March 10, 1997 10:00 AM ET

CardBus not in gear
Notebook vendors are slow to adopt the 32-bit interface

By Scott Berinato

  Is anyone hopping on the CardBus? Interest in the next-generation bus technology continues to lag, with notebook vendors slow to incorporate it, users content with current connections and operating system support just beginning to emerge.

The 32-bit CardBus design, with its faster performance and lower voltage requirements compared with current PC Card interfaces, was expected to be a prominent feature in notebook designs by now. But that's far from the case.

"The CardBus ramp-up is much slower than we originally anticipated," said a source at a company that makes CardBus adapters. "The notebook vendors have been dragging their feet in enabling the technology."

CardBus loses steam

Three reasons why 32-bit PC Cards haven't succeeded:

  • Fast Ethernet has yet to eclipse Ethernet
  • Windows 95 support has only recently been implemented with OSR2
  • Adoption on notebooks has been slow and only on high-end models

One factor expected to drive CardBus adoption-the migration from 10M-bps Ethernet to 100M-bps Fast Ethernet-has not taken hold as quickly as expected. Indeed, demand for 10M-bps 10BaseT Ethernet controllers has grown substantially in the last year, according to Erling Peterson, a business developments manager at Digital Semiconductor, a division of Digital Equipment Corp. that makes the controllers.

"When more 10/100 Ethernet cards come out, that will drive the demand for CardBus notebooks," said Brian Mullins, business segment manager for Digital, in Acton, Mass. Digital plans to support CardBus in its entire line of notebooks by the end of the year, Mullins said.

On the software front, Microsoft Corp.'s OEM Service Release 2 for Windows 95 provides the only OS support for CardBus. Notebooks with that version of Windows 95, which shipped late last year, have just begun to emerge.

Currently, CardBus, which was finalized as a specification in 1995, can be found only in high-end notebooks from vendors such as Toshiba America Information Systems Inc., IBM and Compaq Computer Corp. And even in those cases, one user said, "You don't buy a high-end notebook because it has CardBus. It's not the driving reason."

While falling prices could push CardBus further into the mainstream this year, many factors still are combining to hold back widespread deployment.

"You need OSR 2 from Microsoft, with CardBus-enabled card and socket services, and the right rev of the system BIOS from the notebook provider," said Renee Bader, senior director of product marketing at Xircom Inc., an adapter maker in Thousand Oaks, Calif. "The chance of getting all the right revs on the first try is not high."

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