Serial port on P578 (can't initialize)

I NEED HELP!  I can't use my modem on my Macintosh.

I have a Performa 578 with 12 Meg RAM running System 7.5.1.  We've been using America Online without any trouble for months.

Suddenly last Saturday, I get this message from AOL 2.7:

     +------------------------------------------------+
     | We were unable to initialize your serial port. |
     | Try selecting a different port instead.        |
     | Please report error code -97.                  |
     +------------------------------------------------+

I tried another terminal program ("MacLayers," which I use to call into a Sun box at work), and got this message as soon as I double-clicked the application icon:

     +------------------------------------+
     | A nonrecoverable program error has |
     | occurred with Macintosh Layers.    |
     |                                    |
     | "Serial Port Not Configured"       |
     +------------------------------------+

I called 1-800-SOS-APPL, and they told me to reinstall the modem software (SupraFAX 144LC), and if that doesn't work, to reinstall the system software.

The modem software reinstall didn't seem to help.  I tried
a few incremental system installs, to no avail.  Finally
I decided that this would be a good time to get a clean start, so I backed up my 330 Meg drive and then wiped it clean with Silver Lining 5.6, and did a fresh install of System 7.5 (and 7.5.1 update) from Apple's disks.

Imagine my surprise when I got it all going again, and had the same error with MacLayers!  Even stranger, AOL now crashed with a bomb:

     +------------------------------------------+
     | Sorry, a system error occurred           |
     | "America Online v2.7"                    |
     | floating point coprocessor not installed |
     +------------------------------------------+

I was getting ticked.  I reinstalled AOL from one of my dozens of AOL install floppies, and got rid of the system error.  But I was still back at square one, unable to initialize my serial port.

Oh yeah, I also tried switching to the printer port in AOL's setup window, but that didn't help.  (And I still can't even get INTO MacLayers to change anything there.)

As a last resort, I even tried booting off the Performa CD, with System 7.1P.  Same problem.

So what do y'all think...is this a HARDWARE problem?  I was going post this to comp.sys.mac.system only, but since I can't seem to make any headway trying to fix it in software, I thought I'd crosspost to comp.sys.mac.hardware.misc. (I haven't heard a word in either newsgroup yet.)

Can anyone give me any clue of what might be going on?
"Help me, Obi-wan, you're my only hope..."

Thanks,
  - Tom A.
---------------------------------------------
;-) I'd rather be ____  Thomas R. Arneberg  
:-) singing in a |____|  http://www.mcs.com/~toma
:-) Barbershop  _|   _| toma@cray.com
:-) Quartet!   (_)  (_) Chippewa Falls, Wisc.
---------------------------------------------



toma010397Asked:
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simapCommented:
If restarting with extensions off doesn't help, you have a hardware problem. It might not be you mac's serial port but it could be your modem. Try unpluging your modem and running AOL. If AOL can init the port but doesnt see the modem you have a bad modem or a bad modem connection. Try replacing the modem's cable. If that doesn't work you might have to borrow someone's modem so see if it is in fact your modem that is causing the problem. If all else fails you will have to get your computer serviced. It is very uncommon that a serial port on a mac does not outlive a modem.
        SIMAP
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