Low-priced modem calls on your CPU for some processing
Fast connections are a hot topic, and in view of all the new modem features and
vendors' speed claims, I'd like to point out that not all V.34 and V.34+ modems were
created equal. For instance, there's a new kind of PC-dependent modem out there.
The first one I've run across is U.S. Robotics' Sportster Winmodem. Don't misunderstand
me, there's nothing wrong with this inexpensive, internal 33.6-kilobit/sec unit. It's just
that to achieve a two-digit price, U.S. Robotics has shifted control to the host PC's CPU.
The company has been up-front about this, but many users don't read the fine print, so
just be aware that your performance results will be quite host-dependent.
Shifting control from the modem board to the CPU is fine if you have a fast Pentium
system and don't regularly run several tasks while downloading files. If you have a slow
system or do a lot of multitasking, modem performance can really dive.
Let me say again that there's absolutely nothing wrong with this modem design, but do
take stock of your host PC and how you use it before buying. For the right user, this
modem is a great bargain.
In an earlier column [GCN, June 24, Page 53],
I pointed out Java-related security flaws in Netscape Communications' Navigator 2.0
browser. Well, if you ignored my oft-repeated advice to bypass all Version x.0 software
and were among the first to try Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0, you better take a look at
the World Wide Web site at http://www.cs.princeton.edu/sip/news/Aug96-2.html.
Or trust me, and go straight to http://www.microsoft.com/msdownload.iepatch.html
to download a free bug fix from Microsoft.
You probably know that Explorer 3.0 makes you re-enter passwords every time you go to
restricted-access Web pages, and the Microsoft fix takes care of that minor problem, but
did you know that Explorer 3.0 also lets infected Microsoft Word and Excel files on Web
pages activate macros in your PC that could erase its hard-drive files?
Actually, the bug will let these crackers access any MS-DOS command on a user's PC,
which creates a pretty big security hole. I haven't seen this happen, but information
about the bug is circulating widely on the Net and elsewhere, so hackers are sure to pick
The patch is a rather large file, but my advice is, don't leave home without it if you
use Explorer 3.0.
Although Explorer offers better transaction security than Navigator and has become a
solid contender in the browser wars, I've found that a lot of Web sites have special
features supported by Navigator but not yet by Explorer.
Are you getting strange errors since you upgraded the memory in your Toshiba America
Information Systems Inc. notebook? It turns out that some memory upgrade modules for Tecra
and Satellite models contained the wrong chips, so if you're experiencing intermittent
memory problems or can't resume where you left off after the notebook goes into
battery-saving sleep mode, check with Toshiba at 714-583-3000 for information on the bad
John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. He welcomes mail from readers. Write to him care of
Government Computer News, 8601 Georgia Ave., Suite 300, Silver Spring, Md. 20910.