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What is a PCMCIA Network Card?

By Joseph S. Thomas
Updated May 17, 2024
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A PCMCIA network card, or PC Card, enables laptop computers to connect to the Internet and Local Area Networks (LAN) via a CAT-5 Ethernet cable or wireless radio. A PCMCIA network card encompasses a multitude of network technologies, including modem, facsimile, Ethernet, and wireless adapters. Using a PCMCIA network card, computers can communicate with other devices connected to the network and access the World Wide Web. Network cards facilitate a variety of functions, including file transfers, web browsing, and resource sharing between systems.

PCMCIA network card devices are typically about the size of a credit card and utilize a 68-pin dual row connector interface; the thickness can vary, based on the type of PCMCIA network card. The network cards operate on 5-volt and 3.3-volt sockets and run on a 33 megahertz frequency.

Owners of outdated laptops that do not contain Ethernet or 802.11b/g/n technology can make good use of a PCMCIA network card. The network card is easily installable by the average consumer, so PCMCIA cards serve as a quick upgrade mechanism without having to buy a new computer. Most laptops sold after 2004 contain both Ethernet and Wi-Fi support.

There are two formats of PCMCIA network cards, which include a physical Ethernet connection and a wireless 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi connection. Ethernet network cards contain the Ethernet port, whereas wireless network cards contain several antennae at the end of the card. Each PCMCIA network card contains essential data necessary for proper operation, including the purpose of the card, supported power settings and protocols. It also contains such details as the manufacturer, model number, and other information necessary to interact with the operating system.

There are three generations of PCMCIA network cards, each of which mark an important change to the standard or design. The thickness of each design varies and offers different features. For example, the bulkier design of the Type III card can accommodate larger connectors, such as wireless antennae and hard disk drives, without the need for a dongle.

The Type I PCMCIA network card specification utilizes a 16-bit architecture and is 0.13 inches (about 3.3 mm) thick. Type II PCMCIA network cards are the most popular, featuring I/O support, 16-bit and 32-bit infrastructures, and measure 0.20 inches (about 5 mm) thick. Type III PCMCIA network cards utilize identical technical specifications, but are 0.41 inches (about 10.5 mm) thick.

PCMCIA is an acronym for the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association, which embodies a large group of companies that developed the memory card standard. Because industry members and consumers could not remember the acronym, PCMCIA acquired the term “PC Card” from IBM, which is presently used in lieu of saying each letter, “PCMCIA.”

In March 2009, the association responsible for overseeing PCMCIA network cards officially dissolved, relinquishing management of the standard to the USB Implementer’s Forum. Shortly thereafter PCMCIA cards were no longer in production, as they were replaced by the ExpressCard standard.

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