Is your IT department trying to get the most out of your
aging fleet of laptop computers? If so, chances are that these laptops are
still viable pieces of equipment that handle the majority of the tasks your
users need. However, if the only non-legacy peripheral connector on these
laptops is a USB 1.x port, you’re probably feeling the nudge to purchase new
laptops because of the barrage of new USB 2.0 and Firewire peripherals. In
addition to having USB 2.0 and Firewire devices, you may also want to be able to take
advantage of Serial ATA (SATA) devices.

However, before you begin manipulating your budget to make
room for a capital expenditure, you need to investigate the possibility of
extending the life of your aging laptops by adding inexpensive CardBus adapters
from Addonics Technologies. These devices make adding USB 2.0, Firewire, and
SATA ports to a laptop as easy as inserting the PC card and installing a
special driver. Here’s a look at three of Addonics’ CardBus adapters: the
CardBus USB 2.0 Adapter, the Combo CardBus USB 2.0/Firewire Adapter, and the
CardBus Serial ATA Adapter. As I cover these devices, I’ll provide some tips on
using them effectively.

What is CardBus?

Before we get started, let’s take a few moments to learn
more about the CardBus technology. CardBus, the trade name for PC Cards, was
standardized in May 1996 by the Personal Computer
Memory Card International Association
(PCMCIA). The CardBus technology is a
great enhancement to mobile computing in that it provides a lot of powerful
features, yet can do its job while working at a lower battery voltage. More
specifically, CardBus supports a 32-bit bus running at 33 MHz and also provides
support for bus-mastering and Direct Memory Access (DMA). To economize battery
usage, CardBus requires a 3.3 volt in order to operate. The CardBus technology
provides all the power needed to run USB 2.0 and Firewire adapters on a laptop.

The CardBus USB 2.0 Adapter

The CardBus USB 2.0 Adapter package, whose retail price is under
$30, includes the PC card, a Quick User Guide, a driver CD, and a power
adapter. As you can see in Figure A, this type II PC card sports two type
A USB 2.0 ports as well as a power input jack that allows you to connect a
power adapter in order to accommodate more power-hungry devices. Once connected
to a USB 2.0 device, the card provides a data transfer rate of 480 Mbps.

Figure A

The CardBus USB 2.0 Adapter easily adds USB 2.0 ports to an older laptop.

Once you insert the CardBus USB 2.0 Adapter into a laptop’s
PC card slot, Windows will detect the card and begin the driver installation
procedure via the Add New Hardware Wizard. In the case of Windows XP, the
operating system automatically installs its native USB 2.0 drivers and you’re
all set to go. If you’re running Windows 98SE/Me/2000, you’ll need to use the
driver CD.

To test the CardBus USB 2.0 Adapter, I installed it in a
Dell 3800 Inspiron laptop that runs Windows XP Professional and has only a USB
1.1 port. I also installed the adapter in another Dell 3800 Inspiron running
Windows 98SE. In both cases, the installation went off without a hitch.

I then connected a Maxtor 120-GB 5000 DV external hard drive
to the adapter with a USB cable. I could then transfer data between the laptop
and external hard disk at a blazing 480 Mbps—a very noticeable improvement over
the previous data transfer rate of 12 Mbps with the USB 1.1 connection.

The Combo CardBus USB 2.0/Firewire Adapter

The Combo CardBus USB 2.0/Fireware Adapter package, which
carries a retail price of under $60, includes the PC card, a Quick User Guide,
a driver CD, three cables (USB, FireWire, and iLink), and a power adapter. This
type II PC card sports two Firewire ports—a standard connector and an iLink
connector—as well as two type A USB 2.0 ports. The power input jack is located
on the side of the PC card, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The Combo CardBus USB 2.0/Fireware Adapter sports both standard and iLink
Firewire ports.

Once you insert the Combo CardBus USB 2.0/Firewire Adapter
into a laptop’s PC card slot, Windows will detect the card and begin the driver
installation procedure via the Add New Hardware Wizard. You’ll then be prompted
to insert the driver CD and will need to follow the onscreen instructions for
installing the USB and Firewire drivers. Keep in mind that all operating
systems will use the proprietary USB 2.0 drivers from the CD, while only
Windows 98SE will need the Firewire drivers. Windows Me/2000/XP will install
and use native Firewire drivers.

When testing the Combo CardBus USB 2.0/Firewire Adapter, I
used the same two laptops. Installation under Windows XP was a very smooth
operation. Installation under Windows 98SE was a bit more trying, but I finally
got it to work after uninstalling and reinstalling the drivers. I then
connected the Maxtor 5000 DV external hard drive to the adapter with a Firewire
cable and instantly cranked up the data transfer rate to 400 Mbps.

The CardBus Serial ATA Adapter

The CardBus Serial ATA Adapter package, whose retail price is
under $50, includes the PC card, a Quick User Guide, and a driver CD. This type
II PC card sports two SATA 1.0-compliant ports, as shown in Figure C. This adapter supports a data
transfer rate of 1500 Mbps and provides independent 256-byte FIFOs (32 bit * 64
deep) per Serial ATA channel for host reads and writes, as well as supports
Spread Spectrum.

Figure C

Adding SATA connectivity to an older laptop is a snap with the CardBus
Serial ATA Adapter.

Once you insert the CardBus Serial ATA Adapter into a
laptop’s PC card slot, Windows will detect the card and begin the driver
installation procedure via the Add New Hardware Wizard. You’ll then be prompted
to insert the driver CD and will need to follow the onscreen instructions.

To test the CardBus Serial ATA Adapter, I used the same two
laptops along with a standard IDE drive patched into an Addonics IDE to Serial
ATA converter in order to emulate an external SATA hard drive. While my
configuration was a bit awkward, everything functioned as advertised.

Use the Safely Remove Hardware tool

While the USB and Firewire CardBuses indeed support hot
plugging (the ability to add or remove the cards while the system is running),
the devices that you connect to them most likely will not. It’s important that
you get into the habit of using the Safely Remove Hardware tool, whose icon
appears in the system tray.

As its name implies, the Safely Remove Hardware tool’s job
is to let the operating system know that a device is about to be removed from
the computer and allow it to prepare for the removal by taking such steps as
halting data transfers to the device and unloading device drivers. If you
remove a device from the system without using the Safely Remove Hardware tool,
it’s called a surprise removal, because the operating system is not notified in
advance of the removal. Surprise removal is particularly a concern for storage
devices for which write caching is enabled; when these types of devices are
surprise-removed, data loss or corruption might occur.

When it’s time to unplug a device connected to your CardBus adapter,
locate and double-click the Safely Remove Hardware icon. When you see the
window, select the device that is attached to the CardBus adapter, as shown in Figure
D
, and click the Stop button. You’ll then be prompted to confirm the Stop
operation.

Figure D

It’s important that you get into the habit of using the Safely Remove
Hardware tool.

Once you’ve stopped the device and removed its cable from
the CardBus adapter, you can then safely eject the adapter. Even though it’s
perfectly safe to eject a CardBus adapter once you’ve disconnected the device,
Microsoft recommends that you use the Safely Remove Hardware tool.

Getting an Addonics CardBus adapter

You can find all of the Addonics CardBus adapters that I’ve
mentioned in this article at the Addonics
Online Store
as well as at many
online computer outlets
.