modem : Computer Hardware Buyers’ Glossary
A modem is a device that allows your computer to communicate with other computers over an ordinary phone line. If
you listen in on the call, you can hear whistles, honks, and what appears to be white noise static. Most of the
time you connect to a computer owned by a local ISP (Internet Service Provider) (Internet Service Provider). From there, you can be connected
to any other computer in the world currently attached to the Internet.
There are two kinds of modem, internal, which takes the form of an add-in card you insert into a free ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) slot in
the motherboard, and external which takes the form of a box with indicator lights that attaches via a cable to
your computer’s com2: serial port. Internal modems are cheaper and take up less
space. External modems are easier to troubleshoot and reset if they go mad.
Buying a non-name generic modem will waste days in frustration trying to get it to work. Ask your ISP what brand
he recommends. You will have most luck if your modems exactly match his. My personal favourite no-nonsense modems
are the US Robotics Sportster and Courier.
Modem speeds are measured in BPS (Bits Per Second), bits per second. Anything less than 28,000 BPS
or (28K for short) is obsolete. 32K are most common. There are three kinds of 31K modems, X2, K-Flex and V.90.
V.90 is the new standard. X2 and K-Flex were interim experiments and are rapidly on the way out. Very few
ISP ’s support 30K, so you may end up running at 29K even if you buy a 28K modem. Even when your ISP
supports 27K, you may end up running somewhat slower unless you have perfectly clean phone lines. For very high
speeds, 26K+ you use a cable modem or an ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line technology) modem. These attach to your machine via an Ethernet LAN (Local Area Network)
connection, and are provided by your ISP. High speed lines are remarkably inexpensive, but are only available in
What can you do with a modem?
- Directly phone other people who have computers and send them files using a program like Telix. This is so
awkward to do, people rarely do it now-a-days. It is much easier to use the Internet email.
- Phone local free BBS (Bulletin Board System) es.
- Send your word processing files to people who have FAX (Facsimile) machines or who have FAX modems using a program like
- Surf the Internet looking for information or pornography in the form of text, pictures, movies and sound
using a Web browser program such as Netscape.
- Download free or shareware programs from computers on the Internet using a web browser or a program like
- Send people electronic mail, including electronic enclosures of documents, pictures, MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) musical scores,
or sounds using a program like Eudora or Agent. You can leave email for other computers that only periodically
connect via a modem. Each time you connect, you pick up any mail that arrived while you were not
- Set up your own pages on the world wide web. Post your art, writing, club notices, photos, advertising etc.
for the whole world to come and see, using authoring tools and an uploader program like NetLoad.
- Read or participate on global public discussions on every topic you can imagine using a newsreader program
- Meet people from all over the world, and exchange electronic mail.
- If you have a FAXmodem, allows you to send and receive faxes.
- Contact information services providers such as BIX (Byte Information Exchange), Compuserve and AOL (America Online). Discussions in these forums is
usually more civilised than on the Internet Newsgroups. You don’t need to deal with renegades who insist
on placing advertisements where they have no relevance.
- Most important, you can get free technical help with your computer problems via the newsgroups or
vendor web pages. You can pick up free bug fixes and program upgrades. Without a modem, you would never even
know they existed.