MacBook Pro owners have been on the bleeding edge of portable technology, but I’m not talking about the new Intel processor. Apple replaced the aging PC Card interface with an ExpressCard slot, which has so far remained empty because there are no shipping ExpressCard devices for it. But at last there’s a glimmer of hardware on the horizon.
I’ve been saying for months that ExpressCard adapters offering high-performance specialized peripheral and networking connections would start appearing as more laptops (from Apple and others) sold with ExpressCard slots. The ExpressCard slot connects directly to the PCI Express bus in the new Intel Core motherboard architecture, and allows data transfer of 2 gigabits per second in each direction (Gbps), or more than double the latest CardBus speeds.
At the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) 2006 conference, FirmTek announced that they would offer a Serial ATA (SATA) ExpressCard with up to 3 Gbps per port of throughput (measured bidirectionally). This is the kind of performance that high-end video editing requires, and the availability of this card is just another piece in putting together a portable high-performance editing suite. Slated to ship in the third quarter of this year, the card will cost just $120.
Later in the year, we’ll see ExpressCards that handle FireWire 800 and faster, additional switched Gigabit Ethernet ports, and, I would guess, FibreChannel or something like it.
When Apple introduces a Power Mac replacement using Intel Core chips, I expect we’ll see at least one ExpressCard/34 (or possibly the higher-wattage ExpressCard/54 format) in that new model. ExpressCard first showed up as a server feature, providing hot-swappable card insertion,which helps users avoid having to power down an active server to use the internal PCI Express bus.