Adding USB 3 to my Lenovo X220 Tablet

My X220 is a stalwart machine. It’s built like a tank and can be upgraded in a numb of ways. Mine now has 16Gb of RAM and two SSDs which allow me to run multi-VM environments for development and demo. Unfortunately, however, there is no USB 3 on the laptop. That’s a pain if I need to copy stuff on and off via USB, or run VMs from a USB 3 pod.

I’ve tried adding USB 3 before – I bough a Startech ExpressCard 54 with two ports. That singularly failed to work – the card is detected but the system either fails to recognise connected devices, or sees them yet can’t access them.

Whilst at Build I was involved in a conversation with the Kinect product team. They said that when using the Kinect with Windows they had issues with USB 3, and it boiled down to chipset issues, where the manufacturer hadn’t implemented something quite in accordance with spec. This spurred me to look for another ExpressCard, carefully looking for a different chipset.

Enter, stage left, Targus. not a name I’d associate with this kind of periperal, but careful reading of their specs showed their card to be a totally different chipset from the Startech device.

I ordered mine from Amazon. It arrived the next day, plugged in and simply worked. It’s an ExpressCard 34, so only one port. However, it puts out enough power to run my Western Digital USB 3 pod without needing to use the included cable to draw additional power from another USB port. I get the same transfer speed from the disk as my colleagues USB 3-equipped W540 laptops, so I really can’t argue.

The one thing I did add was a 34-54 adapter (from Startech, ironically) to plug the hole left in my ExpressCard 54 slot.

With the current move to ultrabooks I can see no real replacement device for my X220 – a sealed unit with no more than 8Gb and a single drive doesn’t come close to my needs, and a 15” luggable workstation is just too heavy. Hopefully I can keep tweaking the X220 for a while yet.

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