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Summary:

One of the ports included with all the new (and previous generation of) MacBook Pros is an ExpressCard slot. Having never had this type of expansion before, I’ve decided to have a look around and see what uses it can serve. This article will give a […]

One of the ports included with all the new (and previous generation of) MacBook Pros is an ExpressCard slot. Having never had this type of expansion before, I’ve decided to have a look around and see what uses it can serve. This article will give a brief overview of some of the most popular ExpressCard gadgets available.

Transcend Solid State Device

Without any doubt, this is the ExpressCard device which caught my eye first. It consists of a high capacity, solid state device which inserts into your laptop, giving you an easy way to add some SSD storage. Initially the price of these was prohibitively high, but SSD is becoming evermore appealing as the costs are pushed lower. It comes in three different varieties:

  • 32GB SSD $126.21
  • 16GB SSD $44.68
  • 8GB SSD $28.68

The major use heralded for the card is to enable Vista ReadyBoost — something obviously not appropriate for a MacBook Pro user. However, other tasks which benefit from high speed storage (a Photoshop scratch disk for instance) could see the benefit of the card. Whether it provides a huge advantage over a high capacity USB thumb drive is debatable though, and the ExpressCard price still carries a slight premium.

Macally 5-in-1 ExpressCard Media Reader

Something I was always used to on a Windows desktop was a media card reader. After having a MacBook for a few years, I’ve now become accustomed to just plugging a camera in via USB. That said, I would certainly find an ExpressCard memory card reader particularly useful.

A few readers have received fairly poor reviews, but the Macally offering seems better than most. It is able to convert ExpressCard to Memory Stick, Memory Stick PRO, Secure Digital card, MultiMedia card and xD-Picture Card. It does have some limits on capacity, however:

  • Memory Stick – up to 128MB
  • Memory Stick PRO – up to 2GB
  • Secure Digital – up to 2GB
  • Multi Media Card – up to 512MB
  • xD-Picture Card – up to 1GB

This limitation could render the product unsuitable for many professional photographers, or those wanting to use it as a way to plug in fast solid state storage. For basic use, however, it is perfect — and priced at around $20.

SIIG FireWire 800

Sure the MacBook Pro comes with a Firewire 800 port as standard, but more ports could always be welcome. This adaptor provides two FireWire 800 (one 9-pin & one 6-pin) ports for multiple device connections and works with DV camcorders, FireWire hard disks, digital cameras, scanners, CD-RW/DVD drives, video game systems, and other audio/video devices.

The main problem with this idea is that Firewire devices already support ‘daisy chaining’. This is likely to reduce the need for additional ports directly in your laptop, though it is still common to have Firewire devices without an in-built second port. The SIIG Firewire 800 card is priced at around $85 — a comparable price to most FW800 hubs.

Note: I’m aware the above picture is for a different version of the device — the ExpressCard/54

Sonnet FireWire + USB 2.0

The ExpressCard card from Sonnet provides a simple way to add a USB 2.0 port and two Firewire 400 ports to a MacBook Pro. This is particularly appropriate and topical with all the dispute surrounding Apple dropping in-built Firewire 400 ports. With this card, it’s easy to connect to any of your old Firewire devices and also provides an additional USB port.

The card is priced at a reasonable $50 — not bad for reclaiming Firewire 400 support.

Any others?

I haven’t touched on one of the other major uses for ExpressCard expansion, that of adding a wireless modem to your MacBook. These allow you to connect a laptop to a 3G or EDGE data network, and they’ll be covered thoroughly in a future article.

Are there any other gadgets you find useful to fill your ExpressCard slot? I’m intrigued to know if I missed anything useful.

  1. This may be a n00b question, but can you boot from the SSD in the express card slot? I could see booting OS X on it and using the HD purely for storage.

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  2. [img]http://www.griffintechnology.com/images/assets/headers/0000/2032/esataexpresscard_2.jpg?1196275534[/img]

    An Esata connection for 2 estata disks

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  3. Can you boot from the SSD in an express card slot?

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  4. FW800 is FW400 backwards compatible. Those who think that dropping the physical port means no FW400 devices can be connected to the new MBP without the addition of an ExpressCard obviously haven’t done their research. Cables run for about $5. Or, you know, you could waste $50 and have a fashionable cancer of a lump sticking out the side of your machine.

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  5. Sadly Transcend’s SSD ExpressCard seems to have very low perfomance : “Read up to 18MB/s, Write up to 8MB/s (8GB~32GB)”. Too bad.. It would have been a wonderful tool for high demanding MacBook Pro users !

    seen on http://www.transcendusa.com/Products/ModDetail.asp?ModNo=162&SpNo=3

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  6. Where are the 3G or Edge cards? Do they exist?

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    1. yeah of course, In Aus you can buy them through Telstra, there just a rebranded Sierra Wireless 881E

      http://www.sierrawireless.com/product/AC880E_AC881E.aspx

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  7. There is a ‘mini’ linux-based computer-on-a-expresscard product coming out soon from Yoggie that I have my eye on. It reroutes the network connections of your Mac through it and has anti-virus/spyware, firewall, etc. Pretty cool concept, really.

    I’d be interested in a review of it if you get an advance copy (and no, I don’t work for Yoggie…).

    http://www.yoggie.com/node/361

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  8. I’m using mine for an eSATA connection to a 4 disk eSATA port multiplying enclosure. Can’t go wrong with 90+MB/sec transfer speeds.

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  9. Alas, Express Card is not bootable. So SSD is useless imo.

    Otherwise one very usefull usage is the e-Sata. You cannot boot from the drive but it makes a very fast media drive for HD video or Professional Audio.
    For me this is the main interest for Express card, and costs around 50 dolls or less.

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