IBM MWave WindSurfer. (multifunction multimedia modem) (Hardware Review) (Evaluation)
by Mike Hudnall
It sends and receives faxes, links you to online services and other computers, answers you telephne and takes messages, and adds exciting sounds to your Windows computing. And it occupies only a single 16-bit slot in your computer. If the Swiss army had an official PC peripheral card, this could be it. However, IBM calls this the MWave WindSurfer, a name that suggests the device's ability to master the "waves" of communication, to hurtle your messages through the ether safetly and skillfuly at high speeds.
The genie responsible for all of this telecommunications magic is IBM's verstile and upgradable MWave Digital Signal Processor (DSP) chip. Its native computering power eases the computing load on your PC's CPU, allows you to run more than one MWave application at a time (for example, CD audio and a modem), and allows you to modem), and allows you to improve the performance of the MWave hardware through future software upgrades.
I tried the data and fax telecommunications functions, and everything worked as promised, logging me on to CompuServe, America Online, and (at 9600 bps) a local BBS. If you're interested in Prodigy, a starter kit comes with the MWave package. The included DataFax for Windows Lite sent faxes without a hitch. The voice-mail software also performed well, allowing me to record a greeting and receive messages. Compression keeps the messages from occupying too much space on your hard drive, and a log keeps tabs on up to 99 incoming or outgoing calls.
The WindSurfer supports MIDI in, out, and through and is MPC audio compliant, offring CD-quality sampling in both the recording and playback phases at rates up at 44.1 kHz and in 8- and 16-bit mono or stereo. In addition to stereo inputs and outputs, there's an internal connector that will accept CD audio from an internal CD-ROM drive; however, there's no CD-ROM interface on the card.
As powerful and versatile as it is, the card does have some limitations. At the time of this writing, only Trio's fax products work with the fax portion of the WindSurfer, although other fax software could be written or modified to work with the board. The data functions work only through Windows, but several Windows telecommunications applications work with WindSurfer. At the time of this writing, you can use only one telephone application (modem, fax, or answering machine) at a time. Also, though you can enjoy music while using the fax or modem functions, the limitations of the DSP place restrictions on how much you can do concurrently with this board. If, for example, you want to use the MIDI synthesizer and the modem simultaneously, you must set the modem to 2400 bps rather than 9600 bps. An IBM source tells me the company is working on new software that will allow the WindSurfer to distinguish among fax, modem, and voice incoming signals and thus run more than one of the telephone applications simultaneously.
Because the DSP is programmable with new software, you might be able to look forward to new functionality, such as caller ID and higher transmission speeds, as well as new communications protocols.
As I write this, the WindSurfer doesn't support Sound Blaster-compatible audio under DOs, but an IBM spokesman says that by the time this review appears, the card will probably support some DOS Sound Blaster applications under Windows (for example, Stunt Island and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe).
If you're running out of slots and you're interested in sound and telecommunications, this all-in-one solution may be just what you're looking for.