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Keatah

Are modems the most hated peripheral?

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Are modems the most hated and un-sexy of all computer peripherals, aside from maybe daisy-wheel or dot-matrix printers and their supplies? No one collects them or saves their vintage modems. Emulators have the same level of support for them as they do printers. Zilch! They seem to be "hated" and frowned-upon because this is the one peripheral that could tie up your system for hours.

 

On the other hand they were magical in how they translated data into rapid-fire tones that traversed less than ideal phone likes, cross-country, with varying signal-to-noise ratios, or irregular delays.

 

Personally I thought they were magical and mysterious. Every speed upgrade was as fun as a fat man cruising the buffet. Not to mention that once used they were necessary add-ons we didn't want to live without. Sending disks by mail was instantly oldschool.

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I love modems. I would collect them if I had the dough to do so. I find it to be rather incredible that whoever invented it thought to use something as crude as a phone line to pretty much revolutionize the way computers were used.

 

That being said, it is true that they're pretty much useless today. They serve only as paperweight that are slightly more pleasing to look at than your average pebble. They can be extremely easily emulated by modern devices if you choose to hop on a BBS every once in a while, but then again, the same would go for entire computer systems. I suppose it would be up to the individual on exactly where they want to draw the line on how "authentic" their setup needs to be.

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I think for the Atari beige 400/800 line I did enjoy collecting the direct connect modem and coupler.

 

Would like it if there was a way to hack them or replace the motherboard for a more capible modem speed.

 

A lot of these modems are 300 baud, 1200 tops.   That is torture these days.

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Posted (edited)
On 4/24/2021 at 6:38 PM, bluejay said:

I suppose it would be up to the individual on exactly where they want to draw the line on how "authentic" their setup needs to be.

I believe that a period-correct modem is absolutely essential. My old 486 would feel incomplete without its original internal 14.4 even though it is rarely used. But used it is. On a rare occasion we'll play doom really old-school style, over a simulated phone line. Two computers can be connected via modems with a simple 9v battery circuit. A poor-man's POTS simulator. Or you can get ones more versatile that generate a ringer and dialtone and understand DTMF.

 

On 4/24/2021 at 6:38 PM, bluejay said:

I love modems. I would collect them if I had the dough to do so. I find it to be rather incredible that whoever invented it thought to use something as crude as a phone line to pretty much revolutionize the way computers were used.

I'd like to say they're not that expensive because I picked up a modest number of them over the years for under $20 apiece. Many under $10. Just last week I got a MIB NIB CIB U.S. Robotics 3453 v.Everything v.90/v.92 external for $23. YMMV.

 

The early Aluminum ingot Hayes SmartModems are more pricey than USRobotics. They're also more impressive looking. But 3com/USR paraphernalia seems more professional and feature-complete.

 

The most underappreciated types would be the PCI cards. Likely have the least personality, if you can attribute such characteristics to such stuff. Or those rented cable modems - about as exciting as a wire nut. Most all PCI modems are "WinModems" or "SoftModems", and I genuinely hate those!

 

I have a small number of ISA cards mainly Supra, Diamond MM, and U.S. Robotics. Have about 8 or so of those metal Hayes models. And 3 of the USR 3543  And some odds & ends. And of course what I have for the Apple II, a complete Apple-Cat II and a Hayes MicroModem II.

 

I really like (liked) the completeness of U.S. Robotics' products, they seem to have included every possible protocol and command. Unfortunately back in those heydays I could never afford such luxuries. Now they sit on eBay for weeks or months at pocket change prices. Naturally. Hmmpf!

 

My collection really isn't a "collection". Not like one would do with cartridges. It's more of a slow accumulation to have demonstrable working coverage of all the consumer-level Bell & ITU standards. Simply got the most feature-complete representation for each "speed point". 110/300, 1200, 2400, 9600, 14.4 28.8, 33.6, and 56K.

Edited by Keatah
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By the way if anyone knows of any layman's style books or consumer style guides about early PC-era modems, I'd like to hear about it. Even compo and comparo "shootout guides" in magazines would be interesting. Stuff like from the then-popular "Consumer's Guide". Things written when this material was important and worth a company's time to publish it.

 

Surprisingly a lot of information was included with the manuals. Sometimes they'd be split in to several physical booklets. A telecommunications primer, a programmer's guide, software application instructions, and an installation/reference manual.

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On 4/25/2021 at 12:35 PM, wierd_w said:

Scanners are the most hated peripheral, IMO.

