Zoom – PC Card 56K Dualmode review

PC Card (PCMCIA) modem
Photo of Zoom – PC Card 56K Dualmode
£120

One of the big problems with any technological change from one standard to another is that there’s a cross-over period in which neither standard is standard enough. This sort of thing happens quite often in the PC industry, but its most recent incarnation is the transition from the two ‘not quite standard’ 56Kbps algorithms – K56flex and X2 – to the ITU-ratified V.90 standard that combines elements of the two.

The problem is as follows. If you’ve already bought an X2 modem, you may find that, currently, your ISP only supports K56flex. Or you may have a V.90 modem, but your ISP uses X2 and won’t be upgrading for another six months. In the meantime, you’re stuck with (at best) 33.6Kbps. Other than buying three separate modems, there’s not much you can do. Or at least, there wasn’t until Zoom brought out its range of Dualmode modems. As the name would cunningly suggest, these devices, of which this PC Card (formerly PCMCIA) device is one, support two separate technologies. In this case, the modems support K56flex and V.90. That doesn’t help much if you’re embroiled in X2, but for many users this will be good news.

The PC Card 56K Dualmode modem is a Type II PC Card with a connector at the rear for the supplied phone cable. This terminates in a US-style phone plug, but an adapter is supplied for UK users. Under Windows 95 or 98, installation is not at all complex. The necessary drivers are supplied on a floppy disk, and after they’ve been installed the card is available for any application to use as a standard modem. There’s no need to tell the card whether it’s connecting to a V.90 or K56flex ISP; it sorts that out for itself during hand-shaking.

Zoom bundles some useful voice, fax and data software with this modem, along with a cut-down version of Paint Shop Pro and trial offers from CompuServe and AOL. Since the modem, which also supports up to 14.4Kbps fax transmit and receive, is based on flash memory, its internal firmware can be updated by the user as and when Zoom posts a new version on its Web site.

Company: Zoom

Contact: 01245 352 403


Verdict
56Kbps downloads are still a fantasy for many users, with actual speeds usually in the mid-40s. Even so, that's considerably better than 33.6Kbps, and this modem should permit access to more ISPs than V.90-only devices. That won't matter too much if your ISP is already V.90-compliant, but if that's not the case, the upgrade path offered by the PC Card 56K Dualmode is an attractive one.