By MATTHEW RATCLIFF
Choosing Your ModemStrategy for online beginners
Your first significant investment before going online with your Atari will be a modem, the small box of electronic circuitry that actually interconnects your computer and the phone system.
You don't necessarily need to buy modem software when first getting started online. Usually you can acquire a good public domain terminal (or modem) program such as AMODEM 7.2 for the 8-bit Atari. And ST owners can start by using the V-52 terminal emulator desk accessory that comes with their computers. Then after getting a bit of online experience, you'll have a better idea of what features you want to pay for in commercial modem software.
ATARI'S OWN MODEMS
Over the years, Atari Corp. has produced a series of widely used 300-baud modems that plug directly into the 8-bit Atari's non-standard SIO serial bus. You can still find either new or used XM301s, some older 1030 models, or even a few ancient 835s. These are all "direct connect" modems, which means they plug directly into a modular phone jack.
Most standard modems require the computer to have an RS-232 serial interface. The Atari ST models have this RS-232 port built in. To connect RS-232 peripherals to your 8-bit Atari you will need the ICD P:R: Connection or the discontinued Atari 850 interface.
The Atari XM301 modem comes with good communications software, complete with XMODEM file transfer protocol. Keith Ledbetter, one of the best-known names among Atari modem enthusiasts, has written a 1030/XM301 version of his Express! terminal software. His latest revision is 3.0, available free from most bulletin boards. It is "share-ware" which you download, use, and send the author some money if you like his efforts.
AMODEM Plus, version 7.3, is the most recent version of this long-established public domain terminal program for the 8-bit Atari. Many different authors have made revisions to support the 1030/835/XM301 modems and these can be found on lots of Atari BBS libraries.
The older Atari modems are inexpensive--$50 or less--and save you the cost of a special interface if you don't already own a P:R: Connection or 850. But at a speed of 300 baud they are slow by today's standards. And their non-standard SIO connection means that they can be used only on the 8-bit Atari.
NEW ATARI SX212
Atari's newest online product is the SX212 modem ($99.95), which swiftly sold out its entire first shipment last Christmas. At 1200 baud, the SX212 is four times faster than the older Atari modems. This speed can save you a lot of online time costs when you transfer files over a long-distance BBS connection or a time-charge system such as Compuserve.
The SX212 has both SIO and RS232 interfaces, so it can connect directly to the 8-bit Atari or the ST. Or you can use a P:R: Connection or 850 to hook it up to the 8-bit.
The SX212 is Hayes compatible when it operates via the RS-232 interface. Hayes commands are the standard by which all modems are measured. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better Atari 8-bit online package than the SX212 modem with RS-232 interface and Keith Ledbetter's 850 Express!, version 3.0.
The only problem with the SX212 is that 8-bit owners who don't want to buy an RS-232 connector won't have any commercial software available until Atari comes out with its promised add-on package featuring a new SX212 version of Ledbetter's Express! software. I'll be reviewing this entire SX212 Express! system for Antic as soon as it becomes available.
ST owners will find that the Hayes compatible SX212 works very nicely with Flash (from The Catalog), interlink, ST-Term, ST-Talk, or any other terminal software that supports Hayes compatible modems.
AVATEX, ANCHOR, SUPRA
Avatex makes a popular line of low-priced 1200 baud standard modems. lf you come across a good deal on an Avatex, take careful note of the model name. The Avatex 1200 is a good general-purpose unit, but the 1200hc is preferable because the "hc" stands for fully Hayes compatible. The basic Avatex 1200 model requires you to switch manually between 300 and 1200 baud, which is not acceptable for running a BBS.
I've been using an Anchor Mark XII for nearly 3 years without any problems. It is extremely reliable and quite Hayes compatible. My only complaint about this unit is that it doesn't have a built-in speaker. I like to use a modem speaker to listen to the sound of telephone signal tones. The current crop of Anchor modems, including their new Lightning 2400 baud series, all have speakers.
Supra, formerly MPP, has been a longtime producer of modems for the Atari. If you run across an older MPP modem that connects to the 8-bit Atari via the joystick port, I have heard a fair number of complaints about these discontinued models. (We were quite happy with the old MPP we used at Antic for several years.-ANTIC ED) But the newer Supra 1200 and 2400 baud modems are quite good and come at good prices.
If you truly have "the need for speed" online, shop for a good 2400 baud modem. Prices are coming down to the $200 range. But I suggest avoiding mail order house brands because you don't know what you're getting and the quality can be uneven. I bought such a modem and it decided to hang up the phone every time my air conditioner kicked on. I didn't get my refund until after several months and about six long-distance phone calls.
Good low cost "brand names" you can generally trust are US Robotics, Everex, Avatex, Supra and Anchor. If you come across a bargain brand you're not familiar with, find someone who owns one and has first-hand experience with it.