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Summary:

Apple’s new/refreshed MacBook Pro 13″ and 15″ models each come equipped with an SD Media Card reader slot, but in the case of the 15-incher, this has required elimination of the ExpressCard/34 expansion slot that had been in every 15-inch MacBook Pro since the get-go, back […]

Apple’s new/refreshed MacBook Pro 13″ and 15″ models each come equipped with an SD Media Card reader slot, but in the case of the 15-incher, this has required elimination of the ExpressCard/34 expansion slot that had been in every 15-inch MacBook Pro since the get-go, back in 2006. This has led to a crescendo of protest from certain classes of MacBook Pro users who depend on the expansion interface, even though an ExpressCard/34 slot is still offered on the 17″ MacBook Pro.

Does this move represent wise decision-making, or is it a blunder on the scale of the misbegotten elimination (now thankfully rectified) of FireWire support from the first revision 13″ unibody MacBooks? I think the ExpressCard/SD Card tradeoff makes some pragmatic sense. It would be great to have both formats, but for most users, SD Card support will be more functionally useful. Apple CFO Phil Schiller was quoted on Monday saying that surveys had determined only 10 percent of MBP owners ever used the ExpressCard slot.

As much as I like the idea of having ExpressCard capability in my laptop, I’m doubtful that I would miss having it on any machine that has built-in FireWire. I did make a fair bit of use of the PC CardBus slots in my G3 PowerBooks back in the day, and still do use the one in my “road” Pismo for a Buffalo G54 802.11g adapter card I use in conjunction with OS X’s AirPort software to log onto Wi-Fi hotspots. However, built-in AirPort has been standard on even the cheapest Apple notebooks for about five years now. On the other hand, an SD Card slot would be very useful for transferring image files from my digital camera. (Alas, my 13″ unibody MacBook has no slots and no FireWire.)

However, there are a minority of users who depend on the ExpressCard slot — for example, 3G cards for Wi-Fi connectivity, Gigabit Ethernet cards to provide a second network connection, or cards to provide extra FireWire ports on their own dedicated bus operating at full speed instead of daisy chaining devices. There are also ExpressCard-based PCI expansion options used by audio and video pros, and they work with ExpressCard interfaces. ExpressCard-based eSATA interfaces are also available for data transfer faster than FireWire 800 can support, and some folks, of course, use ExpressCard-SD card adapters or a variety of other media card readers such as 7-in-1 readers or 12-in-1 readers that can read much more than just SD cards. With an SD Card slot, you can only read one type of card.

All that said, Apple’s director of portables, Todd Benjamin, told PCMag’s Mark Hachman in an interview this week that the ExpressCard 34 slot was dropped from the 15″ MacBook Pro because the “vast majority” of owners use USB connectivity, and that Apple opted for a SD Card slot because that format has become “ubiquitous.”

The obvious solution, if one absolutely requires ExpressCard support, is to get a 17″ MacBook Pro, which at least is now more reasonably priced at $2,499, and most professional notebook users should find that affordable. The 17-incher is a bit larger and heavier to lug around, but having the bigger display is no hardship, and as a 17″ PowerBook owner myself, I would say that the diminished portability aspect is often exaggerated. I’ve found mine a surprisingly tractable road warrior-ing machine.

So, which would you prefer: ExpressCard 34 or SD Media Reader?

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  1. Having seen on Macworld that you can install OS X on an SD card, I’ll go with that. World’s smallest boot drive- also solid state!

    As you said above, the only reason I could see the need of an ExpressCard slot is for external FireWire- but since we have FireWire built in, who needs it?

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    1. A blunder for Apple.
      I make extensive use of the express-34 card that’s on my MBP 15″. I normally upgrade macs every 6 months to a year, but not this time. All my external drives are SATA. Whoever talks about the express card-34 as being a ‘firefire’ has no clue. The express card lets you transfer about 5 times faster than the 800-FW. I have files that are 35 and 45GB, without express card, I’ll be living like a caveman waiting for the fire to start. According to Apple ‘only’ 10% of Mac users ever used their express card – Is that a reason to ‘spit’ on 10% of millions of customers? I am very disappointed with Apple. It has become too much of a mass market, with very small customer base. It boils down to sort of a monopoly. With my next PC, I will not choose Apple, and Linux will be my OS of choice. For a computer pro, Apple is not reliable and/or flexible enough. It is very bad to be at the mercy of one vendor (who has very little understanding of pro users). They can continue to produce toys for teenagers, but they can also drop the ‘pro’ from their machines.

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    2. Ooh! Well said! If they are going to mark a machine as a “Pro”, shouldnt there be a logical reason to have an express card to begin with, i mean its for the pro’s right? Which just strengthens the point, apple is aiming for a younger more, irresponsible market which in turn is turning the more dedicated followers into plain old fags for supporting them…. Lets have a round of applause for open computers please….

