Laptop Expansion Options – CompTIA A+ 220-801: 3.1

Although a laptop doesn’t offer the same customization features as a full-sized desktop computer, there are still many options available for adding and updating your laptop’s capabilities. In this video, you’ll learn about standard laptop expansion slots and memory options that can increase the value of your portable device.

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Although our laptops are self-contained devices, there are still a number of things we can do if we want to expand the capabilities of those mobile devices. One of the earliest expansion card standards for portable devices was called PCMCIA, which stood for Personal Computer Memory Card International Association.

There were different types of PCMCIA cards– a Type I, a Type II, a Type III– and these designated the thickness of the cards. You can see some of the cards here are relatively thin. Some are a little bit larger and needed more room in the laptop to be able to fit that particular slot type. The PCMCIA standard was ultimately renamed PC Card. So if you see a device that supports a PC Card interface, that is the same as supporting a PCMCIA interface.

There is an update to the PC Card standard called CardBus. These CardBus slots allowed for much higher throughput and allowed you to have a CardBus interface in that slot, but it would also accept the older PC Card formats as well. It did not work the other direction. The older PC Card slots were not able to accept the new CardBus standard interfaces.

If you try to take a CardBus adapter and slide it into a PC Card slot, you’ll find that it goes in a certain amount and then it won’t go any farther. That’s because on the very end of the card there are these keyed areas that designate the type of interface that it happens to be. If we zoom up, we can really see the differences so that your laptop will only accept a card with a particular keying on the end and it will not accept any other.

Although you can still find some laptops that support that older standard of interface, one of the newer standards is called ExpressCard. This has effectively replaced those PC Card and CardBus options. Because it is an interface that provides much more speed and there’s some additional size options for these particular interface cards. And on a portable device, size is so important. You want to try to keep everything as small as possible.

So with ExpressCard, there are two form factors that are available. One that is 34 mm wide, and another one that’s a little bit wider at 54 mm wide. And you can see the 34 mm is a little bit thinner than what we are accustomed to seeing with these interface types. If you are taking this 34 mm card, it will also fit into the 54 mm card. So you can still use those, even if the slot is a little bit bigger on that ExpressCard interface.

As I mentioned, we had other speed options when we moved to ExpressCard interfaces. And these speed options correlated to the different modes available for the ExpressCard that was in the laptop. For instance, a USB Mode 2 allows for speeds up to 480 Mbit/s per second, a USB Mode 3 allows for 5 Gbit/s per second. And if it is a PCI Express mode, then it allowed for throughputs up to two and a half gigabytes per per second.

Here’s a good example of the sizes of the two cards. With the older PC Card and CardBus, we expect these larger 54 mm sizes. But our laptops are much smaller now, so we can certainly use these 34 mm slots as well.

Keep in mind, of course, that you can use a 34 mm card in a 54 mm slot. But obviously laws of physics apply– we can’t take a 54 mm card and use it on a laptop that only provides 34 mm slots. So make sure that when you’re ordering your ExpressCard interface that you know exactly the right size of interface on the laptop that you’re going to use it on.

Another common way to expand the functionality of our laptops is to add more memory. And there’s usually a slot on the bottom of many laptops that allows you to take off a small little cover and insert additional memory, or change the memory that happens to be on that laptop. This memory usually uses a standard called SO-DIMM. That stands for Small Outline Dual In-Line Memory Module and the size is about 68 mm by 32 mm. So it’s very, very small, which is perfect for a portable device like a laptop.

There are different versions of these SO-DIMM modules. Everything from a 72-pin, 100-pin, 144, 200 and 204-pin versions. These SO-DIMM standards have changed through the years, so you want to be sure to get the right SO-DIMM memory for the laptop you happen to be using. This is the memory type we often see in laptops, but of course it doesn’t have to be used on a laptop. A lot of the very, very small motherboards these days preferred using SO-DIMMs because they’re so much smaller than the standard DIMMs that would go into a desktop computer.

A lot of the resources on a laptop computer are generally constrained. A laptop will usually have smaller hard drive capacities than a desktop, or smaller amounts of memory capacities than you might find on a desktop. So one of the ways that you can expand some functionality of your laptop and your operating system is to use Flash memory. Obviously we can use this to store information outside of the hard drive or the storage that we might have on a laptop computer. This gives us the ability, not only to store it somewhere outside of the laptop, but also provide some mobility there as well.

Some operating systems will take advantage of a feature called ReadyBoost. Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 take advantage of this functionality that uses the USB connected flash memory like this one to be able to increase the speed of the operating system overall. That’s because it’s much faster to write to solid state memory than it is to write to a spinning hard disk. So if your laptop has one of these operating systems and it’s still using a spinning hard disk as storage, you might want to consider looking into using ReadyBoost to increase the throughput of the operating system.