Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 30th Jan 2017 20:20 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

The problem with laptops has, at least in recent years, been one of expandability. Once you buy a machine, you’re generally stuck with it, unless you’re willing to take it apart with repairs that have more in common with surgery than mechanics.

Part of this has to do with the complexity of our modern machines, but a bigger part is the fact that, simply, upgradability has become less of a concern for manufacturers.

But there was a time when laptop upgrades were a big deal - and that time was the 90s.

Here's the story of PCMCIA, an acronym only a 90s laptop owner could love.

I used a PCMCIA network card on my BeOS laptop (in 2001 or so), since the on-board network chip didn't have a BeOS driver. Good times.

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by dionicio on Mon 30th Jan 2017 21:27 UTC
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Standards drive some of market scale savings to the consumers. Sharp competence in between Corps and unregulated Consortiums & Cartels drove the market to this undesirable Status Quo.

PCMCIA was a very good thing at her time.

Reply Score: 3

by Kondor337 on Mon 30th Jan 2017 21:34 UTC
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Some laptops still have ExpressCard slots, the successor to PCMCIA. I use a USB 3.0 ExpressCard in an older laptop with USB 2.0 only. However, there is still no ExpressCard with the new USB-C connector.

Does anyone know why? Is there no demand or is it impossible to create a card with a USB-C connector because the standard requires something that you cannot provide via an ExpressCard (high power?).

Reply Score: 2

RE: ExpressCard
by ahferroin7 on Tue 31st Jan 2017 13:08 UTC in reply to "ExpressCard"
ahferroin7 Member since:

It's both that USB-C functionally requires higher power than ExpressCard can provide (technically, USB 3.0 does too, but most things don't actually use the full power available from regular 3.0). The other is that there's near zero market. It's almost impossible to find modern laptops with ExpressCard slots these days too, because USB 3.0 can provide equivalent bandwidth in a smaller form factor. In fact, the only laptop I've seen with a Skylake processor that has one is a Thinkpad L560, and even there it's optional.

Reply Score: 3

USB functionally succeeded PCMCIA
by sklofur on Mon 30th Jan 2017 21:40 UTC
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I had my first laptops in the late '90s. Since the expansion cards were so permanent in their slots, here is the list of every PCMCIA card I used – and what became of that use.

• Ethernet card: used with a 1998 Toshiba Satellite. The Satellite I had in 2000 had a USB Ethernet dongle, every laptop thereafter had Ethernet built in. Until they became thin again (see next point).
• Wifi card: used in the 2000 Satellite, which moved with me to the next one. All laptops I've had since 2005 have had wifi built in.
• CD-ROM drive: slow drive (x2 if I remember correctly), only needed for the 1998 Satellite after which all laptops had optical drives built in. Until nobody used optical discs, but that use has gone to USB.
• CompactFlash card reader: used this as it was much faster than USB at the time. Nowadays, a USB 3 card reader is way faster when using a camera. For everything else, phone photos get uploaded automatically without plugging in.

We forget how much of a compromise it was to use most laptops back then. They usually had significant deficiencies in terms of missing a key feature that you'd actually need. The type of expandability that PCMCIA cards did has been taken up very comfortably by USB and, soon, Thunderbolt over a unified connector.

Reply Score: 3

Delgarde Member since:

Exactly so. Expansion slots *did* catch on... it's just that the mechanism was USB, not PCMCIA.

And yes, a lot of the time, there's not much need for them, since ethernet and wifi became standard features... mostly, it's just a matter of external storage.

Reply Score: 4

Quite popular on Amiga
by said1 on Mon 30th Jan 2017 22:18 UTC
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Both A600 and A1200 featured a PCMCIA port and is still quite popular.

Back in the 90s was used mainly as RAM expansion (I had a SCSI controller with a fast serial port), nowadays is still a cheap way to add a WiFi card.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Quite popular on Amiga
by bugjacobs on Tue 31st Jan 2017 10:21 UTC in reply to "Quite popular on Amiga"
bugjacobs Member since:

I occasionally use PCMCIA network card for Amiga1200 and for connecting a CF card for storage transfer.

Reply Score: 1

RE[2]: Quite popular on Amiga
by JLF65 on Tue 31st Jan 2017 16:30 UTC in reply to "RE: Quite popular on Amiga"
JLF65 Member since:

I managed to get an SD card PCMCIA adapter that I use with my A1200. It's far better for transferring files than optical media.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Quite popular on Amiga
by bugjacobs on Thu 2nd Feb 2017 23:49 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Quite popular on Amiga"
bugjacobs Member since:

Still available ??

Reply Score: 1

Spritual successor
by Bill Shooter of Bul on Mon 30th Jan 2017 22:19 UTC
Bill Shooter of Bul
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Its maybe the complete opposite, adding brains to laptop shells, rather than adding features to brainy laptops. But it kinda looks like one? And it would be cool if all IOT things used them.

Reply Score: 2

Powerbook 520c
by whartung on Mon 30th Jan 2017 22:51 UTC
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I remember when I got my 520c, and one of the big criteria for it was that, although I could in theory add a card to it, I didn't have to.

It already had everything.

SCSI? Check.

Networking? Check.

Serial/Keyboard/Mouse ports? Check.

Stereo sound (and speaker/headphone jack)? Check.

