How to connect an External Hard Drive to a PCMCIA (PC card bus) USB 2.0 port

Against all odds, I finally figured out how to get my external hard disk to run at USB 2.0 speed using a PCMCIA card on my laptop.

This was a problem I’ve been stuck on for months, and searching through the internet and asking smart computer geek friends came up with no helpful results, so I am posting my findings here hoping that this will be of help to someone out there with the same problem.

The Problem
you have a slightly older laptop or notebook with only USB 1.0 support. This is fine for most peripherals, but becomes painfully apparent as soon as you inevitably try to transfer large amounts of data, like video files, onto your new, sleek external hard drive you got cheap on ebay. So you go back to ebay (at least I did) and shop around for an inexpensive PCMCIA (PC card bus) USB 2.0 port. While it works fine, again, for most peripherals, like your mouse, your USB stick, or even your graphics tablet, it won’t support your little hard drive!

You try installing every driver you can think of, you search online, you find forum entries with the same problem that are four years old and no responses. You ask people, and they don’t know. They suggest installing a driver, or reinstalling windows, or even updating your BIOS chip. None of that will help you.

The Reason
Simply put, those PCMCIA cards can’t provide enough voltage for external hard drives.

The Solution
0) Your laptop can be on or off. No matter. And the steps below should work in any order.

1) Insert your USB 2.0 PCMCIA PC bus card into the slot.

2) The cable that came with your hard drive should have one end attached to two plugs: One plug is on a short skinny cable, the other is fatter and long. I believe it is called a Y cable, or maybe an epsilon cable. The skinny one is for power, the fat one is for data.

2a) Plug the end that branches off into two cables into the external hard drive

3) Plug the short, skinny cable into a USB 1.0 port. The on-board USB 1.0 connection will see to it that your disk has enough power.

4) Finally, plug the longer cable into the PCMCIA USB 2.0 port.

5) Enjoy a brief moment feeling victorious; this will soon fade as you will be too busy moving huge chunks of data back and forth from drive to drive with AWESOME speed.

I know, it all seems terribly simple and mundane, like explaining how to use matches or open a pill bottle. But I suspect there are plenty of folks out there who — despite tons of trial and error — haven’t figured this out yet.

Did this work for you? Did you find another solution? Let me know here.

And One More Thing
Don’t pay fifteen bucks for a firewire cable so you can capture video from your new video camera! For a couple of days wait, you can find one on ebay for a third the cost.

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