On 8-Jul-1999, a friend asked me some questions about modems for PCs. The following is the reply I wrote.
Based on recent experiences, perhaps I'm the wrong person to ask. I bought three new computers for my mother and sisters, and modem installation turned out to be the most difficult part. After more than three days of fighting them (and fighting Windows), I only got one of the three modems working correctly. I've decided that it was a mistake to break my own rules about modems by buying a Diamond Supra internal PCI modem (I can't even tell if it is a WinModem). I thought I could get away with it since the computers were only ever going to run Win98. Boy was I wrong. Instead of saving money, all I've gotten have been headaches and wasted time.

Eric's Rules of Modems

  1. Don't buy WinModems.
  2. Don't buy WinModems. Really. They cause too much grief.
  3. If you can't tell whether it is a WinModem, don't buy it. It probably is.
  4. Don't buy internal modems. Use externals. It's easier to debug a COM port separately from the modem. And it's handy to be able to move the modem to other machines.
  5. Only get a very reputable brand, such as a 3Com/USR Courier, or maybe a Sportster (which are actually pretty good now, unlike the early V.34 days). And make sure it isn't a WinModem; even 3Com makes some WinModems, unfortunately. But at least 3Com actually marks their WinModems as such.
  6. Just because a company has a good reputation for other products, don't assume that they make good modems. Case in point: Diamond Multimedia makes good video cards, but I've had nothing but trouble with their Diamond Supra brand modems.
  7. If you *must* buy an internal modem, get one for the ISA bus. The PCI bus modems are not yet very well supported.
  8. Microsoft software is attrocious. Windows 98 wouldn't let me change the IRQ assignment of COM ports to match the hardware settings. I'm fairly certain that Windows 95 used to let me do that, so it seems that Windows is getting worse over time. HyperTerminal is especially bogus.

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Last updated January 17, 2001

Copyright 1999, 2001 Eric Smith


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