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    3. the 06 model mbpros had a load of defects that were, unwelcoming at best (overheating, videocard issues etc). hopefully these unibodys corrected those flaws but, at the price of customer loyalty?

      For a new pro line, throw away with the damn unibody and re-invest in the poly carbonate or go REAL pro with carbon fiber.

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    4. I strongly disagree. I am a Music Technician and use a UAD sound card that is critical for my production and my mixing. I cannot use another system as I have spent thousands of pounds on this card for plug ins etc but love the portability of the 13″. The jump between the Macbook and the Macbook Pro have shrunk which is positive for the normal end user, but for the prosumer and the specialists, this jump is very unwanted.

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    5. well, anyone who wants to use their rme hammerfall breakout audio box needs the expresscard. it was a total failure on apples part to exclude it for a stupid card reader which can be found everywhere i have one in each of my two dell ultrasharp 24″monitors, that i never use. the solution, a removable cardreader that fits into the expresscard port.

      as for josh c. running osx off of an SD card… sure maybe you can, but i fail to see the value in doing so. furthermore i would be surprised if you are actually doing this as compared to just talking sh*t.

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    6. Getting rid of the ExpressCard slot on the 15″ MBP was one of the most ignorant and stupid things Apple could have done.

      If you need a cardreader so badly, go buy an ExpressCard card reader for $10 – $15. Those card readers take SD, Memory Stick, XD, … not just SD. And you can leave it in your MBP all the time since it doesn’t stick out!

      For those who want a small SD card to use it as a SSD: Even a class 10 SD card is slow. And mind you: The card reader in the MBP is only on the USB bus. So it’ll be slow.

      A nice and really fast Sony SxS or a Verbatim ExpressCard SSD are not an option anymore.

      What about all those ExpressCard TV tuners? It’s really nice to have them, since they don’t or only barely stick out! Talk about breaking off an USB TV stick… Happens faster than you think! And it’ll probably wreck your logic board too!

      Same thing for HSPA data cards… Better than any stick.

      And then ExpressCard offers all the expandability with eSATA, extra firewire connections, and: In a few months probably USB 3.0. So you guys will be stuck with slow USB 2.0 on your new MBPs.

      What about ExpressCard video adapters? Hook up two screens to your MBP instead of just one!

      Oh ExpressCard is so nice! Apple, why did you take it away! You could have at least given us, the pro users a choice!

      And 17″ is not portable!

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    7. Re: Will’s comment on August 22nd, 2009 at 10:46 pm

      Will, I am shocked that no one called you out on your gay slur.

      It is inappropriate to use such terminology in the context you used it in. You should be ashamed of yourself.

      This isn’t a message board for political/religious discussion, however I cannot let that one pass. Irresponsible, insensitive, and just plain ignorant. Shame on you Will.

      Everyone else reading this: this is not meant to start on off topic discussion, so please dont add your two cents, lets leave it at this and move on.

      Thanks.

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    8. I don’t understand why Apple just didn’t include an express card that reads multiple SD cards with every purchase??…Kill 2 birds with 1 stone. Apple grows it’s customer base (kicking Window’s ass :) and we keep our ExpressCard/34. Simple!

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  2. Apple should have at least given us a configuration option to still keep the express card slot on the 15″ MacBook Pro! This is a giant step backwards for me as a professional who very much prefers the 15″ over the unwieldy 17″ MacBook Pro. As a media professional, I need the express card slot for some adapters I have, as well as an eSATA card for my eSATA ONLY drives. When I get ready to upgrade from my previous generation MacBook Pro very soon, I will be forced to buy the 17″ laptop, which in all other respects I DO NOT WANT! I want a 15″

    This is a bigger deal breaker than taking the matte option away from us on the 15″ and then only allowing us to have it back on the 17″. I do not need super color accuracy on my laptop, I need seeability in all conditions and the seeability of the glaring glossy display (while probably the preference of some) is horrible for me. When I need color accuracy in a monitor for color correcting or matching purposes, I use the calibrated monitor in my office in a controlled environment.

    The #1 liability of being a Mac user is this: Since our entire computing world revolves around ONE VENDOR and ONE VENDOR ONLY for our hardware, we are at the whims of Apple’s engineering decisions, even when those decisions hurt the user. It is times like this when one can understand the desire of PC users to stick with the PC.

    Please, please please give us options back Apple! I can see how SD card slot or glossy displays would be preferable to some, but for those of us that need the matte display and the express card slot PLEASE give us the option! I don’t understand why we can’t have options!

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    1. Buy a refurbished unibody 15″ Macbook Pro right now for HUNDREDS of dollars off. It is a great deal and has the express 34 slot, removable battery, faster SATA bus, larger L2 cache etc. I just ordered the 15″ 2.53 4GB 320 GB 512 VIDEO for $1449. DO IT NOW, THEY WILL BE GONE SOON!

