3Com's "Internet gaming modem": Nothing special?

— 10:56 PM on November 8, 1999

Reader CapZap wrote in with a mention of 3Com's new "Internet Gaming Modem," which should be available soon. In case you missed 3Com's announcement about this one, here's the press release.

The question is: what is this 3Com gaming modem, and how could it be better than any other plain ol' modem out there?

The answer, near as I can tell, is two-fold. First, this is not a software modem. A huge portion of the modems out there these days use a software driver and the host PC's processor to get the job done. Software-based modems don't play well with alternative operating systems, but so long as you plan on running Win9x, they generally work well enough for web surfing and e-mail. However, run a CPU-intensive 3D game (or anything else, for that matter) at the same time, and there's the potential a software-based modem could introduce serious latency. (I mean, even beyond the usual lagginess of a dial-up connection.)

These "winmodems" are one of the few compromises of the sub-$1K PCs I really can't stomach. If your modem says "Windows 9x required" or something along those lines in the manual, you're probably saddled with a software modem.

Second, 3Com's new baby is one of the few "real" modems that fits into a PCI slot. For 56K-class connections, external modems--which are always "real" modems and are generally a bit better than their internal counterparts--hit a theoretical peak when they're coming in over the serial port at 115.2Kbps. Because a 56K modem may compress text or other simple data types to about 1/4 of original size, there's the possibility of bottlenecking at the serial port UART. Internal modems get around this problem by having their own UART (or emulated UART) on board, many of which are capable of 230Kbps transfer rates. Since ISA is going away soon and almost all the other internal PCI modems out there are software jobbies, the 3Com does stand out from the pack a bit.

So is 3Com giving it to us straight here? Well, not exactly, but they are targeting the right segment of folks--gamers--with a product that may have some value for them. Just don't throw out a perfectly good, "real" ISA modem for this thing expecting a huge drop in latency. To get that, you've gotta use my favorite type of modem: cable modem.

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