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56K Modem basics

I have a few simple questions about 56K modems. I haven't kept up with modems the past 2 years, so these questions may seem novice to you.

I spoke with my internet provider, who says they have a 56K connection. According to him, I can connect at 42K-52K (depending on the quality of my phone line), IF I have the right modem. He suggested US Robotics, but then said any 56K modem would work. He told me that whatever modem I get, I'd have to download "firmware" from the internet to get these connection speeds. First of all, what is firmware??? And do all 56K modems have it available on their internet web site?

He also mentioned getting a modem with PCI... I have no idea what that means. Any help there?

Basically, all I want is to find a modem that is affordable and connects at 42-52K. I've seen several modems in the $60-$75 range, including Modem Blaster, and I'd like to know if I can make it work with a modem like that.

If you can help me out and explain it so that I can understand it, you certainly deserve all the points!
(By the way, I'm not computer illiterate by any means, just modem illiterate).
1 Solution
If the ISP suggested US Robotics,
then they purchased a modem-server from US Robotics.
This server works best, of course, with US Robotics modems.
However, purchase a Cardinal Connecta X2 modem
(internal or external), instead of a US Robotics modem.
It will cost 1/3 as much (about $50), and works just as well,
since Cardinal (a division of Hayes) purchases
the same chip-sets from Texas Instruments as USR does,
and Cardinal licenses the X2 and V.90 technology from USR.
Cardinal's web-site has a free upgrade from X2 to V.90 protocol.

Firmware is just the software which runs on the modem's own computer.
If you purchase a new modem, it comes with adequate firmware.
If you have an older modem, it may be possible to download
new firmware, from the manufacturer's web-site,
to "upgrade" your current modem.

Your computer's motherboard has ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) slots,
and may also have PCI slots, if it is a recent motherboard,
in which you would insert an internal modem,
or video-card, or sound-card.
PCI slots are "high-performance", compared to ISA slots.
It's noticeably-better performance for a video-card,
but probably not for a modem-card.

See: http://www.v90.com  or  http://www.56k.com
for the FAQs.

BergJCAuthor Commented:
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