Something New to Replace PC Card

Details surface regarding the next version of the external peripheral connect interface code-named NEWCARD-the replacement for the PC Card slot.

Thursday at WinHEC, Brad Saunders, Chairman of the PCMCIA technology association, announced details regarding the next version of the external peripheral connect interface code-named NEWCARD—not a glitzy name, but certainly descriptive. NEWCARD will eventually replace PC Card and CardBus as the card connection on notebooks and other devices. PC Cards (also called PCMCIA cards) and CardBus cards are credit-card–size modules containing devices like modems, Ethernet adapters, and Wi-Fi adapters that you can plug into a notebook or PC. PC Card is a 16-bit technology and CardBus is 32 bit.

The card will be a complete change from the PC Cards currently in use. NEWCARD will interface to the notebook using both PCI Express and USB 2.0 bus technologies and, say proponents, will offer advantages like smaller size, faster throughput, and lower power consumption.

Instead of the typical stacked arrangement of one card on top of the other that PC Cards employ, NEWCARD will use a side-by-side configuration in one bay. Although a two-card bay will be wider than the equivalent PC Card bay, it will also be thinner. With many notebooks slimming down both in size and weight, moving from vertical stacking to this new geometry seems like a good idea.

NEWCARD devices will be 1.3 inches wide, 3.0 inches long, and 0.2 inches thick. By comparison, a Type II PC Card is 2.2 by 3.4 by 0.2 inches. The NEWCARD connector is less bulky than a PC Card, because it uses a single row of 28 pins while PC Cards use a double stacked row of 68 pins. The actual connector used will be a "beam-on-blade" type similar to the type used in USB. The NEWCARD design calls for the last 15mm of the card to be exposed from the bay, requiring less force to remove it than to extract a PC Card and doing away with the need for an ejector.

How soon will we see NEWCARDs? The standard should be ratified some time this year, with production beginning in 2004 and adoption of the technology in 2005. What we dont know is how notebook vendors will handle the introduction. There simply isnt room to have both NEWCARD and PC Card bays in the same notebook and there are millions of PC Card devices in use. There will likely be a transition period, so expect to see some notebooks with both bays or perhaps some PC manufacturers implementing NEWCARD in a swappable bay. Either way, expect to see PC Cards around for a long time—people with PC Card devices will demand it.