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3Com EtherLink III 3C589 Series Network Card

Chris Tilley | Editor-in-Chief
March 22, 2004

3C589x PC Card NIC ImageSometimes with mobile computing simplicity - and the reliability afforded by that simplicity - can be more practical and be the most cost effective way about a problem.
It is with this in mind that the 3Com Etherlink III PC Card 589 series comes into play.

Quite simply the 3C589 has been around for what in the rigmarole of IT can only be described as an eternity.
First there was PCMCIA, then came the 3C589.

Of course since that primordial dawn things have moved on somewhat. PCMCIA was jazzed up in 1998 becoming the somewhat confusing "PC Card".
The 3C589 had the 3Com Etherlink III label slapped on it to fit in with the marketing initiative of the time, along with complete OEM re-badge by names such as Dell meaning you may not know you're holding a 3C589 unless you read the small print adds to the confusion.

PC Card / Cardbus Image
Two identical cards, but one isn't PC Card. Confusing?

All in all, peel off the efforts of marketing departments the world over and the 3C589 is really rather simple at heart.
The 3C589 is actually a series of PC Card Network Interface Cards (NICs) each one slightly different, but all based on the same chipset and driver model.
The series ran as the 3C589 and then the 3C589A, 3C589B, C, D and E respectively. Cards in the series that are confirmed to work with the available Windows CE drivers are:

  • 3C589
  • 3C589B
  • 3C589C
  • 3C589D
  • 3CXE589D
  • 3CCE589E
  • 3CXE589E

Each generation of the NIC is based around industry standard 5.0v PCMCIA Type II (PC Card) specification, which means that it is a 16-bit Class 2 PCMCIA card. Which, in case you didn't know. Happens to be the exact same specification as exists in the Handheld PC that undoubtedly sits before you right now.

The 3C589 is very simple in its construction and operation. You just plug in the cable adapter or "dongle", push is in and off you go. Unlike some cards there days that ensue the use of a technology known as XJack (Where the cable connected directly to the PC Card itself, meaning no dongle is required) the 3Com does have an interchangeable dongle, of several different types.

XJack Image
Example of a PCMCIA (Type III) XJack NIC

I personally prefer this type of interface to XJack simply because if you move the device around while fully wired up you place a strain on the PC Card housing inside your Handheld PC and also on the XJack mechanism. While having a dongle may mean something extra to carry around. The flexibility afforded by a load-tested dongle removes this problem.
Any of the 3Com dongles will fit comfortably in any carry case and so shouldn't cause a problem for most.


There are several types of dongle available for the 3C589x. These are:

  • RJ-45 10baseT Micro Dongle (Female)
  • RJ-45 10baseT Low Profile Dongle (Male)
  • BNC 10base2 Dongle
  • Full size RJ-45 / BNC Combi Dongle
The RJ-45 Female Micro Dongle and Combi Dongle

All three dongles are equipped with Activation LED's, useful for ensuring the Windows CE driver has kicked in.
Unfortunately I am not able to access any BNC 10base2 hardware for testing, however I believe that the Windows CE Driver is not able to Auto switch between RJ-45 or BNC interfaces ad-hock when using the Combi Dongle. This requires the NIC to be pre-set in EPROM using a DOS utility as to which mode you require.
As stated I cannot confirm this at this time.

Being a standard 5.0 volt NIC. For users who will require a lot of network use while on battery. This may not be the optimal NIC for your needs. You would be better looking for a 3.3v NIC specially designed for use on Mobile Devices, such as those by Socket Communications.
As the 3C589 series is very much a wired NIC, in most cases you will be using the card while at your desk and probably on mains power. If this sounds like what you are looking for then 5 volts shouldn't be a problem.



As the 3C589x is now regarded as legacy - and don't be put off by my use of this term - it supports virtually everything that you can slot it into. From MS-DOS 3.1+, Windows 3.1 and NT3 right through all the Windows 9x's and up to XP / 2003. Of course what really counts is the Handheld PC support. Alas here a spanner is thrown into the works... somewhat.

3Com finalised their driver set for the device some time back, with drivers being provided in Windows versions from 98 onwards as well as Linux there was no need to continue development.
This unfortunately led to 3Com abandoning driver support at CE 2.01. So officially if you need a NIC for anything newer, such as HPC Pro, your left three sheets to the wind.
However, thanks to some keen minded community users, and some ingenuity from us here at HPC:Factor I'm pleased to report that not only are there now drivers for HPC 2.0, but also test bed drivers for HPC Professional (2.10 only) and HPC2000.
I must stress that the HPC Pro and HPC2000 drivers, while they do work do exhibit some minor eccentricities - especially the HPC2000 version which can't be suspended and then restarted currently with the NIC inserted.
This said Networking functions do all work on all supported platforms.

Unfortunately Windows CE support was also an afterthought for the developers. There is no on-line support or Windows CE specific documentation provided for the NIC by 3Com themselves. That said the procedure for installing and getting the NIC to work is very straight forward and with a 36KB Driver footprint you can't complain.
Windows CE 2.0 users will require the HPC:Factor Network Service Pack (NSP) to add TCP/IP Networking support to their devices, which increases the installation footprint to approximately 234KB, adding additional capability to your device in the process.

To download drivers for the 3C589x Series see the HPC:Factor downloads section


So why; you may wonder. Would I be eager to suggest you learn to live with these quirks. Well that's simple.
These cards were the cards of choice for corporations in the 1990s and even today where newer PC99 specifications haven't fully caught up. As a result there is an abundance of 3C589x's, meaning that you can pick up the cards for next to nothing. Literally.

If you are into the eBay auction wave, I have seen on numerous occasions 25 fully working 3C589x's go for less than £10. Not that you'd need 25, but you get the idea. We are talking pennies.
When looking to purchase one of the cards, be sure that you can properly match your network type to the card. There are so many versions of the 3C589. You should take a moment to check that everything is compatible. If in doubt - go for a 3C589C, as it can take anything you throw at it.

In conclusion. If you're on a budget. Are curious as to how your Handheld PC can help you by operating on a wired network (but aren't sure if you really need it). Or even if you are simply new to networking. Then you could do far worse than giving one of these little gem's a good home.


System Requirements:

Windows CE 2.0 (SP1 & NSP), 2.10 (HPC Pro) and 3.0 (HPC2000)
SH3, StrongARM, MIPS

More information on 3Com EtherLink III 3C589 Series Network Card can be found at


Cost: 5- Star Rating
Usability: 4- Star Rating
Built-in Help: 1- Star Rating
Customer Service: 4- Star Rating
Overall: 4- Star Rating
Pros: Cheap and easy to find, works with twisted pair and BNC connection types

Cons: Support for HPC2000 or later is broken, bulky dongles