NEWCARD Reborn As 'ExpressCard'

By Michael Singer

September 16, 2003

Technology trade group PCMCIA launches version 1.0 of their new modular expansion standard in two form factors as it looks to replace card bus controllers in PCs.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Technology trade group PCMCIA Tuesday officially unveiled its 21st century replacement for the PC card -- ExpressCard.

Formerly known as NEWCARD, the hot-swappable expansion module for PCs and laptops is the fruit of a coalition of system OEMs, card manufacturers and connector and component manufacturers including Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Lexar Media, Microsoft, SCM Microsystems and Texas Instruments.

Based on PCI Express architecture and Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 interfaces, ExpressCard directly connects to chipsets removing the need for a bridge component. The group also says card manufacturers can also use the standard silicon in building their products.

The standard modules come in two form factors identified primarily by their width in millimeters: ExpressCard 34 and ExpressCard 54. Both modules are 75mm long and 5mm high and both have 26 pins compared to the 68 pin card bus controllers that it would replace. Both also put out less than 1.3 watts of dissipation.

The first products will be tested at a 'Plugfest' setting to be scheduled in early 2004. System and card manufacturers are expected to bring first products to market in the second half of 2004.

PCMCIA chairman and Brad Saunders told internetnews.com the technology is a "major milestone" because it can be used for a wide range of things like wired and wireless LAN; broadband modems; audio/video streaming; TV tuners/decoders; I/O adapters (e.g. 1394a/b) and magnetic disk drives. All without having to pop the casing every time you do an upgrade.

"We view this as a major leap forward in delivering 'thinner, lighter, faster' systems to consumers. By drawing upon the PCI Express and USB standards, we hope to make it easier for desktop and notebook users to add hardware capabilities to their systems than ever before," said Saunders.

Despite the module's mobile and hot-swappable benefits, Saunders said the ExpressCard is not being considered for traditional PDAs because it would be too thick for most handheld devices.

"One guy hinted that there is also a lot of embedded possibilities, but we are focused on mainstream PCs and laptops for now," Saunders said.

In addition to the vendors, Saunders said the ExpressCard is a strong collaboration between PCMCIA, the USB Implementers Forum (USB IF) and the Peripheral Component Interconnect-Special Interest Group (PCI-SIG). The three are working together on a compliance program. Companies that develop ExpressCard-compliant products will be able to use the ExpressCard name and rabbit logo on their products to indicate plug and play interoperability.

Version 1.0 of the standard is available to PCMCIA members. The group says it will have its new technology as well as some staged demonstrations at the Intel Developers Forum (IDF) here this week.

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