Move that data – selecting and using a fast fax modem – includes list of recommended fax modems – Tutorial
John R. Quain
WHETHER YOU’RE DOWNLOADING AN ARTICLE FROM A CompuServe database, accessing financial information from Dow Jones, gathering news updates on Prodigy, or sending e-mail, online time can be costly. Using a slow modem can waste time, too. Nothing is more frustrating than sluggish screen redraws and snail-paced downloads. What’s worse, you’re typically charged twice: Once by the information service for the access time and again by your local or longdistance telephone company.
Of course, regular phone expenses are something you have to live with–you can’t talk any faster. But by investing in a new fax/modem, you can hasten the calls your computer makes.
The Price for Speed Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself why you’re still using that old 2400 bps modem when a 14.4K bps modem is 60 percent faster and can be had for a song. Until a year or so ago, these superfast modems cost from $500 to over $1,000. Today, however, you can pick up a 14.4K bps fax/modem for $200 or less, software included.
James Bott is a computer consultant in San Diego. His company, Intellitech, invested time and money in the new equipment, but he feels the upgrade was well worth it. “I bill by the hour, so my clients get the benefit,” Bott points out. “I now charge for less online time since my modern is faster.”
As more people have taken advantage of these cheaper, faster modems, online services have ramped up access speeds to meet the demand. Prodigy, MCI Mail, and soon America Online, for example, offer 9600 bps access for the same price as 2400 bps.
CompuServe, on the other hand, charges double for using many of its services with 9600 bps and 14.4K access, but all in all, you’ll still save money with a quicker modern. In theory, a 9600 bps fax/modem can transmit data four times faster than a 2400 bps fax/modem. The vagaries of phone line quality and modem connections, however, mean that, in practice, you may see only a threefold increase in performance (transmission speeds drop when the connection is bad). Even with CompuServe’s doublecharge environment, you’ll still save about 30 percent in access fees–and cut down on long-distance charges. So a $200 high-speed fax/modern can quickly pay for itself.
What to Look For Before you can enjoy the benefits of rapid data communications, you’ll have to tangle with an alien vernacular of data compression, error correction, and communications acronyms. Fortunately, you can ignore most of the communications argot and focus on the term V.32bis (say, “V dot thirty-two biss”). At present, this is the fastest established communications standard, enabling modems to transfer data at 14.4K bps. V.32bis modems also sport data compression (the most common being V.42bis) and error correction (MNP 3 and V.42 are the most well known). You’ll also see some 14.4K bps modems advertised as having a top transmission speed of 57.6K bps–when using data compression. It’s very unlikely that you’ll ever witness that kind of instantaneous communication, however; to do so, you’ll probably need to be connected to a compatible modem that’s using the same data-compression and error- correction protocols as you are. (A full moon helps, too.)
Inside or out. When choosing between a highspeed internal or external fax/modem, consider the trade-offs. External models eliminate installation traumas, and most Macintosh modems come in an external configuration only. But if you are using Microsoft Windows on an older PC, you may want to consider an internal model. These are about $20 cheaper and frequently incorporate a chip called the 16550 UART. The 16550 acts as a serial buffer, allowing more data to be passed back and forth between the modem and computer; the buffer also helps prevent lost characters that can occur during bottlenecks in your serial port. The downside of internal fax/modems is that in order to install them you have to open up your computer’s imposing steel case, find an empty expansion slot, and resolve possible conflicts between it and the other cards in your system. If you don’t have time to eliminate interrupt conflicts-or don’t even want to know what they are– opt for an external model.
Faster faxing. An additional feature you should expect from a new 14.4K bps fax/modem is bolstered send/receive fax capability. A few fax/modems, including the US Robotics Sportster I tested, can get the pages out quicker when using 14.4K bps fax protocol rather than the standard 9600 bps. Of course, that’s only possible if the fax machine (or fax/ modem) on the other end can receive at 14.4K bps, which many of the newest ones can. Also assume that it won’t be long before standards are raised for fax transmission. too.
Suitable software. Most V. 32bis fax/modems include communications and faxing software. but double check before you buy. Modem vendors typically offer Windows. DOS. and Macintosh packages. Procomm Plus and Crosstalk are two strong communications programs for both DOS and Windows users. Crosstalk for Windows was one of HOME OFFICE COMPUTING’s Editors’ Picks and it is especially easy to use. boasting automated features for logging onto popular online services and easy-to-record scripts. Macintosh users will want to use MicroPhone II or MicroPhone Pro (the latter was also an Editors’ Pick), whereas those looking for simplicity will appreciate Smartcom H for the Macintosh.
When fast isn’t fast enough. If you insist on having the best fax/modem money can buy, there’s another modem standard on the horizon (V. 34). Currently dubbed V.fast class, this new specification promises to crank transmission speeds up to 28K bps. At present, however. there is no consensus among modem makers about a standard protocol for the new speed (most V. fast class models are still incompatible) and a general specification is not expected until later this year. The point is, you should wait until the standard is set before paying extra for a fax/modem that claims V. 34 compatibility. (Look for reviews in upcoming issues.)
No matter what hardware you choose (see below for suggestions), the time and money you save by installing a new V. 32bis fax/modem will make you wish you’d done it sooner.
There’s a glut of inexpensive V. 32bis fax/modems available today, ranging from external boxes to credit card-size PCMCIA models for portables. Nearly all the external models come in Macintosh versions as well, but expect to pay about $30 more for them. Cables are generally included, but make sure you ask before you hand over your credit card. (Average street prices are provided.)
Sportster 14.4K Fax/Modem ($200 for internal, $230 for external; $240 for Mac&Fax Macintosh version; US Robotics,  982-5001,  342-5877). The fullfeatured yet inexpensive Sportster comes standard with two popular programs, Crosstalk for Windows (an HOC Editors’ Pick) and WinFAX Lite, making this one of the most attractive communications packages on the market.
Optima 144 + FAX144 ($425 for PC; $519 for Macintosh; Hayes Microcomputer Products,  441-1617,  874-2937). Because Hayes is considered the longtime industry standard, its moniker will cost you more. However, its products are sound, reliable, and compatible with practically all software available. Also check out the Pocket Edition (an Editors’ Pick) of this winning product and Hayes’s lower-priced Accura line.
Megahertz PCMCIA Data/Fax Modem With X Jack ($330; Megahertz,  2726000,  527-8677). If your notebook sports a Type II (or higher) PCMCIA slot, you’ll appreciate this fax/modem’s innovative pop-out RJ-11 jack. Megahertz claims compatibility with most notebooks, but call to verify.
PSI COMstation Five ($249; PSI Direct,  559-8544,  622-1722). An Editor’s Pick for the Macintosh, this compact extemal modem combines fast, reliable performance with simple and elegant software.
Global Village PowerPort/Gold ($310; Global Village Communications,  3908200,  7364821 ) A real deal for Apple PowerBook users who need to reach out and e-mail someone while on the road.
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JOHN R. QUAIN has covered computers for 10 years. A former editor at Video Review and Datamarion, he contributes regularly to many technology magazines.
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