Upgrade your laptop using a USB 3.0 ExpressCard

Most older laptops have a way to add extra hardware functionality to them quite easily through expansion slots known as PCI ExpressCard. The laptop generally has a slot on the side where a usb 3.0 expresscard can be inserted into it.

What is a ExpressCard slot?

The ExpressCard slot replaced the old PCMCIA interface and first started appearing in laptops in about 2007.

The ExpressCard slot interfaces directly with the laptop’s PCIe lane on the motherboard which is capable of transferring speeds of up to 5 Gbps.

The PCIe lane on a laptop is connected to the system board bus which connects the hardware in your laptop together so that components can communicate as data is sent back and forth.

Data is sent simultaneously in both directions and at full duplex. This high speed data transfer between the laptop bus and the express card allows any card slotted into it, to effectively become part of your laptop.

The purpose of the expansion slot is to allow you to add extra hardware to your laptop by merely sliding a compatible card into it. It’s a simple way to add wireless functionality to an old laptop for example or even a graphics upgrade using a graphics express card.

The full speed of USB 3.0 is supported and a expresscard usb 3.0 can effortlessly be added to your laptop.

Does your laptop have a ExpressCard slot?

Find out if your laptop has a ExpressCard slot.

Check your laptop for an empty slot on either side; typically there is a plastic placeholder that needs to be removed (it is there to prevent damage to the laptop when the slot is empty). The push button next to the side of the slot extends out when pushed in.

The extended arm is pushed in again to release the plastic placeholder. The placeholder can now be removed. Ensure the arm is pushed in fully until it clicks into place before slotting in the new card.

There are 2 different versions of the ExpressCard interface and although both are compatible with USB 3.0, they run at different speeds.

  • ExpressCard 1.0 supports up to 2.5 Gbps
  • ExpressCard 2.0 supports up to the full USB 3.0 speed of 5 Gbps.

If you add usb 3.0 to laptop with ExpressCard version 1.0 you will still benefit from faster speeds. This is because your USB 3.0 devices will still be 5 times quicker than USB 2.0.

It is difficult to predict which laptops have which version of express card because of the numerous different laptop models out there. The best way to find out is to check the manufacturers website or the documentation that accompanied the laptop.

ExpressCard 34 USB 3.0 and ExpressCard 54 USB 3.0

Before deciding to upgrade your laptop to USB 3.0 the width of the slot should be checked to find out which card will fit. The size of expansion slot will depend on the dimensions of your laptop; Expresscard34 (34mm wide slot) and Expresscard54 (54mm wide slot).

The expansion slots may be different in width but they are the same length and both slots accept the same 26 pin connector to interface with the system board. The usb 3.0 expresscard 34 is a rectangular shaped card and the usb 3.0 expresscard 54 is a L shaped card.

Express cards have 2 different form factors.


The 34mm wide card can also be used in a 54mm slot with a special bracket and is usually included with the card.

Power Considerations

USB 3.0 devices that do not require an external power adapter are called bus powered devices. They get their power from the laptop’s system bus making them highly portable but can cause some problems with laptop express cards.

The power that a USB drive can get is limited by the power the express card can get from the system bus. Manufacturers have overcome this limitation of the ExpressCard design by adding DC power jacks to the expansion cards.

The max power output of USB 3.0 is 900mA and these optional jacks can be used to make sure there is enough power to devices; especially if 2 drives are plugged in.

Keeping your laptop mobile

Extra Power when needed.

Early expresscard 34 usb 3.0 adapters were quite bulky and stuck out of the side of the laptop.

These cards can still be purchased and are a good solution for those who do not intend moving their laptop around too much. They also have the option to add more power for drives that need it.

Newer cards both the 34mm and 54mm variety, come in a flush mount usb 3.0 option. These cards slot in neatly into the expansion slot and become part of your laptop.

The Startech 1 port Expresscard version includes extra power and is backed by a 3 year warranty.

If you are looking to increase the number of USB ports or upgrade to USB 3.0 on your laptop, these cards fit the bill without sacrificing your laptop’s mobility.

Why would you want to get a USB 3.0 ExpressCard for your laptop?

ExpressCards are a simple and easy way to upgrade to USB 3.0. They connect directly to your laptop’s system bus and become part of your laptop. You do not need to open anything in your laptop; you simply slot the card in.

These expresscard USB 3.0 adapters slot into 2 different size openings and are capable of transferring data at up to 5 Gbps (you can transfer 25GB worth of data in less than a minute for example).

So if you want the fastest way to transfer data, perform backups and more, a ExpressCard USB 3.0 is the way to see a huge difference in the time it takes to transfer the data.

There are a good selection of cards available but to avoid buying the wrong one, see our top pick for expresscard 54 usb 3.0  and our top pick for expresscard 34 usb 3.0 expansion cards.