The Test Setup
Notebook: IBM Thinkpad T21 667 Mhz P3 256MB Memory Windows 2000 Pro NTFS
The Toshiba Card: MK2001MPL 1.8-inch Type-2 PC Card 2GB pre-formatted FAT storage 15ms seek rate 4200rpm 1.3watt power read/write consumption (Weight: 1.94oz)
Testing and Analysis
Actually, the first thing I did when the card arrived was to insert it into my own aging PDA running Windows CE. My initial excitement at the "Beep!" eminating from my handheld quickly turned to frustration because, while Windows CE knew a hard disk had been inserted, it could not read the media.
Unfortunately it is a matter of the older Windows CE not being compatible with the card. So a word to the wise, most PC Cards like Toshiba's requires Windows CE 2000 or later to work, so be sure to check with the manafacturer for comptability.
After the initial setback, I turned my attention to the Thinkpad. With a simple push into the slot, the Toshiba MK2001 was recognized by Windows 2000 and immediately accessible. I made a few simple file transfers between the internal disk and the PC Card and experienced no difficulties. At this point I made my first real "oops" with the card. In my brilliance, I made the command decision that the card should be reformatted into NTFS format to properly compare the internal card with the PC Card. The format went smoothly, that is until I pulled up Windows Explorer and discovered the 2GB card had now become a 407MB card. I assumed at first glance that I messed up the format, so I double checked the settings and tried once again. Alas, my card refused to see more than 407MB. In the heat of the moment, (ok more like desperation) I decided to install Windows 98 on the laptop and reformat the card to FAT32. (This is akin to swapping Cavier for mutton, but I digress).
This turned out to be a big waste of time, still no luck. Now would be a good time to review the manual perhaps? Unfortunately, the manually clearly states to NOT reformat the disk, that Windows will not see the upper memory. Again, another detail to keep in mind!
Once I began considering how to put the card through it's paces (albeit with less space than I began), I decided to battle test it with streaming audio and video. I loaded the "Matrix Revolutions" MPEG-4 High resolution' trailer on to the Toshiba, it was encoded at 24FPS (Full motion Video) at 640 by 480 resolution. In short, the playback using Apple's Quicktime was flawless. A 24FPS frame rate was maintained through the duration of the video with no pauses in the display. I also played a number of MP3 songs, 128bit encoded at 44khz and experienced no pauses or breakups during the play. It is quite clear that in terms of performance, the Toshiba MK2001 is certainly up to par for general use on PDA's and MP3 players.
Let's discuss price for a moment. In just the time I've been in possession of the drive, the price has dropped to about $150-$175 for this card. It's noteworthy that the 5GB model of the card weighs in at about the same price range! Now even though this does tend to be a bit more expensive than buying a new internal drive for the laptop (of course assuming your laptop even supports a second internal drive), the fact the Toshiba PC card literally fits in your pocket makes the extra $30 dollars or so well worth it. The fact that the drive is formatted in standard FAT means it's generally cross platform, so you can carry your data between laptops, handhelds and even PC's pretty handily. You can even buy a USB Hub that has PCMCIA support, a slick way to take your work, music or whatever pretty much anywhere.
When it comes to portability, reliability and power consumption, the Toshiba MK2001 seems to go the distance. While the disk throughput may not be suitable for all tasks, in general the Toshiba should serve most of your needs just fine. Price still might be the only thing I would quibble over, with USB external hard disks coming down in price and more notebooks supporting USB ports, you may need to carefully weigh your options. Yet relatively speaking you cannot beat the portability of a PC Card (not to mention the fact it's very quiet). So if portability and compatibility are your first concerns in choosing a product, you should consider the Toshiba. If speed is your primary concern, you might consider USB more carefully if that option is available to you.