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ExpressCard Plugs in New I/O Program

Technology trade group PCMCIA launched new initiative Friday to rapidly expand its ExpressCard hardware standard.

The San Jose, Calif.-based non-profit launched a new compliance program for the high-performance I/O module standard and demonstrated a handful of prototypes at this week's CeBIT show in Germany.

The modules are being designed to let consumers install flash memory, storage, security, multimedia, and communications through the hot plug-n-play and auto-configure technology for notebook, desktop or other compliant systems.

Formerly known as NEWCARD, the standard is the fruit of a coalition of system OEMs, card manufacturers and connector and component manufacturers including Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Lexar Media, Microsoft, SCM Microsystems and Texas Instruments.

The PCMCIA also has a specification development and co-publishing relationship with the Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association (JEITA) covering PC Card and Smart Media technologies.

PCMCIA chairman and staff mobile system architect for Intel Brad Saunders said more and more companies are looking at ExpressCard technology to address the growing need to transfer data between several disparate platforms.

"A wide range of applications are being developed to support the expansion needs of both consumer and business computer users," Saunders in a statement. "This display [at CeBIT] is a clear signal that industry momentum is continuing to grow."

The compliance program requires manufacturers to undergo extensive compatibility testing, including self-testing and interoperability workshops where modules are tested in both desktop and mobile systems.

Manufacturers can also use test houses that offer support for both phases of the compatibility testing. All testing is under the umbrella of PCMCIA.

"This new compliance program is designed to give the consumer the confidence that they can buy systems or modules bearing the ExpressCard brand and know that they are compatible," Saunders said.

Unveiled in September 2003, the interface directly connects to chipsets removing the need for a bridge component. The technology supports both the PCI Express architecture and Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0 standards in a single slot.

ExpressCard modules will be available in two sizes: 34mm and 54mm (by 75mm x 5mm) and are being touted as a replacement for CardBus, the current standard for PC Cards.

Products based on ExpressCard are expected to become generally available starting in late 2004, after PCI Express-based systems hit the marketplace in volume, the PCMIA said.