There are many ways to expand the capabilities of most laptop computers. In this video, you’ll learn about ExpressCard adapters, SO-DIMM memory modules, USB flash drives, Thunderbolt connectors, and much more.
On traditional desktop computers, you have full size cases and large motherboards, and plenty of room to add additional functionality. But with laptops , you have a limited amount of space available. So in this video, we will give you some options for expanding the functionality of your laptop computers. On your desktop computer, you can take the cover off, you can add additional expansion cards, and completely change the way that computer operates. With a laptop, it’s a similar scenario, except you aren’t taking the case apart. You’re instead simply sliding in one of these ExpressCards. These are expansion cards, and they go on the outside of your computer, into a single slot. So they’re very easy to add and remove, any time you want to change the capabilities of your laptop.
These ExpressCards come in two main form factors. One is a 34 mm, and one is a 54 mm. The 54 mm, being a little bit larger, can also support the 34 mm cards, as well. You might see these often listed as ExpressCard/34 and ExpressCard/54. Your ExpressCard slot connects to a number of different buses on your laptop motherboard, and the device you’re connecting into that express slot will determine what particular bus it’s connecting to. The three different speed options that you’ll find is a 480 megabit per second. And if you recall, that is exactly what you would get from USB 2.0, and we call that USB 2 mode on the ExpressCard.
You might be connecting to a USB 3 bus that would give you 5 gigabits per second of throughput, or you might be connecting to the PCI Express bus that is on that laptop, giving you a maximum speed of 2.5 gigabits per second. Here’s the physical differences between an ExpressCard/54 and an ExpressCard/34. You can see the ExpressCard/54 is a little bit larger, so you have more room to add more electronics in that particular ExpressCard. But notice the interface on the inside of the laptop is still that 34 mm interface. So you can see now how you can use a 34 mm adapter card in a 54 mm slot.
Here’s the side of a laptop computer that has a number of different interfaces on it. There’s a power connector. There’s an ethernet RJ45 connector. Here’s a FireWire, Mini DisplayPort, and a few USB connectors. And you can see, there is an ExpressCard/34 slot. It’s a narrow slot. It takes up very little room in the laptop, but still provides you all of the functionality of an ExpressCard expansion slot. One of the easy ways to expand the capabilities of your laptop is to add more memory. There’s usually a cover over a memory slot on the bottom of your laptop, so you can simply add and remove the memory modules without having to disassemble the entire laptop case.
These memory modules are also a little bit smaller than what you might find in a desktop computer. Instead of being a full size DIMM, you instead have a SO-DIMM. That stands for Small Outline Dual In-line Memory Module, and the size is somewhere around 68 mm x 32 mm in height. This is usually supporting DDR, DDR 2 or DDR 3 memory, and you’ll see a different number of pins, depending on the type of memory that you’re putting in that laptop. These are very commonly seen in laptop and other mobile devices, because of their smaller form factor. It’s very nice to have something that doesn’t take up a lot of room, especially on a mobile device.
If you need more storage space on your laptop, you may find it difficult to replace the internal storage device that’s on your laptop computer. So instead, you might want to use an external storage device, such as a USB flash drive. This is flash memory, specifically, EEPROM, or electrically erasable programmable read-only memory. This is non-volatile memory, which means we can connect it to our laptop, save some files onto that USB drive, and when we disconnect it from the laptop, it still retains that information on the flash drive. We don’t need any additional power to be able to maintain the information that’s being stored in that flash memory.
Because of the technology used for these flash drives, we’re only able to write to the drive a certain amount of times. After that point, we will no longer be able to write to the drive; we would still be able to read the information from the drive. Because we’re not able to update these drives after that point, it may not be the best choice to use for archiving data. These are also very easy to lose, because they’re so small, so you should always have a backup, especially if you’re storing something only on the USB flash drive.
One popular expansion interface these days is a Thunderbolt interface. Whenever you see a Thunderbolt interface on a laptop computer, it also includes a Mini DisplayPort interface, as well. They are, effectively, exactly the same interface. Thunderbolt simply includes a Mini DisplayPort video output, along with a Thunderbolt specification. It’s exactly the same connector. You can see the connector here, and this is where the connector would fit onto the laptop itself. You can see it’s very small, so it’s perfectly designed for these mobile devices. The Thunderbolt interface not only provides the Mini DisplayPort video, but also provides high speed data. So if you’re connecting an external drive, or some other device that needs high bandwidth, the Thunderbolt interface is a good choice.
In that previous picture of a laptop that we saw, you notice it had an RJ45 connector built into the laptop itself. These days, the laptops are getting much smaller and much thinner, and so there’s no more real estate to be able to put a full size RJ45 connector on the laptop. In those cases, you still may want to connect to a wired ethernet connection, but you’re going to have to bridge that connection with some type of interface like this. This is a USB to ethernet adapter that’s going to plug into a USB connector on your laptop, and it’s going to convert that USB into an ethernet connection. That way, you can still plug into your wired ethernet connections, even though you don’t have a physical RJ45 ethernet connector on your laptop.
Not all laptops provide connectivity options for 802.11 wireless networks. If your laptop doesn’t have the hardware built in to connect to these wireless networks, you may want to get an external wireless interface, like this one. These plug directly into a USB interface, and allows you to connect to these 802.11 wireless networks. These usually require some type of driver installation. So if you are plugging in one of these, make sure you have the drivers available somewhere on your system. But it’s also very easy to upgrade. You don’t have to take apart your computer to upgrade the wireless interface for your laptop.
One wireless technology that not all laptops have is for Bluetooth. This personal area network is often used for external keyboards, a mouse, maybe a headset, and they’re very small. They connect to your USB connection, and a very tiny little piece of the Bluetooth antenna sticks out of the back. This is something that’s not usually built into an operating system, so you want to make sure you have the drivers available when you install these Bluetooth adapters. This also makes it very easy for changing out, removing, and upgrading any of the Bluetooth capabilities.
One technology that’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find on our smaller and smaller laptop devices are these optical drives. Instead of having a DVD or CD-ROM, they simply remove them completely from the laptop, so that you now have to install your software in some other way. But if you do have a need for a DVD or a CD-ROM, you can use one of these external drives that uses a USB connection to plug directly into your laptop. These generally don’t need any additional drivers. You simply plug it in, it recognizes the drives there, and then you can use it, just as if it was a normal internal drive to your laptop.