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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USB functionally succeeded PCMCIA
by sklofur on Mon 30th Jan 2017 21:40 UTC
sklofur
Member since:
2016-03-28

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.

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