PC Card and dual-function NICs emerge from 10/100 product mix

PC Card and dual-function NICs emerge from 10/100 product mix

By J.B. Miles

Two fascinating new trends have evolved since GCN/Shopper last looked at 10/100 network interface cards less than a year ago.'' Leading NIC manufacturers are rapidly introducing PC Card NICs into their families of 10/100 products. And a relatively new category of dual-speed, dual-function products that add 56-Kbps modem functionality to the mix is beginning to emerge.

PC Card 10/100 NICs such as Bay Networks Inc.'s NetGear FA410TX, D-Link Systems Inc.'s DFE-650TX, Danpex Corp.'s FE-6430TX, IBM Corp.'s 10/100 EtherJet CardBus Adapter, Kingston Technology Co.'s FastEtherRX CardBus PC Card and others are all designed for mobile computing.

Often featuring hot-swap technology, the cards enable users to plug into a Fast Ethernet network just by popping a PC Card into their notebook computers and plugging into the network via an RJ-45 connector.

But be aware that two standards for PC Card technology now exist. Older cards using the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association standards use a 16-bit interface that operates at 8-MHz ISA bus speeds using asynchronous protocols. Newer CardBus technology provides a 32-bit multiplexed data path that operates at PCI bus speeds of 33 to provide a peak bandwidth of 123 Mbps.

For legacy 16-bit notebook computers, use 16-bit 10/100 PC Cards to connect with a Fast Ethernet network. But if you have Pentium II notebooks with PCI buses, pay a little more for 10/100 CardBus cards. They operate six times faster than 16-bit cards and five times faster than standard 100-Mbps PC cards. CardBus PC cards also operate at only 3.3 volts.

Still confused? Check your notebook to see if it is a Pentium II unit with a PCI bus and then check with your NIC vendor to see if the card is a true 32-bit CardBus PC Card. Intel Corp. offers both the 32-bit CardBus II and the 16-bit PC Card.

On the road again

The best part for serious road warriors may be that for little more than the cost of a PC Card 10/100 NIC, you can buy a unit bundled with a 56-Kbps modem.

D-Link's PCMCIA DMF-560TX/TXD units each come with a built-in V.90 modem and an RJ-11 telephone jack for $199. Linksys' EtherFast 10/100+ 56K Modem PC Card is another well-priced unit at $188. IBM's 10/100 EtherJet CardBus Adapter with a 56-Kbps modem is priced at $400.

Intel sells both 32-bit CardBus and 16-bit PC Card NICs with 56-Kbps modems for $389 and $349, respectively. At $289, Xircom Inc.'s CardBus Ethernet 10/100+ Modem 56 might represent the best buy in dual-speed, dual-function 10/100 NICs.

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