Learn to play your cards right

Five of the best - CD cards
For owners of portable PCs, the tiny yet powerful PC Card allows the laptop computer to carry out an extraordinary variety of tasks. It looks like a rather plump credit card, and it simply plugs into a slot in any modern laptop or notebook computer.

PC Cards are like attachments on a food processor. The most popular is a modem, and lets you connect your notebook computer via the telephone network into online systems and the Internet. The network interface card (NIC), the next best-selling card, enables the mobile user to plug into the office e-mail and printers. But cards have dozens of other uses, from adding multimedia ability to upgrading a hard disk.

In its June issue, PC Magazine reviews 33 PC Cards. The cards have been judged on features, performance and, most importantly, value for money. The recommended modem is the excellent Portable Add-Ons Euromodem at pounds 259. Designed specifically for travel abroad and connection to foreign telephone systems, it is approved for use in countries in Europe, North America and the Far East. It will operate up to V.34 28.8Kbs - the fastest speed available.

The recommended NIC PC Card, the Ethernet+, again comes from Portable Add-Ons. It performs just as well as other cards, is easily installed and, at pounds 115, is the best value.

Only the latest and most fully featured portable PCs incorporate a CD- Rom drive. But you can add one with a PC Card. Our choice is the CTX TXCom Master which, at pounds 189, is more than pounds 100 cheaper than other similar models. The drive is a double-speed model and draws current directly from the portable PC's battery. This makes it truly mobile, unlike some other CD- Rom drives that require an additional power source.

If your hard disk starts filling up, then a PC Card hard disk is much easier to install than a replacement drive. We recommend the Viper 260 from Impact Peripherals. This packs in 260Mb of disk storage (bigger than many older notebook hard drives) yet produces a performance almost as good as the best desktop PC hard disk. It's good value at pounds 299.

Although no equivalent device was submitted for the review - making comparison impossible - we were impressed by the Trimble Mobile GPS card. This PC Card uses the US Defence Department satellite-based Global Positioning System and, with the aid of small external antennae, allows mobile users to establish their position within a few metres. Coupled to separately purchased route planning or moving map programs, this PC Card - at pounds 562 - could become a vital tool for the lost courier or salesman.

For further information, contact:

Portable Add-Ons 01483 241333

CTX 01923 818461

Impact Peripherals 01483 797200

Trimble (Peak Developments) 01962 713906

All prices quoted are exclusive of VAT. The 'PC Magazine'-recommended products are based on objective benchmarks developed by Ziff-Davis Labs. These independent benchmarks incorporate real-life computing tasks and are accepted as worldwide industry standards for measuring hardware performance.