More than five years after the USB standard was first proposed, and several years since virtually all new PCs have shipped with USB ports at the rear, manufacturers are really starting to work on flooding the market with USB peripherals. The latest area to come under the USB influence is analogue comms, with this V.90 (56kbps) USB modem. Although sold under the Terra flag, the label on the back indicates that this modem was manufactured for Aztech under the UM9800 product name. Not that it matters; either way it’s a new and compact approach to communications for the PC.
The Terra V.90 USB modem is small for an external device – it’s not a great deal larger than a packet of cigarettes. There are three LEDs on the front to tell you when the device is powered, in use and receiving/transmitting data, while at the back there’s a socket for the supplied phone lead (which has a pass-through port for a telephone) and another socket for the USB cable, which is also supplied. Notable by its absence is any form of power supply, because this USB gadget draws all the power it needs from the host PC’s USB port.
Installation is laughably easy. Plug the USB cable into the modem and your PC. Plug the telephone cable into the wall socket. Install the modem driver software when prompted by Windows 95/98. And, er, that’s it. Since the modem takes over one of the available COM ports, it can be accessed by any normal Windows comms application, including dial-up networking, faxing and terminal emulation software. If you don’t already have all that, the installation CD includes an application that can handle voice, fax and data for you, with the modem automatically switching between different types of incoming calls as necessary.
Being a USB device, the Terra V.90 USB modem is hot-swappable. This means that you can plug it into your computer while it’s switched on, and it will be automatically detected by Windows 95/98/Whatever. This is obviously not a great deal of use to home users, since once you plug your modem in, the chances are you’ll want it to stay in. Unless you’d like to plug in something else, of course, since this little gadget doesn’t have a second USB port at the rear for daisy-chaining to other peripherals. But where this hot-swap feature is of interest is to the notebook community, because it allows such users to keep their modem plugged into their desktop machine while at work, then take it with them while their on their travels, without having to worry about extra mains power transformers.
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