modem : Computer Hardware Buyers’ Glossary
©1997-2017 Roedy Green of Canadian Mind Products
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or (28K for short) is obsolete. 32K are most common.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 urban areas.
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 Faxworks Pro.
- Surf the Internet looking for information or pornography in the form of text,
pictures, movies and sound using a Web browser program.
- Download free or shareware programs from computers on the Internet using a web
browser or a program like WinFTP.
- 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 connected.
- 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 like Agent.
- 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