USE A HiGh-SpEEd MOdEM ON YOUR ClASSiC ATARi
ChARlES COlE, HARdWARE EdiTOR
Modems On The March
If you're still using an older Atari 300 or 1200 baud modem, and would like to move up to a faster model, now is a good time to switch. If you're like me, I had started out in 1983 with an Atari 300 baud modem and thought that it was the most amazing device ever. Later, I upgraded to an Atari SX-212, and thought then that I would never need a faster modem. But, as with everything else in the computer world, technology marches on; 1200 baud is now considered somewhat slow and antiquated.
I had been wanting a faster modem for several years, but prices were really out of sight. Recently, however, newer chip sets and other technical developments have drastically reduced the prices of modems to the point where a 9600 baud model costs no more than the original outlay for an Atari SX-212.
Too Fast For Your Classic?
So, are these newer modems compatible with an Atari 8-bit machine? If you still have your modem connected through the Atari SIO port (daisy chain), the answer is a resounding NO! But, if you have an ICD MIO or CSS Black Box with their RS-232 port, practically any modem will work with the 8-bits. Although I've never owned a P:R: Connection, I believe any of these newer modems would also work with its RS-232 port. [Editor's Note. the P:R:C also connects to the SIO daisy chain, which theoretically can handle up to 19200 baud. The Atari serial port isn't the bottleneck when it comes to speed. The only reason the SX-212, XM-301 and any other SIO direct-connect modems can't go faster is strictly due to the design limits of the individual units. -BP]
I recently purchased an Infotel 9600-baud external modem from Midwest Micro, a heavy advertiser in Computer Shopper magazine, for $179. I also purchased their optional V.42bis MNP Level 5 datacompression and error-correction upgrade board, priced at $69.95, and installed it. Why did I select the Infotel model? For one thing, it has a 10year warranty. And, believe it or not, it's actually made in the U.S.A., so repairs should be available if necessary. With the add-in V.42bis module, it has an effective data throughput of 38,400 baud! I doubt if modem technology will ever improve to the point that I'll need to upgrade this model!
So, is it compatible with Atari 8bit computers? That depends more on your software more than it does your hardware, provided you're using an MIO, Black Box, or P:R: Connection. The only terminal software I'm aware of that even comes close to a comparable data throughput rate is BobTerm, so if you want to utilize the full capabilities of the Infotel modem, you definitely need BobTerm. If you don't already have this software, check your local BBS or network (CIS, GEnie, Delphi, etc.). I heartily advise all users to switch to BobTerm even if you don't plan on changing your modem, because of BobTerm's advanced features.
Not Only Fast, But Smart, Too
The Infotel modem is completely programmable. Documentation provided with it includes a very detailed User Manual, a 21-page Users Guide, and a 12-page pocket-size QuickReference Guide. If you check various computer publications, you may find a similar modem at a comparable or even cheaper price, but the main point is that any model which is Hayes-compatible should work equally well with an Atari 8-bit computer equipped with an MIO, BB, or P:R: Connection.
Now, all I have to do is find BBSs that have V.42bis MNP-5 capabilities. CompuServe supports MNP, which gives a highly reliable connection, but neither GEnie nor Delphi support anything above 2400 baud in my neck of the woods. If you know of any telecom systems that support MNP or ultrafast baud rates, please let me know.
[Editor's Comment. I strongly endorse Charles's admonition for all 8-bit users to convert to BobTerm. The latest version is 1.22. Not only does Bob Term support advanced modem hardware and telecom transfer protocols, but it has absolutely the best user interface of any terminal software I've ever used. It blows away any of the versions of 850 Express!- including- the Express! ROMcart- that were popular with 8bit users in the late '80s. We might consider putting BobTerm 1.22 on the AC Software Disk if enough people request it. It's a shareware gem that puts all the commercial programs to shame.
About the only area Bob Term performs poorly is when you're connected to a mainframe that requires the KERMIT protocol, such as the DEC VAX- VMS systems often found at universities, corporations, or government agencies with ties to the Internet. The best software for those systems is still John Dunning's KERMIT 3.7 which operates up to 9600 baud. If only there were a KERMIT protocol and reliable 80-column VT-100 emulator for BobTerm, then BobTerm would truly be the all-in-one terminal program. -BP]