Shopping for a New Modem

This is an actual email message from one of my readers, and I've gotten many others just like it:

"I recently bought an 'unnamed' internal data/fax/voice modem which is a K56Flex model using a Rockwell chipset. I have been reading that I now probably need a FLASH upgrade for it for my ISP as my firmware is Version 0.51 which is apparently out of date now. The problem is I don't know the manufacturer of my modem. Here are all the Rockwell chip details and the ATI responses the modem gives me. Can I use ANY flash upgrade from another manufacturer???? Can you help in any way??"

The answer to the next to the last question is no, you can't use a flash update from any manufacturer.

I now have a standard response to questions like this:

"Run, don't walk, to the computer store and take back that modem! Get a name brand modem, preferably one of the ones listed in the buyer's guide that guarantess free upgrades to the final ITU standard. A name brand modem costs a little more, but you'll get tech support, firmware and driver updates, and - if you shop wisely - a free upgrade to the final ITU standard."

I used to work on a technical support help desk for an Internet service provider. Believe me, there's nothing more frustrating than trying to help a customer who doesn't even know what brand of modem they own.

A name brand modem doesn't have to be a household name, and it doesn't have to be expensive. Here's what to check for:

  1. Make sure the box at least has the company's name on it. Seriously.
  2. Make sure the manual lists the phone number for the company's technical support line. Like Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.
  3. Find out if the company has a web site or FTP site for software updates, then visit the site to see if you can locate any updates.

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