I own an Atari 400 with 48K of memory, an 810 disk drive, and 1027 printer. I would like to expand my system with a modem, but I know nothing about them. What would be the best modem to buy? Who can I talk to? Am I limited to conversing with Atari computers or can I converse with other computers? What is a direct-connect modem?
Paul S. Reyes
There are a huge number of third-party (non-Atari) modems available. The acoustic modem has two rubber cups into which you insert the telephone handset, whereas a direct-connect modem attaches directly to the telephone lines. All modems communicate by translating the ones and zeros of data into two tones, which are reconverted into data by the modem on the other end. The disadvantage of an acoustic modem is that outside noise can interfere with the modem tones. Also, some handsets just can't fit into the acoustic cups. The direct-connect modem sends its pulses directly over the phone line, and can automatically dial or answer the phone (although not all direct-connect modems have these features). Early phones without modular jacks must be adapted for use with direct-connect modems.
Almost all third-party modems plug into an RS-232C serial port. This is an extra option on many computers, including the Atari. The Atari 850 Interface Module has four RS-232C ports, but is hard to find these days. Some companies sell modems that plug into the joystick ports, and Atari sells a direct-connect modem that needs no additional interface. The Atari modem comes with its own software, but is not compatible with other modem software. You need this software to turn your computer into a dumb terminal, permitting you to see what's coming in over the modem, and letting you type to send out information over the modem. Advanced modem programs let you record everything coming in (downloading), or transmit a block of information to the other computer (uploading).
There's a huge world waiting for you on the other end of the modem. You are not limited to communicating with other Ataris. Large data base services like The Source, Dow Jones, and CompuServe offer news, stock quotations, electronic mail, games, even computer programming in FORTRAN, COBOL, and more. Prices for these services start at $5 per hour of connect time.
Also, there are thousands of public-access bulletin boards. These boards are set up by individuals who dedicate their computer and modem to a kind of mass communication. Bulletin boards let callers read and leave messages, even send and receive public-domain programs. Special-interest bulletin boards range from ham radio boards to religious and adult-only programming.