slot (currently a few manufacturers have plans to make such a device but no word on how long until they hit the streets; we also heard through the grapevine that such an adapter will cost nearly $200, putting it at almost half the cost of a budget laptop alone).

If you purchase a new laptop which does not have a standard PCMCIA slot, you will not be able to use the popular wireless cards such as the Orinoco and Senao products that we sell. To make matters even worse, as of today there are no Express card wireless cards made, so you will have to settle for your laptop's internal wireless card, or a USB device. Therefore, we highly recommend that before purchasing a new laptop, you check the specs to make sure the laptop comes with at least one standard PCMCIA card slot. What once could be taken for granted as being present in almost every laptop, may no longer be.

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