PCI Express (PCIe) Mini Card slots have begun cropping up on Mini-ITX mainboards ever since the Santa Rosa platform made its debut. However, the PCIe Mini Card has been kicking around for quite some time, being used in custom-ordered laptops as wireless devices. Most of the documentation I have read about the PCIe Mini Card dates back to 2005, which, in the technology industry, seems like a decade ago. So, why is it making its entrance into the Mini-ITX arena now?
The PCIe Mini Card is a replacement for the Mini PCI card found on many Mini-ITX mainboards. It is half the size of a Mini PCI card, measuring 30 mm x 51 mm. It has a 52-pin edge connector as opposed to the 100-pin stacking connector of Mini PCI Type I & II cards and the 124-pin edge connector of Mini PCI Type III. The new card is modeled after the Mini PCI Type III, but is sans side retaining clips.
The slot on a mainboard must support both an x1 PCI Express link and a USB 2.0 link because the PCIe Mini Card can utilize PCI Express and/or USB 2.0 connectivity. The PCIe Mini Card has a 2.5Gb/s serial bus, providing a significant improvement in connectivity.
As I mentioned above, the PCIe Mini Card is not new news. So, why the introduction now? From what I can tell, it appears that it has something to do with getting the most from Windows Vista. Intel Turbo Memory (code-named Robson) is a flash memory add-on component for the PCIe Mini Card slot. Without having to become too technical here (which is certainly not one of my strengths), the Turbo Memory can perform two jobs (ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive—caching features of Windows Vista) in one small, internal package.
So, now that we have Mini-ITX mainboards boasting full Vista Premium support, it makes sense that these same boards also would provide PCIe Mini Card slots. There could very well be other reasons, as in the fact that Mini PCI is being phased out by the PCIe Mini Card standard; this is really due to PCIe replacing PCI.
The small form factor products I have seen thus far sporting the new PCIe Mini Card slots are the MSI GM965 (MS-9803) and the AOpen MP965-DR. Unfortunately, we don’t have much to offer in the way of cards, but I am sure if there is demand for them, we will provide.