Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 152 / MAY 1993 / PAGE S4

What kind of PCMCIA cards can you buy? (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) (Compute's Getting Started with PCMCIA) (Buyers Guide)
by Richard O. Mann

If you've harbored any doubts that PCMCIA cards would become a thriving industry standard, the impressive display of hardware at Fall COMDEX should lay them to rest. While there are still some quirks to be worked out (see the accompanying article, "Is PCMCIA a True Standard?"), hundreds of PC Cards have been announced, and scores of them are available for use in today's hardware.

At this early stage in the development of the PC Card industry, the first real success story is the HP95LX palmtop computer. Featuring one PC Card slot, the popular HP95LX is providing an eager market for PC Cards, many of which are made specifically for use in the HP95LX.

For the more general-use notebook and sub-notebook computer market, the action today is in fax modems and network adapter cards. You couldn't turn around at COMDEX without seeing yet another display of these new cards--more than 80 new modem cards alone were displayed.

Because the PCMCIA standard really gives full access to the computer's data bus, virtually any kind of board that you can put into a desktop system also can work through PCMCIA slot, if the circuitry and devices can be miniaturized enough to fit onto the PC Card. By making the PC Cards thicker than the original 3.3 millimeter standard, all kinds of devices now fit onto these cards. See the accompanying article "Three Types of PC Cards" for details on the potentially confusing differences between Type I, Type II, and Type III PC Cards.

Here's an overview with examples of what today's technology is providing on PC Cards.

RAM Cards

PCMCIA RAM cards are simply compatible computer memory that you can plug into Type I (or later) slots. Typically, each computer manufacturer sells a set of these cards for its own machines, especially in the palmtop and Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) markets. Prices vary widely.

SunDisk (3270 Jay Street, Santa Clara, California 95054; 800-688-7177) makes a series of SDP Solid State Mass Storage Cards. Available in 1MB, 2.5MB, 5MB, 10MB, 15MB, and 20MB sizes, the flash memory cards use solid-state memory that retains data after power is turned off . You use them as nearly-instantaneous hard disks. These cards were designed for the HP 95LX, but they're now available for all the popular notebook computers with PCMCIA slots. The HP 95LX versiom comes with software for transferring files to desktop computers. Prices range from $199 for the 1MB card to $999 for the 20MB version.

Fax/Data Modems

Megahertz (4505 South Wasatch Boulevard, Salt Lake City, Utah 84124; 800-LAPTOPS or 801-272-6000), one of the leading makers of modems for portable computers, upped the ante on the PC Card modem market by introducing a slick patented connection system for its PC Card modems. Other PC Card modems must use an external connecting device that lets you can plug a standard RJ-11 phone jack into the modem. The new Megahertz XJACK system uses an extendible RJ-11 jack, which retracts into the card itself when not in use. Prior to XJACK, you had to remember to carry the external hardware that goes with the modem card.

The Megahertz fax modems are the CC2144 ($699), a 14,400 bps modem for both data and fax, and the CC224FM ($429), a 2400/9600bps data/fax card. Both include cellular capability, V.42 advanced error correction, and V.42bis data compression. Both require a Type II slot. All Megahertz modems come with DOS and Windows software, automatic power-saving capabilities, a five-year warranty, and toll-free technical support.

OmniTel (47281 Bayside Parkway, Fremont, California 94538; 510-490-2202) also has two Type II PC Card fax modems: the Business Card 2496c ($349 for DOS and $375 for Windows) and the Business Card 2496c+ ($399 for DOS and $425 for Windows). Both modems send data and faxes at 9600 bps and feature advanced data compression and error correction techniques, including V.42bis, V.42, and MNP 2-5. The 2496c+ features flash memory (allowing for future product enhancement) MNP 1 0, and cellular phone interface support. The MN 10 advanced error correction allows accurate modem transmissions even under degraded line conditions, such as those frequently found in cellular calls.

For HP95LX users, New Media (15375 Barranca, B-101, Irvine, California 92718; 714-453-0100) has announced its new PalmModem ($259), which works in a Type I slot, such as that on the HP95LX. It comes with HP95LX software and supports the XMODEM, YMODEM, and Kermit protocols.

LAN Adapters

Thomas-Conrad (1908-R Kramer Lane, Austin, Texas 78758; 800-332-8683 or 512-836-1935) offers TC-Card network adapters on Type II PC Cards. They're available for Token Ring 16/4Mbps ($779), Ethernet 10Base-T ($359), and Ethernet 10Base-2 ($375) with a five-year warranty. Thomas-conrad states that these cards match the performance of internal ISA bus adapters in desktop units and exceed the capabilities of parallel-port adapters (which have been the primary way to hook laptops into networks).

Xircom (36025 Mureau Road, Calabasas, California 91302; 818-878-7600), one of the leaders in the external portable LAN adapter market, sells PCMCIA Type I network cards for Ethernet networks. The CE-10BT for 10Base-T and the CE-10B2 for 10Base-2 networks are $349 each. The CE-10BC comes with cables and software for both topologies at $399. The cards include auto-configurable installation software, on-board LEDs for activity status, and support for major network operating systems, including Novell NetWare, ARtisoft LANtastic, DEC Pathworks, and Microsoft LAN Manager. They come with two-year warranties and toll-free technical support.

Hard Disks

Because the Type III specifications are brand new and rotating-platter hard disks will need to be Type Ill devices, these drives are just making their way to the market. The drives exist and are shipping in limited quantities, but the details of retail pricing are still being worked out. The first notebooks with Type Ill slots are still in development, but by the time they hit the streets, these disk drives will be available to end-users.

Integral Peripherals (5775 Flatiron Parkway, Suite 100, Boulder, Colorado 80301; 303-449-8009) offers the PocketFile 42 ($599), a 42MB hard drive on a Type III card. In addition, Integral sells the PocketFile 85 ($799), an 85MB hard drive that is thicker than the Type III standard by 2 millimeters. It is, however, fully Type III-complaint in every other respect. If you have an extra 2 milli-meters of headroom above your slot, you can use this drive.

MiniStor Peripheral Corp. (2801 Orchard Parkway, San Jose, California 95134; 408-943-0165) offers the MiniPORT 42 ($475), MiniPORT 64 ($572), and the MiniPORT 85 ($728)--the model numbers indicate drive capacity in MB. The company,states that these drives offer the industry's highest operating shock resistance-they'll withstand a 200G shock while in operation without harm. The 42MB drive is a Type Ill device, but the two larger drives are three millimeters thicker than standard. Again, if your slot has the necessary headroom, the drives will work in your Type III slot.

ROM Cards with Software

Virtually any software or data files can be permanently stored on a ROM (Read Only Memory) card. The Poquet PC palmtop computer generated a lot of interest in providing popular software on Type I cards. WordPerfect 5.1 and WordPerfect Executive 1.0 (an early suite of cut-down programs with word processing, spreadsheet, calculator, note cards, and phone directory) are available on ROM cards for the Poquet PC.

Lotus Development also put its Lotus 1-2-3, Agenda, Lotus Works, Magellan, and Metro programs on PCMCIA cards for the Poquet computer. (Lotus 1-2-3 is also on the HP95LX, but it was hard-wired into the computer.)

Other Cards

Secured Communications (17 Skyridge Court,box545, Gormley, Ontario, L0H 1G0, Canada) offers Session Key, which uses a Type II slot to lock up your computer. Without the proper key card in the slot, the computer simply won't function. In addition, the key can encrypt data throughout the computer. You can set multiple levels of security, allowing any one of several keys to unlock the computer.