Mini PCI to put notebooks on diet

The growing popularity of thinner and lighter notebooks that maintain full desktop capability is putting the mobile PC industry on the fast track to incorporate alternatives to bulky PC Card technology.

The PCI Special Interest Group (PCI SIG) plans to release a Mini PCI specification for review and also plans to publish Version 1.0 in the first quarter of 1999. In the second quarter of 1999, Acer, IBM and NEC will incorporate the Mini PCI specification into their notebooks, according to sources familiar with the effort.

Mini PCI will eliminate the need for traditional LAN and modem PC Cards, thus cutting in half the space required for two stacked PC Cards.

Because the PC Card cardbus is a subset of PCI, it does not have the equivalent throughput of the full PCI bus. The mini version of PCI will have the same throughput as a desktop, according to PCI Special Interest Group members.

Toshiba announced this week that it will endorse 3Com LAN and modem solutions on almost all of its notebook products.

Compaq would not commit to when it would have a system enabled with Mini PCI, but said the industry is moving in that direction.

"Expect to see Mini PCI notebooks and options (from many vendors) on the market, definitely within the year," said Chuck Dourlet, director of strategic planning for the Portable PC Division at Compaq.

In addition to enabling a thinner form factor, Mini PCI will benefit IT managers by standardising support for modems and LAN cards as well as reducing the time necessary for qualifying new notebook systems.

"Currently, every integrated modem is unique to the portable that it goes in," Dourlet said. "Even notebooks from the same suppliers have different built-in modems."

In addition, IT managers will be able to use Mini PCI cards as spares or to extend the life cycle of a notebook by upgrading a system with newer technology.

Although it is not recommended that end-users open a notebook for upgrading, it is field upgradable by a service technician, according to Kip Meacham, a member of the Mini PCI Working Group in the US.

Another technology that will, over time, replace PC Cards is Compact Flash II (CF II) according to Gerry Purdy, president of Mobile Insights, California.

CF II has a small enough area to allow two CF II slots to be placed side by side rather than stacked, which saves 5 millimetres of depth.

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