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PCMCIA and the PC Card Standard

PCMCIA and the PC Card Standard

The basis of the PC Card standard is the 68-pin and socket type of IC card. JEIDA (Japanese Electronic Industry Development Association) initiated the definition of this card in 1985. Manufacturers were quick to recognize its benefits but in the absence of a compelling standard, many proprietary and incompatible IC cards began to appear on the market. Manufacturers recognized this growing impediment to market acceptance, and began to forge a single specification, through the PCMCIA.

The Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA) is a non-profit trade association and standards body founded in 1989 and comprised of over 450 member companies that defines the industry standard for PC Card technology.

The name is a bit of a misnomer since the technology incorporates more than memory cards. The Association was founded in 1989 by a group of companies that were interested in standardizing the form factor and connection interface of memory cards; hence the words "memory card" in the name. The first PCMCIA PC Card Standard (1.0) was released in 1990 and defined the physical and electrical characteristics of a credit card sized device that could be used as memory or as a disk in a computer. At the same time, the member companies of PCMCIA realized that they could build cards with input-output capabilities (I/O cards with fax/modem, networking, SCSI adapters, global positioning systems and other capabilities). However, the electrical definitions for the 68 pins used in the interface had to change and there was much work to do in defining the software and operating system interfaces on the host system (the host is the computer that the card gets plugged into). This work was completed in 1991 with the release of the PC Card Standard Revision 2.0. Major enhancements to the 2.0 Standard were added in 1992 and 1993.

The Future of PCMCIA

PCMCIA is not expecting to add additional form factors, such as a Type IV card, or to allow major changes in card sizes or dimensions. Instead, future standards will enhance and extend the framework established in Release 2.0 with such added capabilities as 3.3 volt and 32 bit operation. Release 2.01 currently allows a system to drop down from 5 to a 3.3 volts if the system deems that acceptable. A 3.3 volt only solution is currently being finalized and is expected to be released in 1994. This would result in lower power consumption and longer battery life for Palmtop users. PCMCIA is also in the process of developing a specification to extend the functionality of the PCMCIA standard to 32 bit operation. This would insure PCMCIA compatibility when 32 bit CPUs are used in future Palmtops. In addition, there are a number of SIGs (special interest groups) forming that devote their energies to insuring the PC Cards designed for their implementations will work reliably.

QuickSwap Special Interest Group (SIG)

QuickSwap SIG is an industry-wide special interest group formed to promote the visibility and viability of the PCMCIA standards for the x86 architecture (8086, 286, 386, 486, etc.). QuickSwap will develop and maintain a test specification and associated suite of tests designed to improve compatibility of PCMCIA cards on x86 based systems.

[This sidebar is based on information received from PCMCIA, QuickSwap, and Stephen H. Harper, Executive Vice President of Ventura Micro, Inc., a company specializing in developing system and application software solutions for PCMCIA technology. Mr. Harper serves on the PCMCIA Board of Directors.

PCMCIA CONTACT INFO: PCMCIA Headquarters, 1030G East Duane Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94086, USA; Phone: 408-720-0107; Fax: 408720-9417; BBS1 (2400 baud): 408-720-9388; BBS2 (9600 baud): 408720-9386.

QUICKSWAP SIG CONTACT INFO: QuickSwap SIG, c/o Intel Corporation, 5200 NE Elam Young Parkway, HF3-12, Hillsboro, OR 97124-6497, USA; Phone: 503-696-7294; Fax: 503-696-1529.]

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