What about OMR card readers? I remember seeing one in an old Tandy catalog. 
 

6 hours ago, Keatah said:


 Two computers can be connected via modems with a simple 9v battery circuit.

Using 9v batteries to simulate a POTS line? Would love to hear more about this...

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10 hours ago, Keatah said:

By the way if anyone knows of any layman's style books or consumer style guides about early PC-era modems, I'd like to hear about it. Even compo and comparo "shootout guides" in magazines would be interesting. Stuff like from the then-popular "Consumer's Guide". Things written when this material was important and worth a company's time to publish it.

 

Surprisingly a lot of information was included with the manuals. Sometimes they'd be split in to several physical booklets. A telecommunications primer, a programmer's guide, software application instructions, and an installation/reference manual.

Would more than 100 pages of reviews and explanations of modems during the 1200/2400 baud transition suffice? https://archive.org/details/PC-Mag-1987-05-12/page/n103/mode/2up

 

That would be before the chip designs became standardized and the major difference between external modems was the look of the shell. 

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Krebizfan said:

Would more than 100 pages of reviews and explanations of modems during the 1200/2400 baud transition suffice?

Absolutely! Thanks for that.

 

I also found these from USRobotics which have a lot of "techie" model-specific info that is rather well presented.

https://support.usr.com/support/3453c/3453c-ug/index.html

https://www.usr.com/education/dialup-modems/

https://support.usr.com/products/modem/modem-comparison.asp

https://support.usr.com/courier/technology.asp

 

I still find it amazing that all this detail and tedium is handled rather seamlessly by modems and that they're still in use today. There must be a market as they still sell and support'em! Sure it's just silicon and transistors and numbers. But still interesting in how it evolved.

 

IMHO after the contraction of Hayes, USR set and continues to be the gold standard in modems.

Edited by Keatah

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I had no issues with modems.   Other than that you always wanted a faster one,  just like your computer!

 

Many emulators will emulate serial ports that can be mapped to real serial ports, so presumably you could attach a modem to your PC and run it through your emulator.  I don't think I've ever tried that.

 

When DSL and Broadband became commonplace, the modem became redundant-   That's probably why they aren't looked at more fondly.  There's a relative handful of people that would still use them to dial-up BBSes

 

Now printers on the other hand were often more trouble than they were worth.   I hated most of the printers I've owned, when I found a good all-in-one one around 2003, I held onto it as long as I could until I finally retired it a month or two back.    18 years with the same printer seems unbelievable, but it worked, printed good quality was fast and rarely caused issues!

 

I suppose emulators might work if you hooked up an old printer, but they could do a better job of converting Epson and other common code schemes to PDF or something so they could be printed with modern printers

On 4/24/2021 at 11:35 PM, wierd_w said:

Scanners are the most hated peripheral, IMO.

Flatbeds I would agree with.   They take up too much space.   A decent all-in-one printer will have a built in scanner with sheet-feeder that works nicely though

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Old printers are the worst, modems a close second.  I gave away all my old printers, and used to include modems with every system I sold just to get rei of 'em.  Unfortunately, I left 2 Commodore modem 300s alone overnight in a drawer and now I've got dozens of them.  They're like bunnies.

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On 4/24/2021 at 7:12 PM, Keatah said:

They seem to be "hated" and frowned-upon because this is the one peripheral that could tie up your system for hours.

Hated?  I would not say so.  Least useful in modern context?  I would be willing to go there.  Much RS-232/EIA-232 functionality has some replacement which can bypass a physical modem.  So long as the emulator can handle the serial side of things, the host can be used for serial-to-telnet or some other service.  Serial to network and direct to WiFi exists in the physical realm.

 

Not sure what you mean by tying up your system for hours.  I suppose if you are talking about standard 8-bit systems you are only running a terminal program and nothing else.  Once I moved from my Commodore 128 to my Amiga, I could run JRComm to access BBSes as well as multiple other programs in the background.  (Okay, well, technically nothing too heavy since AmigaOS's serial.device could get glitchy when the OS was heavily tasked.)

 

On 4/24/2021 at 11:35 PM, wierd_w said:

Scanners are the most hated peripheral, IMO.

F-ing printers. Printers are the bane of my ITS existence.  Scanners have their place a close shave behind printers, but damn printers.

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5 hours ago, Keatah said:

IMHO after the contraction of Hayes, USR set and continues to be the gold standard in modems.