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    2. mac engineer Tuesday, June 16, 2009

      there’s a decent trade off to the SD card or the express-card i bought a MBP 15.4 in with express card slot and don’t regret it the SD wouldnt be nice but i have o have my express card slot for double the firewire and my server admin connections but what sucks is i bought mine a week before the new ones came out and paid 400$ more than the new ones cost!!!

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    3. I agree with TJ Draper. It’s a PORTABLE computer, and the 15″ and 13″ are much more portable. I fly around a lot using the macbook pro to upload huge video files to separate hard drives, and even then, I have to use a PCMCIA adapter for the Panasonic P2 cards going into the express card slot. Apple, please give us options.

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  3. Don’t know that I’ve ever actually seen an ExpressCard device.

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  4. I don’t see any problems with losing the ExpressCard. But, I also have no need for it so I’m sort of bias maybe. I would have a lot more use for the SD slot because of my camcorder and camera. It saves me from having to have a USB SD card reader.

    And the fact that Macworld said it can run OS X is a huge PLUS.

    Now, to just buy a new MBP.

    BTW, this is coming from someone who has a MBP already. It’s a 15” 2.16 GHz, about 2 years old. =(

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  5. Since the MacBook Pro is a Professional level computer, Compact Flash please!!!

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    1. I agree with Jake. Just about all Professional photographers use Compact Flash cards, and many buy the 15″ (with dedicated graphics card) for its more compact size (vs 17″), NOT SD cards! So “Blunder”. Give me back my Expresscard slot.

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      1. Well, I got the 17 inch i7 for that reason. Especially with a performance computer, you need faster busses etc.

        And guess what? The hard drive heads cxrashed horrible whizzing click of death. Yesterday.

        OK so screw platters, we’ll go for an SSD now methinks.

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  6. I’m glad I got in the MBP 15″ a month ago before the ExpressCard went away (and while I can still swap out a second and third battery!–S. Asia has power only part of the time, after all). I intend to use it for 3G connectivity while traveling internationally, and very likely for eSATA with a new LaCie External HDD. If they were going for usability, they should have replaced the EC with a universal 12-in-one card reader. Sole SD card functionality excludes the Nikon-user community. That said, presently I use my SD card reader more than any other possible EC devices, at least stateside. Would like it in addition, though. But no drama, really. I’ve had to explain to friends and clients how they might use the EC slot, so I think Apple did the market research correctly. The 15″ MBP should have been able to accommodate both, IMO, though.

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  7. Its a fine trade off imo. If you need to use a wireless card, just get a usb adapter for it.. they’re like $20 on Amazon.

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    1. USB wireless adapters tax the system much more, also some of us work in IT and need a little flexibility. I often end up connecting eSATA, a serial port and an extra ethernet port quite often.

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  8. I would prefer the express card slot because when I need a 3g card I have it and if one wanted an SD card reader one could put one in the express card slot and it would be flush with the system as if it was built in.

    IF YOU FEEL THE SAME WAY I DO TELL APPLE HERE: http://www.apple.com/feedback/macbookpro.html

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  9. I would’ve preferred a multi-format card reader (SD/CF/MS/xD), like the one in current generation Thinkpads but I guess we can’t have everything.

    My pet peeves are the lack of a faster GPU and the glossy screen that’s being forced down our throats. The 9400M was a good option in 2008 but just doesn’t cut the mustard going into the DX11 era of 2010. I think something like a 9600M on the 13″ MBP spec sheet would’ve been a nice option. And for the love of God, give us the option of a matte display Apple! Not every Macbook owner uses the screen to look at their face or apply lip gloss and stuff.

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  10. I’ve never found occasion to use an ExpressCard slot, but I can understand users’ frustrations with its loss in the new models. However, the author of the linked blog post is going overboard in his complaint that “Apple… made a very foolish decision which affects all 15″ MacBook Pro owners in a NEGATIVE MANNER.” Actually, it doesn’t affect 15″ MacBook Pro owners AT ALL; their computers still have the EC slot. When replacing their computers, yes, then it becomes an issue, one which comments here and on the linked post have already suggested a few solutions for.

    Ultimately, he says that users who want an SD card slot can get around it (by plugging their cameras into the computer via USB), but doesn’t want to have to do it himself at all. The reality, however, is that there are likely far more SD card users than EC users, and it makes sense to force a minority of users to adjust their usage than it does to force the majority to do so.

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    1. You could have kept the EC slot and thrown a multi-reader in there.

      It does effect 15″ macbook pro owners becuase if they like the product they have an want to upgrade said product, they can not and must find a new product.

      I am an IT consultant and loved using my mac. Sadly I am forced to find a PC laptop as my upgrade since 17″ is just too much to haul around all day and its pretty bulky imho. The PC will let me add extra network interfaces, eSATA, a serial port for maintance on routers and the like.

      I guess this just shows that apple is not concerned enough to even give an option and are forcing certain professionals to go back to a pc

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