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The Answer Guy

By James T. Dennis, tag@lists.linuxgazette.net
Starshine Technical Services, http://www.starshine.org/

(?)115K Baud from a Modem: In your dreams!

From WEMehl on Fri, 03 Jul 1998

I purchased an IBM Aptiva last fall. It came with a LTwin modem installed. It tells me that its max speed is 115K, but I never seem to be able to run at more than 34K. Is it the modem (if so can I upgrade) or is it something to do with AOL? Thanks.

(?) I think that this is a shameful bit of marketeering on the part of whatever docs tell you this. They probably mean "115K if you get better than average compression under ideal phone line conditions."

Currently the highest speeds attainable by modems over traditional telephone lines is about 56Kbps --- and that is asymetric. In other words you can download stuff at close to 56K under ideal line conditions --- but your upload speed will not approach that (a non-issue for most Internet "web surfers" --- but it would have been a major issue for the old BBS users who used to run their Fido boards and use QWK messaging.

I have no idea what AOL is currently doing. It is likely that they haven't upgraded all of their modems (Points of Presence) to 56K at this point --- and it's even more unlikely that they would have upgraded their entire infrastructure to ensure that their hosts and LAN's would have the capacity and bandwidth to feed those thousands of high speed modems at full speed.

As for upgrading --- you can almost certainly upgrade your modem. I've been working with PC clones for over a decade and I've never seen one that had a *modem* hardwired into the motherboard. I've seen some with inferior serial ports --- serial ports with buggy and slow 16450 UART chips that couldn't be replaced or disabled. However, this is probably a typical internal modem --- just rip it out and throw it away. I personally recommend external modems.

For real speed upgrades you can get ISDN and FRAD (frame relay access devices) for PC's that are supported by Linux and can take you past modem speeds all the way up do T1. You can also pop in an ethernet card (10Mbps) and get an ADSL or a cablemodem (router). Naturally you can't use this over your existing telco lines --- and you'd probably really hate to see how much a leased line (frame relay) or ISDN (metered service in most areas --- a penny a minute adds up pretty quick!) would cost. As for ADSL and cablemodem services --- the coverage and availability are pretty spotty and the pricing isn't what an AOL user is likely to be interested in spending.

What really makes me curious about your message are two things:
Are you running Linux? Is that a "Winmodem"? (The model designation certainly sounds like one).

If you're running Linux to access AOL --- what are you using to do it? The AOL reps I've talked to have shown no interest in making Linux, Unix, Java, or other portable versions of their interfaces avaialable --- and hostility at the notion of documenting their protocols and API's to the point where anyone else could do a free implementation.

[ Actually, their Instant Messenger is available in Java, and a recent note I sent their web staff asking after a Linux version of the main client got a friendly "we've forwarded that suggestion" note back, from two different people. So, times change? Meanwhile WINE is rumored to have some success with AOL. But if you're using something Linux native, I'd really like to know what it is. -- Heather ]

If you're not running Linux, and you're not asking about anything that's even vaguely Linux or Unix related... why are you posting a message to the Linux Gazette "Answer Guy"? (No, I didn't pick the title --- my editors did that).
As a final comment, I usually don't care much about questions like this one. People read a bit of marketing fluff on the box or in the ads for a product --- they draw an unrealistic conclusion based on an interpretation that's best described with the phrase "wishful thinking" then they perform highly unscientific metrics and benchmarks on which the fail to perform the most elementary critical analysis (of their experimental design, their results or their conclusions) --- and then, unsatisfied with their results they write to some unrelated support guy hoping for a magical incantation that will make the product work as they thought it would from what they thought the marketers meant in the advertising that they read.

If you're getting unsatisfactory results from this product --- talk to your vendor. You paid them for it. If you're just trying to see if your "missing out" (that some other people might actually be getting consistent 115K throughput on these) --- don't worry, it's not happening.

Copyright © 1998, James T. Dennis
Published in Linux Gazette Issue 31 August 1998

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