It has an expansion slot for an extra battery or a card expansion, but the truth was simply that almost none of those features were "optional" any more. Were you to buy a laptop, you were buying cards for the rest anyway.

But Apple managed to shove it all in to the then new Powerbook. It was essentially identical to my NeXTStation in terms of ports and capability.

Of course, now you have a laptop with the One Port.

One port to rule them all, one port to find them, One port to bring them all and in the dongles bind them.

Reply Score: 5

Dell Latitude
by Morgan on Mon 30th Jan 2017 23:07 UTC
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I used a PCMCIA network card on my BeOS laptop (in 2001 or so), since the on-board network chip didn't have a BeOS driver. Good times.

Pretty much same here, except my Dell Latitude CPx didn't have built in networking beyond the dial-up modem, which didn't work in BeOS so I used a PCMCIA network card and bridged it through my Windows PC that had a USB-only DSL modem. Fun times.

I still have that old Latitude laptop, and it still runs BeOS. A few years ago I finally found a PCMCIA WiFi card that works with BeOS; now all I need is a new battery so it can go untethered.

The Dell Latitude series has been, in my experience, one of the most upgradeable and repairable laptop series in history. Every Latitude model I've owned from that CPx all the way up to the D6xx series have been easy to take apart, and replacement/upgrade parts are plentiful as well as inexpensive. Say what you will about Dell as a company (especially these days) but their Latitude series is the antithesis of the current trend of sealed unibody ultrabooks.

Reply Score: 2

by beowuff on Mon 30th Jan 2017 23:26 UTC
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I recently bought a used T430. Added an SSD, upgraded the ram from 4 to 16G, put in a better wireless card, added a drive bay and second hdd. Loaded FreeBSD.

Released in June 2012.

Upgrades in laptops are still important to many of us...

Reply Score: 1

RE: Thinkpads?
by ggeldenhuys on Thu 2nd Feb 2017 12:29 UTC in reply to "Thinkpads?"
ggeldenhuys Member since:

Thinkpads are (or were) great [when IBM made them], but such upgradable laptops are now few and far between (sadly).

Reply Score: 2

Lucent Ornioco WaveLan on Powerbooks
by David on Tue 31st Jan 2017 00:05 UTC
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I had a succession of Powerbooks that connected to wifi using a Lucent WaveLan PCMCIA card, like this:

The coolest thing about the early Wifi days was that for a while, the cheapest way to get on Wifi was to buy an apple AirPort Base station. The only other Wifi access points on the market were enterprise hardware that was much more expensive. Of course, with those early base stations, a lot of people plugged them into a phone line and the built-in modem dialed out to their ISP. But you could also use ethernet.

Anyway, if you took apart one of those gen 1 Airport Base stations, inside was a PCMCIA slot with, you guessed it, a Lucent WaveLan card plugged into it.

Reply Score: 2

Comment by Drumhellar
by Drumhellar on Tue 31st Jan 2017 01:33 UTC
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This makes little sense.

My Dell laptop has two PCIe Mini-card slots, and easily accessible RAM slots. What is it missing as far as expandibility? On the outside, it's got two USB 3.0, HDMI, DP, USB2.0/eSATA combo, plus a gigabit LAN.

Reply Score: 4

by Sauron on Tue 31st Jan 2017 06:01 UTC
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I still have and use on occasion, a Toshiba Libretto 50CT which was released back in the 90's with Windows 95. It's a really cute little machine and tiny even by today's standards, also built to last.
I use PCMCIA network cards and Compact Flash, SD card adaptors with it. I also have a PCMCIA Adaptec SCSI adaptor that I use with it for CD ROM and hard drive access.
The bonus is, a lot of the peripherals for it are shared with my Amiga 1200's.
The PCMCIA slot is a very worthy precursor to USB, very useful and I never had any problems with it!

Reply Score: 2

Laptop internals are too constrained
by zlynx on Tue 31st Jan 2017 21:14 UTC
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Unlike a desktop the inside of a laptop is very restricted in size, power and heat. That makes expansion cards very hard to build.

I know a guy who bought a gaming laptop with dual MXM, back in hmm 2005? He upgraded it one time, but he had to use the manufacturer's MXM cards, nothing else fit the power / heat envelope correctly. After that the CPU and RAM were too far behind for upgrades. He could have replaced the motherboard, but a new machine was just cheaper.

OTOH, external add-ons through USB and now Thunderbolt are extremely popular.

Reply Score: 2

by Cutterman on Tue 31st Jan 2017 21:28 UTC
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Ja, my old ASUS lappy had wireless but no Bluetooth.
I got fed up with that little Bluetooth dongle sticking out of one of the two USB 2.0 sockets and found some obscure Chinese Bluetooth PCMCIA card (with an extra USB port and a tiny aerial.

Stuck it in - works fine, especially with a really good Bluetooth stack like BlueSoleil.

The whole lappy weighs a ton, but l-o-o-n-g battery life and just keeps chugging on.

At least it has USB slots, an earphone jack and even a micro-Firewire socket (never used it). Unlike my Mac :-(


Ah for the days of choice...

The Cutter

Reply Score: 2

Way to make me feel old
by abraxas on Thu 2nd Feb 2017 17:57 UTC
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Or at least make my laptop feel old. My everyday laptop still has a PCMCIA slot as well as an EC slot.

Reply Score: 2