I L-O-V-E my USR Courier v.Everything.  Rock friggen solid and after the v.92 upgrade it works with EV-ER-Y-THING.  Not to mention USR modems were the absolute best (not WinModems, mind you,) at dealing with line noise.

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1 hour ago, OLD CS1 said:

I L-O-V-E my USR Courier v.Everything.  Rock friggen solid and after the v.92 upgrade it works with EV-ER-Y-THING.  Not to mention USR modems were the absolute best (not WinModems, mind you,) at dealing with line noise.

+1 absolutely.  We use USR v.92 modems (I just don't remember the model offhand) for OOB access to stuff and they are darned hardy and reliable modems.  The line has to be crazy noisy for our modems not to pick up, and even then, usually a nudge to the modem will get it online.

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Naw, I say printers are the most hated peripherals because they break down from all the moving parts AND are too expensive to replace the ink.

 

Dial up modems just became obsolete due to broadband internet and even now you can use WiFi modems on vintage computers to access telnet BBS's through modern routers.

 

And...emulators are mostly for playing games. :)

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On 4/24/2021 at 6:12 PM, Keatah said:

Are modems the most hated and un-sexy of all computer peripherals, aside from maybe daisy-wheel or dot-matrix printers and their supplies? No one collects them or saves their vintage modems. Emulators have the same level of support for them as they do printers. Zilch! They seem to be "hated" and frowned-upon because this is the one peripheral that could tie up your system for hours.

I'm weird, so I'm going to admit to having purchased not one, but two 56Kbps USB modems within the past 24 months.  And an Atari 1030.  And dug out a couple of USRobotics 56K externals.  And found my old Creative ModemBlaster (also external).

On 4/24/2021 at 6:12 PM, Keatah said:

On the other hand they were magical in how they translated data into rapid-fire tones that traversed less than ideal phone likes, cross-country, with varying signal-to-noise ratios, or irregular delays.

Yup.  And I'll add knowing what kind of connection you were going to get just by hearing negotiation take place.

On 4/24/2021 at 6:12 PM, Keatah said:

Personally I thought they were magical and mysterious. Every speed upgrade was as fun as a fat man cruising the buffet. Not to mention that once used they were necessary add-ons we didn't want to live without. Sending disks by mail was instantly oldschool.

For me, it was a total mindf*** when we got the first modem in the family.  It was an AppleCAT attached to my mother's ][+, and she used it for transferring WordStar-generated documents to publishers.  Sure, that could be a day-long process - but if you've ever lived in a house where you may have to spend up to three days living with the sound of a Qume daisywheel printer that lacks a sound-deadening hood printing out an entire manuscript, as a kid you're perfectly fine with trading off a day of computer use for peace and quiet.  The modem reduced the printer noise from something that happened four or five times a year to just once, and for that I was grateful.  Even more so when the Qume was replaced with an HP Laserjet somewhere in the early '90s, but that's a different story.

 

But, yes, the nearest sensation I can use to describe what it was like to first use the modem to communicate over distance with a total stranger was very similar to the one I had the first time someone returned my call on a CB radio: a total rush, but way stronger than with the CB.  It's no exaggeration to say that I was beyond elated, and a little bit intimidated, and deeply curious about what I could do with this thing.  Eventually stepping back from the computer, I kept turning around to look at it as I left the room, wondering what it was that I had touched but knowing that it was something really, Really, REALLY cool.  And I was addicted.  Instantly.

On 4/24/2021 at 6:38 PM, bluejay said:

That being said, it is true that they're pretty much useless today. They serve only as paperweight that are slightly more pleasing to look at than your average pebble. They can be extremely easily emulated by modern devices if you choose to hop on a BBS every once in a while, but then again, the same would go for entire computer systems. I suppose it would be up to the individual on exactly where they want to draw the line on how "authentic" their setup needs to be.

A better description would be that they've become niche products.  There are places a landline can reach that cellular can't, and often at much-reduced cost compared to satellite options.  Also, there is older equipment still in production that only has the option of communicating via modem (think SCADA), replacement of which would be risky and require more pre-planning that may be financially-viable; there are plenty of cases where it's preferable to retain a legacy system in production and wait for complete replacement of the system rather than attempting to upgrade some of its components.

