Notebook computer storage is changing. It's more then bigger hard drives. New PC Card formats and optical drives are set to enhance both ends of the storage spectrum.

A third generation PC Card is coming. It is called ExpressCard. This is both faster and easier to use than current PC Cards. It is hot-pluggable and supports PCI Express connections up to 2.5Gbit/s both onto and off the card.

There are two form factors, each smaller than PC Cards; a new slot is needed. First is an oblong card 1.3 inches wide and about 3 inches long. The second one is wider, at 2.1 inches, but it has a section cutaway at one end so that it can use the same connector as the first one.

As well as PCI Express it also supports USB 2.0. Expect broadband modems, hard drives and other peripherals to be built on these cards.

Optical disks
CDs are old hat. The 8GB single-sided DVD is slated to be replaced by higher capacity 15-50GB ones. There are two contenders for a HD-DVD (High Definition DVD) standard both using blue lasers (see our reviews of Plasmon's 35GB UDO and Sony's 23GB PDD, which are both blue laser optical products). Blue lasers have a shorter wavelength than the red lasers used in current CD and DVD products.

The shorter wavelength is the key to storing more data on the disks.

BD-ROM (Blue ray Disk - Read Only Memory) is backed by ten vendors including Hitachi, Matsushita (Panasonic), Philips and Sony. A second group, which includes NEC and Toshiba, is pushing AOD (Advanced Optical Disk). This format is supported by the DVD Forum, a body with 220 electronics and media company members. This suggests AOD may win, although blue ray products are closer to arrival.

Such storage, if it appears in re-writable form, will enable most of a notebook's hard drive to be backed up. Alternatively lots of additional reference data could be taken on a trip - as well as air travel being enlivened by playing full length movies in a high-definition format.

PCI Express
This is a replacement for today's PCI bus which interconnects both desktop and notebook PC's CPU, memory and peripheral controllers. It is a serial bus which contrasts to the parallel PCI bus. It forms a part of the steady serialisation of networking, as seen with Serial ATA and Serial-Attached SCSI. Data is sent across the bus in packets.

It has been designed for the faster transfer of streamed data and to more than one destination. A video stream could have its audio component transferred to a sound card and its video part streamed to a graphics card. The data travelling through the PCI Express bus can be given a priority level so that more important data streams won't be interrupted by less important ones.

PCI Express will be twice as fast as the PCI bus, moving data at 200MB/sec. A roadmap suggests it could reach 800MB/sec. The first PCI Express-equipped notebooks should arrive later this year.

Microsoft is backing HighMAT, a new standard to make it easier to store multimedia, such as music and images, on both CDs and DVDs. These CDs and DVDs could then be played on ordinary CD and DVD players.

Notebook computers these days can readily function as desktop replacements. It is common to have 256 or 512MB of memory and 1GB is not rare and will be getting more usual. Hard drives with 80GB capacity are also unsurprising. For backup whilst on the road a USB 2-connected external drive can readily be used.

But there is more. Intel is developing Alviso; this is a notebook chip set which includes Serial ATA support, PCI Express, Gigabit Ethernet, 8 USB ports and 2GB of DDR (double data rate) RAM. That's a lot of storage horsepower.