Zoltrix Enhanced 96/24, Zoltrix Standard 96/24, Zoltrix Integra. (facsimile/modem cards) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Richard C. Leinecker
As much as I'd like to have a fax machine, the cost is too great for two or three transmissions a week. But I use a modem every day, and its cost is easy to justify. Zoltrix has addressed this problem head-on with three low-cost internal fax/modem cards. Each of them functions just like a modem and adds full fax capabilities-all for about twice the price of a standard internal modem.
They're not at the leading edge of fax/modem technology. The manual isn't 500 pages boasting thousands of features. In other words, they're just at my level.
I don't want features I'll never use or a manual that takes a Ph.D. to read. I want a simple, straightforward device that does what I need. Anyone who can read will have no trouble installing and configuring the cards and getting the software up and running.
All three communicate at 300, 1200, or 2400 bps. All my terminal programs worked perfectly, and the America On-line software--notoriously picky about, modems--worked fine. I've used plenty of dedicated modems that had more trouble coexisting with a variety of communications programs
BitCom Deluxe software comes with all three. It's a basic telecommunications package for modem mode without a lot of bells and whistles. There isn't a script or macro language as powerful as Telix's or Procomm's, and file transfers are limited to ASCII, XMODEM, YMODEM, CompuServe B Plus, and Kermit protocols. If you're new to modems, online services, and BBSs, though, it's an adequate start. One nice feature is software-generated MNP 5 compression. Since the modems aren't equipped with MNP 5 compression in hardware, this is the next-best thing. Theoretically, MNP 5 can speed up transfers as much as 200 percent.
In fax mode the boards perform well. The Standard and Enhanced models send and receive at 9600 bps, while the Integra sends at 9600 bps and receives at 4800 bps. All of them have the ability to drop their transmission speeds to 7200 or 4800 bps if the receiver is at a lower speed or if adverse transmission conditions such as line noise make a slower speed advisable. Don't worry if all of this sounds technical, It's handled automatically by the hardware and software; I was never aware of the communication speed when sending and receiving.
Most of my testing was done between two computers at home. That provided a great advantage for reviewing these units. I saw the results of transmissions immediately and was able to draw accurate conclusions quickly. Both systems are IBM compatibles, but they're configured differently. One is a 286 with Stacker managing the hard drive. The other is a 486 with plenty of extended memory. There wasn't the faintest hint of hardware or software conflicts on either machine, even when I ran the background send and receive modules. I'd feel comfortable saying that you'll probably have the same results. Of course, there will be exceptions to this, but those will probably be rare.
All three fax/modem cards come with BitFax/SR software. It's easy to use, and it has everything I need. I was disappointed not to get an installation program to make the setup easier. But the manual is clear and easy to follow, so I didn't have any problems.
The Enhanced model has built-in error correction protocols. The best of these is the V.42/MNP auto reliable mode. It senses whether the other machine has the equivalent error-correcting protocol and responds accordingly. This is one of the most sophisticated error-correcting operating modes available today. My phone lines are relatively free of noise, so I couldn't tell the difference between models. If you're worried about line noise, though, this feature might be important for you.
Sending faxes with BitFax is easy. It loads any file in Multimate, WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, or Wordstar format. If you have any other word processor, you have to save a document as an ASCII file before sending. Then you design a cover sheet, enter information about the destination fax machine (the phone number, for instance), and press a function key.
>From there it's all automatic. The transmission is initiated and managed entirely by the software and hardware. Different cover sheets can be saved to disk and loaded anytime before sending a fax. Or you can send a document without a cover sheet. And a database of destinations can be retained on disk for easy retrieval.
I found the built-in text editor useful for sending faxes. Most of the time, I send faxes with a one- or two-page message. Using my word processor requires two steps: creating the document and saving to disk, then running Bitfax and sending the document. With the built-in editor, you can type your document and send it from within the same program shell.
It's just as easy to send PCX, TIF, IMG, BFX, or DFX graphics files. The software loads them and sends the graphics image automatically. And there's a conversion utility that changes received faxes which are usually in TIF format to other graphics formats. That way, you can use faxes in other programs, possibly importing them into a desktop publishing application as part of a presentation.
BitFax has a module you can install as a memory-resident program that automatically sends and receives faxes in the background. Background sending can be done automatically at a preset time, freeing up your computer from having to dedicate itself to fax transmissions. I found that sending and receiving would occasionally cause my systems to slow down. I suppose you'd have to weigh that against the benefits of running the background module. I prefer sending and receiving faxes from the main BitFax menu without loading the memory-resident module.
There are a lot of features I don't have space to describe in detail, but here are a few that deserve mention. Incoming faxes can automatically print when received. You can view faxes on the screen instead of printing them. Multiple files can be sent in a single transmission, saving you separate initial connect charges. Form letters can be customized with a mail-merge feature.
After spending time with these fax/modem boards, I'd have a hard time justifying a dedicated fax machine for myself. It's not so much a question of cost as of usefulness. These internal fax/modem boards do so much more than a stand-alone fax machine that I'd choose them anytime over a regular fax machine for personal use. The folks at Zoltrix have arrived at what appears to be the best solution to having a complete communications system at a reasonable cost. Now I can happily give out my fax number, which happens to be the number to my home office, too.
(Editor's note: After this review was written, Zoltrix announced that the Integra was being discontinued.) Zoltrix Enhanced 96/24--$149 Zoltrix Standard 96/24--$109($129 with BitFax for Windows Zoltrix Integra--$89 ZOLTRIX 47517 Seabridge Dr. Fremont, CA 94538 (510) 657-1188 Circle Reader Service Number 439