 

One other area in which modems are still in widespread use is remote monitoring and/or control.  AT&T, for example, still attaches modems to customer-leased business-class routers (we're talking T1/T3/Metro Ethernet, ATM, etc. service) for out-of-band access in the event of a network outage.  And there are a number of radio transmitters and repeaters that are remotely-controllable or -configurable via dial-in modem.  Some repeaters will even allow patching data transmissions from over the air to the PSTN, so will have a modem at the repeater site to handle that.

 

Agreed that it's more or less dead and buried for consumer usage these days, though, particularly as we're finally starting to see rural fibre roll out on a scale that actually means something.

On 4/25/2021 at 7:00 PM, Keatah said:

The most underappreciated types would be the PCI cards. Likely have the least personality, if you can attribute such characteristics to such stuff. Or those rented cable modems - about as exciting as a wire nut. Most all PCI modems are "WinModems" or "SoftModems", and I genuinely hate those!

Winmodems are only good for spray-painting orange and using to improve one's skills at skeet-shooting.

On 4/26/2021 at 12:54 PM, OLD CS1 said:

I L-O-V-E my USR Courier v.Everything.  Rock friggen solid and after the v.92 upgrade it works with EV-ER-Y-THING.  Not to mention USR modems were the absolute best (not WinModems, mind you,) at dealing with line noise.

Speaking as someone who was doing phone support at a major (500,000 customers when I came in; 1,000,000+ when I left nine months later) dialup ISP in the late '90s, V.92 was the shiz-o-nit.  Having gone through the hell of trying to get some poor bastard on the other end of the line who didn't know DTMF from AC/DC to tell me if their modem was V.90, X2, or (God forbid) 56KFlex many, many times, V.92 essentially solved the problem of incompatibility with whatever POP they'd dialled into.  Well, except for the one or two 56KFlex ones we kept going for the people who refused to get a modem that didn't suck.

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Certainly this is a trick question ;-) I love and miss both modems and dot matrix printers. Think the last time I remember a serious dot matrix printer being used commercially (outside of a shipping company I was doing IT for briefly) was in the 90s when Kroger had video rental stores inside as well, printing off the receipt of what movie you rented and due date on the carbon copy paper. Miss that time period more and more...

 

[ insert dial-up screeching followed by "you've got Mail!" here ]

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17 hours ago, Clint Thompson said:

Think the last time I remember a serious dot matrix printer being used commercially (outside of a shipping company I was doing IT for briefly) was in the 90s when Kroger had video rental stores inside

Within the past few years I have replaced dot matrix printers at medical offices.  They even have network ports built into them these days.  Carbon paper still rules the roost in many places.

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I still have a dot matrix printer (a 24-pin Okidata Microline 590) hooked up to my brand-new Windows 10 desktop. Why? Why not! It still works, and I find it amusing to use. I changed the ribbon well over 10 years ago and it still prints fine. I think the ribbon cost me $12. Sure beats the stupid ink-jet printer we had that ate $100 worth of ink cartridges every couple of months. 

 

The dot matrix came into good use last spring printing things out for my kids to school at home during the lockdown when ink cartridges were hard to find (I finally replaced it with a laser printer because it was getting ridiculous).

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What were some of the best telecom packages for MS-DOS. One I can think of right now is ProComm Plus 2.01. Any other suggestions & ideas?

 

I missed much of the BBS era on PCs back then. Went straight from Apple II and Amiga right into AOL dialup. Never really experienced color ANSI that much if any.

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I think hated fits, can't see a use out of some art project at this rate or just to have it.  I remembered clearing my closet out a few days back I had this box of old parts, probably 7-8 pieces, 3-4 of them were modems and as old network cards, also a sblive, a sketchy tnt card, and the one gem in the lot a 3dfx voodoo 3 3000 16MB card.  I kept the voodoo, but the rest since I was doing trash stuff I took out back with my antique trusty multitool and broke them up some before pitching the stuff in case of garbage grabbers at the curb.

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17 hours ago, Keatah said:

What were some of the best telecom packages for MS-DOS. One I can think of right now is ProComm Plus 2.01. Any other suggestions & ideas?

 

I missed much of the BBS era on PCs back then. Went straight from Apple II and Amiga right into AOL dialup. Never really experienced color ANSI that much if any.

My PC BBS era was short.   It wasn't long before I had a PPP connection into the internet and BBSes were in the rear view mirror.

 

I think I likely used some telecom package that came with the modem.

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I have a display case full of rare/vintage modems including an Apple Cat 212, expansion card, and breakout box!

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