Technology

Working with Older Wireless Cards


How to find a PC Express card that works with your laptop

Reader Mark Grogan asks: What computer company makes or sells laptops that will work with a Sprint wireless wide connection card PC-5740? I have a Dell (DELL) Inspiron 9200 laptop that works with the Sprint (S) PC-5740 wide card that I still use, but I want to buy a new laptop computer.

We are in the middle of one of those necessary, but annoying, hardware transitions, this time from the PC Card (also known as the PCMCIA or CardBus card) to the smaller and more efficient PC Express card. Use of these auxiliary cards in general has declined in recent years, as more and more of the functions that they were used for have been built into the laptops.

One of the primary remaining uses is for radio modems that connect laptops to cell-type networks (Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and Cingular in the U.S.) The Sprint PC-5470 is an example of a PC Card design and it won't work in slots designed for PC Express cards.

Older Designs

With rare exceptions, laptops have a slot of either one type or the other. In general, laptops designed for the business market, such as Lenovo's ThinkPad and Dell's Latitude, come with the older PC Card slots. Those intended for consumer markets, such as Dell's Inspiron and Lenovo's 3000 line, use Express slots. But you generally have to check the detailed specs for each model to be sure. Eventually, all new laptops will be using Express slots.

The Sierra Wireless (SWIR) and Novatel (NVTL) modems offered by Verizon (VZ), Sprint, and Cingular (T) all come in both styles. The problem you face in changing, however, is that these are typically heavily subsidized—sometimes even given away free—by the carrier as part of a service agreement. You might have a tough time talking Sprint into the same deal on a second card.

The Express design has three major advantages that are driving the shift to it. It is smaller, making it easier to incorporate into crowded laptop designs. It draws less power, improving battery life. And it can transfer data at higher speeds.

Wildstrom is Technology You columnist for BusinessWeek. You can contact him at techandyou@businessweek.com .

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