Zoomed Video, Cardbus, USB: Hype or Hope?

Dateline: 06/02/97

It's not enough to know that your laptop supports PCMCIA Type I, II or III, but also if it supports the new PC-Card standards of Zoomed Video and CardBus. In addition to these PC-Card expansion standards, a new port is also on the horizon... along with your standard video, PS/2, serial and parallel ports, a future "standard" awaits: the Universal Serial Port, otherwise known as USB. I will discuss these 3 features and how they work and if you really need them.

Zoomed Video

Zoomed Video is sometimes mistaken as video-out or video-capture. The latter is closer to the real function than the former. Basically, Zoomed Video allows external sources to interact directly with the notebook's video system. What advantage does this provide? Well, by bypassing the system CPU and bus, video is streamed directly to the graphics card and display driver, resulting in faster video without taxing the CPU of the notebook. This way, MPEG movies can run faster and better due to the fact that the CPU is not required to process any of the information. As you can see, this is more like a video-in function rather than video-out, although the schematics of the Zoomed Video standard seem to imply that this process can be used in reverse. This function is great for video editing/capturing and any type of video-intensive applications like live video-feeds or TV-tuner cards. Do you need this? It never hurts and is becoming standard on many systems... AND if your system does not have a separate video-capture port, you can use this to do it.

For more info on Zoomed Video, go to the PC-Card site.


CardBus is basically a PC-Card interface to the PCI system bus. It allows up to 132MB transfer at 33mhz. This function allows the connection of PCI devices to a notebook system. It has 32-bit performance and brings high-end desktop devices to a notebook computer in the PC-Card form factor. Like what? Well, high speed LAN connections, video capture and SCSI to name a few. Also, like PCI, it provides bus mastering support to increase system performance. Do you need it? If you want to be able to add 32-bit devices without having to use a port replicator or would like high-performance out of you PC cards, yes... if this doesn't matter or you don't care, then you won't care. But... it is always good to have something that will allow you to expand in the future.

More info on CardBus can be found at Intel's site or at the PC-Card page on CardBus.

Universal Serial Port: USB

Not another port! Some of us still don't know what vga, serial, parallel or PS/2 ports are used for. Well, USB is actually not just a mobile port, it is also used for desktop system too. It is basically a high-speed, high-performance serial port that allows Plug and Play devices externally rather than onboard. It also supports chaining of multiple peripherals to one port (up to 127), very similar but less limited than SCSI peripherals. This, as you can see, allows unlimited potential to add various external and peripherals such as LAN hubs, video devices, tape/disk drives, ISDN adaptors and so on. Do you need this? Well, like CardBus... I think that a system would not be complete without it... and it may add another 6-12 months on the life of your system.

You can find out more about USB at Intel's USB page or at the USB FAQ .

Whew! That was a quite a bit of info! Still confused? Go ahead and e-mail me or get more information at the PC-Card website.

Next Week: Erick's Laws: How I decide to buy a notebook

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