U132: USB to PCMCIA adapter hands on review

19 Comments

U132_4One of the largest and glaring gaps of the first generation UMPC devices is a lack of 3G data connectivity options. To date, none of the Origami-spec UMPCs available have any integrated wireless WAN options; the only exception is the Sony UX series (with its EDGE integration option), which isn’t an Origami device, but can certainly be classified as an Ultra-Mobile computing device.

Folks who use a UMPC out and about then, have to hope for WiFi hotspots or unlikely LAN ports on open networks. Most 3G cellular options today work through 32-bit PCMCIA cards, yet none of today’s UMPCs have a PC card slot that supports these cards. Some mobile computing users like me get around this by using a 3G enabled cellular phone that can be tethered to a UMPC via USB or even a slower Bluetooth connection. Are we limited to just these options? Perhaps not…John Hill over at Allegiance Technology Partners was kind enough to loan me the U132: a 32-bit USB to PCMCIA adapter made by Elan Digital Systems for a spin…

Right out of the box, I was slightly surprised by the size of the U132. Obviously it has to be larger than the PC card that it supports, but it reminded me of a portable floppy drive. The device has a slot for the PC card, an eject button to remove the card, a large USB port interface on the back and an input for power by an AC adapter. The U132 will run directly on USB power, so there’s not likely a need for the AC adapter, however, if your PC card is a high current card, the adapter may be needed according to Elan.

To illustrate the size, here are some comparison pics with the PC card, an iPod nano and my XV6700 Windows Mobile 5.0 phone. I included the XV6700 phone because that’s my primary 3G connectivity option with my Samsung Q1 UMPC.

U132_1_2 U132_2_1 U132_3_1

Size aside, how does the U132 work? After installing the drivers from Elan as well as the Verizon software, connectivity was simple to initiate. If you’ve ever used the Verizon Broadband Access service, the user experience is no different than if you had a 3G PC card in a slot on your notebook computer. The only difference here is that you have the PC card tethered to your device via the USB adapter.

I ran two speed tests from my home: one was via the PC card and the U132, while the other was my traditional method of using my XV6700’s EV-DO capability over a USB cable. There was no way for me to replicate the scenarios exactly, mainly because each method uses a different USB cable. My thought is that one could have more shielding than the other. Still, speeds were generally comparable as shown below.

Here is a speed test via Speakeasy.net using the U132, USB cable and a Verizon EV-DO card:

Speed_pcmcia

Here is a speed test via Speakeasy.net using my XV6700 over a USB cable:

Speed_phone

For whatever reason (again, it could be the cable, if not the radios themselves) the XV6700 produced a better speed test. In my experience however, EV-DO signals and speed can vary minute by minute, so it would be unfair to judge the U132 and PC card combo as a slower EV-DO solution. If you can get over the slightly large size of the adapter, this package from Elan can definitely provide a great and speedy option if you have a 3G data card and plan to go with it.

A few vendors have been selling the U132, although I’ve seen backorders for some time. Prices are around $190, which doesn’t include the 3G card and data plan through your cellular carrier. I have to thank John at Allegiance Technology Partners as he not only provided the U132 review unit, but even loaned me his own EV-DO card for the review. Thanks John!

For more information on the U132 as well as a list of supported 3G cards, take a look at the product page on Elan’s site.

-kct

19 Comments

Tony

Hi
Excellent web site which I will use for learning.I want to pu my weak WiFi signal. Should I use a USB or PCMCIA input. what are the advantages/dis advantages of each.
Thanks
Tony

Sean

I’m looking for a friend who bought her new laptop with out a pcmcia slot, now ive found the adapters you guy talked about on this forum, my real question is what are my options other than getting the PCMCIA to CF Card Adaptor and an alltel air card? ive already checked into the usb to pcmcia but they get a little pricey, any suggestions?

rick

i have a kyocera 650 air card from alltel and a new HP with the express card slot. what is the solution to make it work

Ronel

In answer to Kevin’s question, the U132 adapter IS designed for 32-bit cards. The manufacturer, Elan Digital Systems, also makes a 16-bit adapter, as do a number of other companies (and you can generally tell from the price whether it’s a 16- or 32-bit adapter.

