Travels with my 95LX. (HP 95LX palmtop computer; Personal Computer Memory Card International Association standards) (Compute's Getting Started with PCMCIA)
by David English
When I first saw the Hewlett-Packard HP 95LX palmtop computer, I wondered why anyone would want to use it. The size was OK, but it had a terrible keyboard and a too-small LCD screen.
Months later, I actually tried one. Now I'm hooked. I take it everywhere I can. I took it with me when I was called for jury duty and wrote an entire review and half a column while waiting to be selected. It's small enough to fit in my pants pocket (though it does look kind of lumpy there), runs on regular AA batteries (rechargeables are also available), and the built-in software doesn't use any of the unit's precious RAM.
Despite its small size, the 95LX also has a Type I PCMCIA slot. That's where the fun really begins. Recently, I began using the SunDisk SDPI5 Flash Storage Card (Sundisk, 3270 Jay Street, Santa Clara, California 95054; 800-688-7177; $599). This particular SunDisk memory card holds roughly 10MB of data when compressed. Needless to say, a 10MB memory card has made it much easier to carry applications and data files wherever I go. Currently, SunDisk offers the largest capacity PCMCIA memory card: 20MB with compression, for $999.
PCMCIA memory cards are available in two flavors: Flash and SRAM. Flash cards, such as the SunDisk cards, have the advantage of never needing a battery (unlike SRAM cards, which use a battery to hold their data). On the other hand, you can actually wear out a sector on a Flash card by writing to it more than 100,000 times (SRAM cards have no such limitation). For the vast majority of applications, 100,000 writes shouldn't be a problem, but if you were to write to a Flash card too many times, the capacity of the card would gradually decrease. Both Flash and SRAM cards are available with disk compression (most use Stacker), which essentially doubles their size. They also cost about the same.
The 95LX's slot is a Type I, which isn't supposed to work with modem cards. Don't tell that to New Media, which has developed a Type I PCMCIA fax/data modem for the 95LX. It's called the PalmModem 2400/Palm Fax (New Media, 15375 Barranca, Irvine, California 92718; 800-227-3748; $259). The company has written an internal device driver that fools the 95LX into thinking it's talking to a Type I card. The driver and terminal/fax software are built into the card, so all you do is slip the card into the slot and run PALM-TERM.EXE on drive A:. The card is 2400 bps for data and 4800 bps for fax, and the terminal program supports XMODEM, YMODEM, ASCII, and Kermit transfers. New Media is also a good source for inexpensive SRAM cards.
With so many innovative PCMCIA cards available, it's a shame that the 95LX has only one slot. No problem--all you need is the new Dual Memory Card Adapter, called the DublHdr (Interloop, 705 Charcot Avenue, San Jose, California 95131; 408-922-0520; $129.95). The DublHdr (short for double-header) plugs into the 95LX's PCMCIA slot and converts it, via an external box, to two PCMCIA Type I slots. The DublHdr weighs just 7 ounces and doesn't require any additional batteries or software.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. If the recent innovation in PCMCIA cards for the HP 95LX is any indication, we can expect to see great things ahead for the PCMCIA standard.