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Modem Woes

Kevin Ryan

V.34 brings new woes to the untecky installer (me).

You'd think it would get easier with time. It doesn't. Modem installation has always been a bugaboo with me. I have spent more hours trying to figure out Comm Port assignments and IRQ addresses than you can shake a stick at. I mumble to myself, oh for the standardization of a Mac. That's right. Apparently, BYTE magazine agrees with me. In their Small Office issue a couple of months back, they said something like 90% of calls to modem manufacturers were from PC users, and about 90% of those were about Comm Port or IRQ problems.

The newly confirmed V.34 standard for 28.8 modems has brought with it whole host of new problems. Because of its high speed and more radical approach to transfer of bits, it is more susceptible to connect and error problems. If you can get it set up correctly, though, it will save you a lot of money on connect time. V.34 modems now can be bought for under $200 in the US, and that has pushed the price of "old" 14.4 modems to below $100. Considering NTT charges, the V.34 should pay for itself in a couple of months, unless you use modems very infrequently.

Let me unburden myself of the saga of the latest upgrade, so as you might avoid the same problems. First, an explanation of all these V-things. V.32 is an older standard that is more conventional. It is more stable but does not give the throughput of V.34. Then there is V.32bis (French for "plus" I think). This is like adding a new carburetor to a car. It goes faster, but is essentially the same mechanism. Then there is, what they called V.34 before it was approved by the gods of modem standardization. Note that although V.34 is now a standard, each modem maker has its own interpretation, or way to reach that standard. I hear of "chipsets" like the Rockwell, that may be a kind of sub-standard (sic) within V.34 that I am not at all familiar with. I decided to go whole hog and get the top of the line. V.34 it is.

Unfortunately, in my haste, I decided that an internal was less of a hassle, no 12 volt adapter, no serial cable to deal with. My sysop at work, my internet connection, said "get Microcom." He didn't elaborate. I found that Microcom only made externals in the V.34. So I ordered a BocaModem V.34. I had heard both good and bad about Boca, their video cards and the like, but I didn't know about their modems. The BYTE review in July 1994 said they were one of the top five.

History time here. I have a Gateway 486-66. As some of you know, the BIOS in the Gateway has Comm A and Comm B, which you have to assign to Comm 1 and Comm 2. Along with the appropriate IRQ. My Sportster 14.4 installed in seven minutes (the only one to go flawlessly) and I just set the Boca to the same hardware settings as the Sportster, and switched the two. Boca sent a Comm port analyzer to run previous to initializing the modem. I tried it. Comm 1 went fine, 2 OK. The screen dimmed on 3, and went blank on 4 (I don't even have comm 3 or 4). After a dozen tries with different jumper settings (may God visit wrath on the inventor of jumpers, those little black things that fit over tiny pins on your modem, which are strategically placed so you have to remove the card to switch them.).

To no avail. Call to PC Connection (where I bought the modem) and got the only bad advice I've ever got from them. The guy had me reconfiguring Windows, for gosh sakes. Call to Boca (moving across the continent, as it get later into the night, made time difference synchronicity). The ideal Init string should be AT&C1&D2-K0. Okay, that might help. Nope. Call to Gateway, "No, you have to disable your Comm A so that your modem can work in Comm 1." Bingo (Why did the Sportster work all this time with Comm A enabled? Dunno). I download a packet from TPC, and upload replies. Great.

Next day, back. Machine on. I swear I hadn't touched anything. Dead modem. More diggling. The whole line goes dead. Pull the line out from the wall, reseat it. Dial tone. Modem doesn't work. Configure the Comms software (QmodemPro) for a couple of different, related modems, and no go. Disconnect the phone. Yes. So now, all I have to do is crawl behind the computer and disconnect the phone...not a solution.

Next day, the dead line. Something I remember about some companies refusing to send modems to japan because of slightly different standards. I get worried, yank out the modem and get the phones back on line. My sysop at work (Abe-san, a genius with computers, lives in the computer room and smokes cigarettes. I've never seen him eat.) tells me that the Microcom is the modem best configured to work on Japanese lines. NOW he tells me.

PC Connection, bless their hearts, understands my tale of woe, and immediately replace my Boca with a Microcom external (Deskporte Fast-ES V.34), which costs the same $189 as the Boca, and ship it to me for free. It arrives in four days. I then spend two days searching around my suburban shops for a serial cable. Two days and a trip to Shibuya to get one (PC Connection sells them for $6) for 2500 yen. Ten minutes later, the new Microcom installs faultlessly.

I still have some fine tuning with the init string to handle the TPC modem on Node 2, but this is minor stuff now. With my connection to work, and an identical Microcom, the Netscape monster Mozilla loads about three times as fast as before, and I am still using a test-drive version of Chameleon. Can't wait until I get OS/2 installed now (but that will be another story).

...may God visit wrath on the inventor of jumpers, those little black things that fit over tiny pins on your modem, which are strategically placed so you have to remove the card to switch them.

© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

April, 1995

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN