ExpressCardAs technology evolves, one this has remained constant – expandability on notebooks was primarily limited to the ‘PCMCIA (or PC Card) slot in the side. In 2004, the PCMCIA organization released a new technology – ExpressCardTM. This overview will provide an in-depth look at this new interface standard for notebooks and mobile systems.

expresscardnotebook-hi.jpgTouted as the ‘New Standard for High-Performance, Lost-Cost I/O Expansion for Desktop and Mobile Systems,” ExpressCard Technology promises to deliver modular expansion at a lower cost and in a smaller form factor – with up to 2.5Gb/s bandwidth throughput. Users will be able to add memory, communications and security devices by simply inserting ExpressCard modules into their systems. The new standard supports ‘sealed box’ expandability in desktops and allows for thinner notebook design.

Increased Interface Speed

The ExpressCard system interface supports a direct connection to the chipset, resulting in faster communications.

ExpressCard Chipset Host Interface

  • USB 2.0 Interface communicates at up to 480 Mb/s
  • PCI Express (x1) communicates at up to 2.5Gb/s

There are over 100 PCMCIA member companies, including Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Lexar Media, Microsoft, SCM Microsystems and Texas Instruments.

Key Features


  • Leverages PC Card Technology
    • Reliability and durability
    • Hot plug-and-play / auto-configuration
  • Roughly half the size of today’s PC Card
  • Supports both USB 2.0 and PCI Express in each slot
    • Increased bandwidth / reduced signal transmission
  • Lower cost
    • No host controller
    • New connector technology
  • Requires less power
  • Replaces CardBus as the preferred expansion solution

Form Factor- Two Sizes

There are two size formats for the ExpressCard interface, allowing for maximum flexibility and design options.

ExpressCard Dimensions Chart

ExpressCard/34: 34mm x 75mm x 5mm
ExpressCard/54: 54mm x 75mm x 5mm
Compare to CardBus Type II: 54mm x 86mm x 5mm.


    Desktop ExpressCard Slots

  • PCI Express:
    • Wired Lan
    • Broadband Modems
    • TV Tuners/Decoders
    • I/O Adapters (including Firewire, HDMI)
    • Magnetic Disk Drives
  • USB 2.0:
    • Wired & Wireless WAN
    • Wireless PAN
    • Flash Memory
    • Flash Card Readers
    • Security
    • Legacy I/O (PS/2, serial, parallel)
    • Optical Disk Drives
    • GPS

Host System Slot Formats

Mobile and Desktop host systems can provide ExpressCard/34 slots when space is at a premium, or the wider Universal ExpressCard slot to accomodate both module sizes.

ExpressCard Host System Slots

The Universal ExpressCard slot has a novel guidance feature to ensure that the ExpressCard/34 modules are always correctly inserted.


New ExpressCard modules are the high-performance, next generation of the familiar PC Card, currently found in over 95% of notebook computers today. ExpressCard technology gives computer users the ability to add memory, communications, multimedia and security to their desktop and mobile systems using plug-n-play technology.

ExpressCard Modules

How to use ExpressCard Technology

ExpressCard technology comes in a module format. You simply insert the module into the slot. After you load some software drivers, you will be ready to go! Here’s how it works:

ExpressCard Usage Slot Diagram

An ExpressCard/34 module (34 mm wide) can fit into either a Universal or 34 mm ExpressCard slot. If an ExpressCard/34 module is inserted into a Universal slot, the internal guidance feature gently directs the module over to engage the connectors. An ExpressCard/54 module (54 mm wide) can only be inserted into a Universal ExpressCard slot.

To remove an ExpressCard module, generally all that is required is to grasp the back of the module and pull. On standard length (75 mm) modules, a finger-grip is present to assist you in grasping the module for removal. On extended length modules, where part of the module extends beyond the computer’s case, simply grasp the extended portion to remove the module.

ExpressCard Standard FAQ

1. What is ExpressCard technology?

ExpressCard technology provides users with the ability to easily add features that aren’t part of their computers when they purchase it. ExpressCard technology comes in a module format, which is inserted into the ExpressCard slot on the computer. Users can then add features that are not available in their computers, such as additional storage memory, digital media readers, networking and wireless internet.

2. How is ExpressCard related to the PC Cards I now have?

Both product standards were developed by PCMCIA. The PC Card is used in 90%+ of notebook computer to provide added functionality for the user. ExpressCard replaces the PC Card as the ‘next generation’ solution for add-in capabilities for computers. It gives computers users access to emerging, high-speed technologies that are only just appearing on the horizon, like digital TV and improved security.

3. How is ExpressCard so different from the PC Card?

ExpressCard technology draws upon many of the features of existing PC Card technology. There are also significant differences between the two.

  • Size. ExpressCard modules are roughly half the size and lighter.
  • Speed. ExpressCard modules are capable of speeds up to 2.5X faster than CardBus and 40X faster than 16-bit I/O PC Cards (depending on the application).
  • Design. ExpressCard standard takes advantage of recent technology advancements to simplify the design and eliminate the need for a controller.
  • Ease of use. The modules are hot-swappable between mobile and desktop systems.
  • Power. ExpressCard modules require less power.