As for the CF to PCMCIA solution, I ran a translation from French on http://www.freetranslation.com and it specifically states that this solution will NOT work with 32-bit cards.

I want to be able to use my Verizon wireless card on my desktop, too, but I think I’ll wait for some months for the price to drop drastically from its current average of $200.

Don't Panic!

Thanks for that confirmation Fred. I’ve been carrying around a Semsons PCMCIA Adapter for the last couple of days without finding the time to plug it in to test my 5GB PCMCIA Memory cards. Good to here that they will work without problems. Now I just have to rerip some of my movies to higher resolutions. LEt’s see now 5GB should hold about 7 full length movies at 700MB per flick.

Excellent speed tests Kevin. I’m going to see that site to check what my Samsung i730 is really giving me.

Don't Panic!

Thanks for that confirmation Fred. I’ve been carrying around a Semsons PCMCIA Adapter for the last couple of days without finding the time to plug it in to test my 5GB PCMCIA Memory cards. Good to here that they will work without problems. Now I just have to rerip some of my movies to higher resolutions. LEt’s see now 5GB should hold about 7 full length movies at 700MB per flick.

Excellent speed tests Kevin. I’m going to see that site to check what my Samsung i730 is really giving me.

Don't Panic!

Thanks for that confirmation Fred. I’ve been carrying around a Semsons PCMCIA Adapter for the last couple of days without finding the time to plug it in to test my 5GB PCMCIA Memory cards. Good to here that they will work without problems. Now I just have to rerip some of my movies to higher resolutions. LEt’s see now 5GB should hold about 7 full length movies at 700MB per flick.

Excellent speed tests Kevin. I’m going to see that site to check what my Samsung i730 is really giving me.

Don't Panic!

Thanks for that confirmation Fred. I’ve been carrying around a Semsons PCMCIA Adapter for the last couple of days without finding the time to plug it in to test my 5GB PCMCIA Memory cards. Good to here that they will work without problems. Now I just have to rerip some of my movies to higher resolutions. LEt’s see now 5GB should hold about 7 full length movies at 700MB per flick.

Excellent speed tests Kevin. I’m going to see that site to check what my Samsung i730 is really giving me.

Don't Panic!

Thanks for that confirmation Fred. I’ve been carrying around a Semsons PCMCIA Adapter for the last couple of days without finding the time to plug it in to test my 5GB PCMCIA Memory cards. Good to here that they will work without problems. Now I just have to rerip some of my movies to higher resolutions. LEt’s see now 5GB should hold about 7 full length movies at 700MB per flick.

Excellent speed tests Kevin. I’m going to see that site to check what my Samsung i730 is really giving me.

Fred

Yes indeed, since it’s just a very simple adapter with no electronic, I believe that 32 Bits cards can’t work! I’ll update my post about that… It’s important!

jk

Fred, that is the Semson adapter and it does NOT support 32 bit cards which rules out all 3G PC Card modems.

Kevin C. Tofel

Fred, that’s great, but I have one question: does that adapter support 32-bit PCMCIA cards? Most adapters do not and they are the prevelant card type these days; there are very few 16-bit 3G cards on the market.

medah4rick

if this product came out last year i would consider it but i’ll stick to my evdo tethering since i already carry my xv6700 everywhere i go. and besides if you have an evdo phone already why would you carry around a third device?? makes no sense.

but if you don’t have a 3g phone and don’t plan on getting one i think this would be a great product.

of course if they would just build a umpc with this adapter built in already i would not be writing this post in the first place.

Ctitanic

Warning: this USB to PCMCIA adaptor can be only used with some wireless modems. That all. It can not be used with any other kind of PCMCIA cards like video cards, multimedia cards, memory or HDD cards, etc.

Matt Smith

Seems like just another thing to throw in the gadget bag. And expensive at that. Makes more sense to just run EVDO via a bluetooth enabled phone.

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