My new (well, a few months old now) laptop has an Expresscard slot. And for the life of me, I can't possibly think what it's for.

What it basically is is an external socket akin to the PCMCIA or "PC Card" socket of old, except it's a PCI Express bus that it runs on. The idea is that you can plug in additional devices that normally you'd have to pull the back off the computer to bung in or, if you have a laptop, perform major warranty-invalidating surgery on it. It comes in 34mm and 54mm sizes, usually the 54mm on desktops and 34mm on laptops.

The problem is, though, that because it's a small little slot in the side of your machine, there's a limit on what can be done with it.

Now when, like me, you saw the words, "external PCI Express," you probably immediately thought, a-ha! I can slap a tasty graphics card in there and play expensive and shiny new games that the onboard low-power graphics card in my laptop would keel over and die with. And, guess what, you're right. Unfortunately, there are a few complications. Firstly, graphics cards are very hot - nowadays they're specialist computers in and of themselves, almost - and as such have to have large heatsinks and fans bolted to them so they don't melt. They also use large amounts of power, often requiring an additional wire from the power supply aside from the power they'd get from the motherboard. The Expresscard slot is thin and narrow and has not the space to do this nor the wiring to support the 1.21 jigawatts of power your Nvidia GeForce CuntSmasher 97000 GTi Turbo Iridium II slurps down. As such, to bung in an expensive graphics card, you must rely on instead plugging in an expansion box via the Expresscard slot, plugging that separate box into the wall, and going from there. And without the aforementioned major surgery, you then cannot reroute the graphics card's output into the lid of your laptop; you instead must plug in an external screen. Which is mighty uncomfy - I have two-screened on a laptop and found it exceptionally annoying and wearing on one's neck.

And let's be honest, in doing all this (which is quite pricey even if you get a cheapo graphics card) you've just killed off any portability your laptop had in the first place. What you've got if you do all this is effectively a very cumbersome docking station.

So that's out. What else can you use an Expresscard slot for?

Well, you can plug in an adapter for two extra USB ports... which will go unused because most laptops now have at least three. Bung in a mouse, a secondary hard disk, and leave one free for USB pen drives and what to do with the other two? Good question.

Or you can plug in a separate sound card. Which is a bit of a white elephant to be fair. This is not the 1990s and most on-board sound chipsets now are capable of rendering all your stuff in 44kHz lossless 320kB/s glory. I suppose if you're an audiophile you might be interested but I ain't one of them.

Now I remember my very first laptop at this point. It was a silvery, hefty, expensive, Pentium 4-powered Fujitsu Siemens number. I used a PCMCIA socket wireless card to log onto the internets with, which I had to plug in myself. Yes, you can get an Expresscard wireless card, but once again, most laptops nowadays have these already fitted as standard. Next. The same applies to LAN adapters as well.

You can get a Firewire adapter on Expresscard also, but I have no items that work with Firewire.

There is, however, one rather useful thing that Expresscard slots can take, and that's a solid state drive. These little bastards are like hard disks but use NAND-based flash memory as non-volatile storage. They are way faster than any mechanical hard disk can be at present and also don't die from shocks, because they're not likely to suffer head crashes or similar. However, they're seriously, seriously, expensive - 48GB on a solid state drive costs the same as what 1.5TB would set you back on a hard disk, or thereabouts. However, if you put one of these in your laptop's Expresscard slot, and put Windows, Office, Firefox, and any other programs you use every day on to it, reserving your hard disk for data and less used programs, your system will allegedly be extremely fast. The drawbacks of this, though, are firstly, price, and secondly, moving Windows from your hard disk to a solid-state drive without doing a reinstall and losing all your stuff is quite cumbersome a task from what I've read. I have not tried this myself, firstly because I cannot afford a solid state drive and I'd also want to invest in a large enough external hard disk in any event to back up my entire C: drive in case in trying this little manoeuvre I cocked up and ruined my system.

And that's about it really. If anyone else has any satisfying and delicious suggestions with what I can do with this enigmatic little slot, please /msg me and explain what, how, and how much it'd cost.

(IRON NODER 2011 5/30)

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