4. Who developed the ExpressCard standard?

The ExpressCard standard was created by a broad coalition of computer manufacturers, including Dell, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Lexar Media, Microsoft, SCM Microsystems and Texas Instruments. PCMCIA developed the new standard with assistance from the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF*) and the PCI-SIG* (Peripheral Component Interconnect-Special Interest Group). PCMCIA is a non-profit trade association founded in 1989 to establish technical standards for PC Card technology and to promote interchangeability among computer systems.

5. Are PC Cards and ExpressCard modules compatible?

The two technologies are not compatible. The decision was made to take advantages of advances in technology to simplify the design. The speed and size of the new ExpressCard design outweighed the backward compatibility issues.

6. When is ExpressCard technology available?

It is available now, in a wide variety of notebook computers and modules.

How It Works

7. How do I insert/eject an ExpressCard modules from my laptop?

All modules are designed to be plug-n-play. The universal slot is 54mm wide. If you are inserting a 54mm module into the universal slot, find the short side of the module where you can see small steel pins. Slide that side into the ExpressCard slot and press gently. The module should pop into place automatically.

If you are inserting a 34 mm module into the universal slot, insert the module straight into the wide opening and the internal guide will gently direct the 34 mm module to the left side of the slot to connect with the module with the computerÕs ExpressCard connector.

8. Why do ExpressCard modules come in two sizes?

There are two sizes of ExpressCard module. One is 34mm wide (ExpressCard/34) and the other is 54mm (ExpressCard/54). Both modules are 75mm long and 5mm high. The 34mm module will also work in the slot designed for the 54mm wide modules, but not vice versa. The two sizes were to accommodate the fact that some applications will not fit into the 34mm slot, such as rotating disk media, CompactFlash adapters and SmartCard readers.

9. Where do I buy an ExpressCard module?

Products are available directly from vendors and through resellers. Currently, notebooks are available online and through resellers. modules are primarily available online. A list of available products can be viewed on the Where to Buy Page or the ExpressCard Online Resource Directory.

Operating System Compatibility

10. Can I use ExpressCard modules with my Mac?

Yes, these modules will work with the Mac OS. Users are advised to check if the module is supported by Mac drivers.

11. Do ExpressCard modules work with Linux computers?

ExpressCard modules should work with Linux computers. Users are advised to check that Linux drivers are available for any ExpressCard products they purchase.

ExpressCard Applications

12. Does ExpressCard technology support cellular wireless access?

Yes, the ExpressCard standard supports cellular wireless access. Currently, these modules are available or under development by the leading cellular companies.

13. Where can I find an ExpressCard that supports EV-DO?

These modules are in development and should appear on the market shortly.

14. Does the ExpressCard support Compact Flash? My CompactFlash card is wider than the ExpressCard slot? What do I do?

The ExpressCard standard supports CompactFlash in the 54mm or universal slot size. Some computers, such as the Apple MacBookPro only offer a 34mm ExpressCard slot. You canÕt use an ExpressCard CompactFlash reader if it is wider than the slot. A USB reader is then recommended. A 54mm Compact Flash reader is currently available online. (See ÒWhere to Buy.Ó)

15. Does the ExpressCard standard support Firewire?

FireWire is supported in both sizes. Firewire 800 is available in the 54mm size; Firewire 400 will be available shortly in ExpressCard 34mm. Firewire was developed by Apple in 1995 for high-speed data transfer, such as digital video.

16. What storage media is supported?

ExpressCard technology supports 6 different storage types: CompactFlash, SD, xD, Memory Stick, MMC, Memory Stick Pro. You also have the option of purchasing an ExpressCard module that can be used as a storage media, such as that offered by Lexar Media. Some of these products are currently available online.

17. What applications do you expect to see in the ExpressCard form factor now and in the future?

  • 1394/FireWire: Connect your computer to other high-speed digital devices for data transfer, such as digital video cameras, external hard disk drives, etc.
  • Extra Connections: Use an ExpressCard module to add additional USB ports, Parallel ports, Serial ports, and virtually any other cabled connection used in digital systems
  • Hard Disk connection: Connect your computer to an external hard drive through Serial ATA (SATA), FireWire 400/800, 1394A/B
    Memory Adapters: ExpressCard modules can be used as a reader for CompactFlash, SD, MemoryStick (including Duo and Pro), MMC, xD, SmartMedia, etc.
  • Multimedia: Use an ExpressCard TV Tuner module to view over-the-air or cable/satellite television on your computer, upgrade your computer’s existing audio capabilities with an upgraded sound card, or add additional monitor support to more than double your viewing area
  • Networking: Connect to a wired network in your home or office using Gigabit Ethernet, 10/100 Ethernet, any other wired networking standard
  • Security: Use an ExpressCard module to add advanced security features, such as a biometric fingerprint scanner or SmartCard reader to prevent access from unauthorized users
  • Storage: Add storage memory through large capacity Flash memory modules or rotating media contained within an ExpressCard module
  • Wireless PAN (Bluetooth): Communicate wirelessly between your computer and other Bluetooth-enabled devices (cell phones, PDAs, keyboards, printers, scanners, etc.)
  • Wireless LAN (WiFi, 802.11a/b/g): Access the internet through local wireless networks (at your home or office) and “hot spots” (such as those found in airports, restaurants, cafes)
  • Wireless WAN (3G, CDMA, Edge, EV-DO, GPRS, UMTS, WiMAX, etc.): Access the internet anywhere through the cellular phone networks

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