Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 152 / MAY 1993 / PAGE S6

Which computers use PCMCIA cards? (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association)(includes related article on PC Cards for desktop computers) (Compute's Getting Started with PCMCIA)
by Richard O. Mann

The first computers to use PCMCIA slots and cards were the palmtops and subnotebooks, where access to additional memory was of primary importance. Now that the Type II standard has been established, computers featuring Type II slots are appearing. Most analysts believe that nearly all notebook and smaller computers in the future will feature one or more PCMCIA slots. In fact, it's likely that the slots will appear in desktop units as well. See the accompanying article, "PCMCIA on the Desktop."

The Type III standards aren't quite final, but y can already buy Type III cards. Computers with Type III slots are still in the future but you can often run Type III cards in Type II slots that have extra headroom.

The following list is a representative sample of the computers with PCMCIA slots that are available today or have been announced for the near future.

Hand-held Units

The HP 95LX hand-held computer (Hewlett-packard, 1000 NE Circle Boulevard, Corvallis, Oregon 97330; 800-443-1254 or 503-752-7736) was an early commercial success. This tiny 11-ounce, 6 x 3-inch wonder is a full-scale DOS computer with Lotus 1-2-3 and a set of utility programs, including a memo writer, provided permanently in ROM. It comes in 512K and 1MB models ($699 and $799, respectively), but it has no permanent storage other than a battery-powered RAM disk. Its single PCMCIA Type I slot allows you to add RAM or flash memory storage. (Happy HP95LX users have bought thousands of memory cards, giving an early boost to the fledgling industry.) The 95LX is most effective when used in tandem with another PC; its file transfer system is easy to use and fast.

The Zeos Pocket PC (Zeos International, 530 5th Avenue NW, St. Paul, Minnesota 55112; 800-423-5891 or 612-633-4591) offers a somewhat larger but still pocket-sized palmtop computer for $595. The Zeos Pocket PC measures 9.5 by4.5 inches and weighs 1.3 pounds. It comes with DOS 5 and Microsoft Works 2.0 stored in ROM, uses 640K for DOS, and has only 384K of battery-backed RAM for file storage. It features two PCMCIA Type I slots, letting you add a large amount of RAM and flash memory storage.

As of this writing, Apple's much-discussed Newton Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) has yet to ship. It will have a PCMCIA slot, a pen-like input stylus, a serial port, infrared communications abilities, and a small black-and-white screen. Although a prototype was shown at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Apple is now saying that the Newton will be primarily a business tool, not a consumer item.

Pen Computers

Grid Systems (47211 Lakeview Boulevard, Fremont, California 94538; 510-656-4700) offers three 286-based GridPad computers--models RC ($2,595), HD ($2,995), and RF ($3,495)--as well as the 386SL-based GridPad SL ($3,995). The company offers PCMCIA Type I slots, used primarily for memory and storage purposes. The HD has a 20MB hard disk and one PCMCIA slot; the RC and RF have no hard disk, but two PCMCIA slots. The SL has a 60MB hard disk and one PCMCIA slot.

The newest Grid computer, however, is the Grid Convertible ($3,495), which looks like a standard pen-based tablet computer, but isn't. If you release and tilt up the screen, you'll find a standard notebook keyboard inside. Suddenly the Convertible is a powerful notebook computer with a backlit VGA screen, 125MB hard drive, 2MB of RAM (expandable to 8MB), an external 3.5-inch disk drive, and a PCMCIA Type II slot. It comes with a suite of pen applications that run under Windows for Pen Computing 3.1. The two-button pen makes an interesting mouse alternative when running standard Windows on the notebook.

Notebook and Subnotebook Computers

The AST PowerExec 3/25SL (AST Research, P.O. Box 19658, 16215 Alton Parkway, Irvine, California 92713; 800-876-4AST or 714-727-4141) is a PCMCIA star, as it features two PCMCIA Type II slots (most current notebooks offer only one PCMCIA slot). AST is emphasizing modular design in this unit, as it also has a removable hard disk. It comes with an internal 3.5-inch disk drive, 4MB of RAM, and a monochrome LCD screen.

Although you could expand its memory with PC Cards, the Powerexec is designed to accept as much as 20MB of RAM using proprietary, user-installed memory modules that slip into special slots under an access panel. The CPU and display are also upgradeable, although the chip and screen swap must be done by a dealer.

Because the two PCMCIA slots are together, you can insert a Type III card in the lower slot, using the empty space of the upper slot to provide the necessary extra headroom for the card. One caution: the Powerexec was built with early specifications for PCMCIA Release 2. Using PC Cards isn't as effortless as it could be; you may have to install special software drivers to get it to recognize some cards. This is basically true of all computers with Type II slots currently shipping. (See the accompanying article, "Is PCMCIA a True Standard?")

