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Making modem decisions

July 21, 1998
Web posted at: 3:00 PM EDT

by Dean Andrews

(IDG) -- Your modem is your lifeline to the Internet. These tips will help you decide whether to buy an external or internal modem, show you how to cut out the annoying noise, and tell you where to find reliable information on 56-kilobit-per-second modems.

External Versus Internal Modems

Which should you buy? If you are an experienced upgrader, then an internal modem can save you up to $50, as modem manufacturers often pass the savings of caseless internal modem boards along to the consumer.

Unfortunately, novices may find internal modems difficult to install and configure, and should probably go with a slightly more expensive external model. You can connect an external modem to your PC without even removing your PC's case--you just connect a cable from the modem to an open serial port. Plus, you can quickly switch the modem to another PC or notebook computer.

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Modem Noise

If you use Windows 95's Dial Up Networking, you're probably too familiar with the screeching noise generated by two modems synchronizing with one another. You hear it every time you dial into your ISP or corporate server. External modems usually have a volume control that allows you to quickly turn down or turn off this noise. Internal modem noise can be controlled too--in software.

To do this, go to the Windows 95 Start menu, choose Settings, Control Panel. Click the System icon. In the System Properties box, select the Device Manager tab. Then click the modem icon and select your modem's name. In the Internal Properties box, choose the Modem tab and then slide the Speaker Volume control to Off. (This should work for most models; if it doesn't for yours, check the documentation.)

Modem Hang-Up Trouble

If your modem is disconnecting unexpectedly while you're dialed into your ISP or office network, the trouble could be your phone's call-waiting feature. With call-waiting active, your modem may hang up when an incoming call beeps in on your phone line. Make sure you disable call-waiting by adding the appropriate codes in your Windows 95 Modem Properties box.

To do this, go to the Start menu and choose Settings, Control Panel. Click the Modem icon. The Modem Properties box will appear. Click the General tab, then the Dialing Properties button. Select the "This location has call-waiting" check box, then enter the code to disable it in the "To disable it, dial" field. Most phone services will disable call waiting if you add *70 before the telephone number.

Web Site for 56-Kbps Modem News

Modem vendors and Internet service providers are in the midst of upgrading to the new V.90 56-kbps modem standard. Unfortunately, this upgrade period is a confusing time for consumers as they struggle with modem compatibility concerns. For regular news updates, product reviews, tips, and a wealth of 56-kbps modem info, point your browser to, an independent Web resource.

V.90 Backward Compatibility

Eventually, all 56-kbps modems will be able to talk to one another because of the new V.90 standard. In the meantime, there's one problem you need to be aware of, particularly while ISPs are in the process of upgrading their networks: V.90 modems are only backward compatible with either the K56flex or x2 protocols--not both. So, until your ISP finishes upgrading to V.90, you must still make sure your modem is backward compatible with the 56-kbps modem protocol that your ISP uses. Otherwise, even with a V.90-capable modem, you'll be connecting at only 33.6-kbps speed.

Edited by Lisa Moskowitz.
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