Prices range from $2,395 for a 60MB monochrome model to $3,895 for a unit with a color-LCD screen, 160MB drive, Windows 3.1, and an attachable trackball.

The Toshiba T3300SL (Toshiba America Information Systems, 9740 Irvine Boulevard, Irvine, California 92713; 800-437-7777 or 714-583-3000 comes with an 80MB drive ($2,899) or a 120MB drive ($3,199), a 25MHz 386SL processor, a 64KB RAM cache, a 3.5-inch disk drive, and a single PCMCIA Type II slot. It weighs 5.9 pounds. There's a slot for a proprietary modem and a docking station expansion port.

The Zenith Z-Lite 320L (Zenith Data Systems, 2150 East Lake Cook Road, Buffalo Grove, Illinois 60089; 800-553-0331 or 798-808-5000) is a 3.9-pound subnotebook--the first computer this small to offer two Type II PCMCIA slots. The 320L Model 60 ($1,899) is based on the 20-MHz386SL chip and ships with 2MB of RAM and a 60MB hard disk. Model 60W ($2,199) adds an external 3.5-inch floppy drive, pre-installed Windows 3.1, and a detachable trackball that fits in front of the keyboard.

The Dell 320SLi (Dell Computer, 9505 Arboretum Boulevard, Austin, Texas 78759; 800-BUY-DELL or 512-338-4400) is smaller than a standard notebook, but at 3.6 pounds is larger than a palmtop. It comes with 2MB of RAM expandable to 10MB and a large hard drive; 60MB, 80MB, and 120MB models are available. It has a single PCMCIA Type II slot and a 3.5-inch external floppy drive. It's available in a variety of configurations; a typical pride would be $2,149 for the 60MB model.

Desktop Computers

There are presently no mainline desktop computers equipped with PCMCIA slots, although both external and internal add-on drives that add slots to desktops are available.

At COMDEX, IBM demonstrated a new t e of desktop computer designed to meet the standards proposed by the Energy Star Computer Program of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "Green" or environmentally friendly computers will use substantially less power than today's hardware. Computers that power down to less than thirty watts when not in use are eligible to display the EPA's Energy Star logo.

IBM's new-generation green computer uses four PCMCIA slots as its primary expansion bus, allowing the main case of the computer to measure only 12 by 12 by 2.5 inches, with one drive bay and no fan. It's based on the power-saving 25/50 486SLC2 chip and uses a low-emission monitor.

Pricing has not been set for this innovative little desktop unit, which IBM hopes to ship in mid-1993.

Other Uses

Epson's EPL-8000 laser printer features two PCMCIA slots intended for cards containing additional fonts. Laser printers have had proprietary font and memory cartridges for years; it makes sense to use the PCMCIA standard for this purpose, now that it's available.

Link Technologies (phone 510-651-8000) has announced a line of Max/it display terminals that use PCMCIA slots to configure the monitor's display characteristics. Max/it will ship as an alphanumeric terminal that can be upgraded as far as an X terminal with full Super-VGA graphics. The entire graphics subsystem fits on the PCMCIA card.

Any engineer designing a device that needs removable electronic devices or memory will probably give first consideration to the PCMCIA standard slot. We'll be seeing PCMCIA slots in nearly every kind of computer in the next few years.


It's natural to think of the diminutive, credit-card sized PC Cards merely as devices for small, portable computers. Let me raise your PCMCIA consciousness--these babies are going to be in your desktop systems, too, and it won't take long.

Every self-respecting pundit in the industry is predicting the widespread presence of PCMCIA slots on the desktop in two to three years. Here's why:

* Quick, painless data transfer from portables. By popping the tiny PC card out of your portable and slipping it into a slot on your desktop machine, your data is easily available to your desktop at hard-disk speed. Similarly, you can load the PC Card with programs and data from the desktop at high speed.

* The savings in sharing expensive devices such as fax/data modems and network adapter cards, not to mention hard disks. Few of us use our desktop and portable simultaneously. Why have a modem in each? Buy one PC Card modem and use it in any machine.

* Lower voltage, less heat. PC Cards can run at 3.3 volts instead of the prevailing 5 volts. As a result, they generate less heat and use less electricity.

* Security. Important data can be stored on a Pcmcia-sized memory card or hard disk, which you can remove and lock up.

* Versatility. You get the benefits of internally mounted boards without opening the case to insert or remove the cards.

It's not difficult to retrofit any existing desktop unit to use PCMCIA slots with an external drive running through the parallel port, with a standard internal expansion board with its slots accessible at the rear of the computer, or with a standard disk drive bay.

These advantages add up to a probable avalanche of PCMCIA card use in the near future. IBM Personal Computer President Robert Corrigan has been quoted as saying that PCMCIA is a "1993 requirement" for IBM. "In the desktop environment, PCMCIA is going to become a critical issue. We'll support that."