RealPort Ethernet hits high note on quality scale

Some products you want for their glamour or status: a Louis Vuitton
suitcase, a Tiffany & Co. diamond ring, a Patek Philippe watch. Other products have a
reputation for reliability and durability: Levi Strauss & Co. jeans, for example, or
Maytag washers.


Then there are products whose cachet is based on their quality.


Such a product is the RealPort Ethernet 10/100+Modem56 from Xircom Inc.


This is truly a card for all seasons, offering connections for digital Global System
for Mobile Communications or analog Advanced Mobile Phone Service telephones, telephone
handset passthroughs, a 56-Kbps modem and 10Base-T or 100Base-T Ethernet networking.


The $399 list price is daunting, but don’t let it scare you.


At online reseller PC Connection at http://www.pcconnection.com,
  you can get one for $320 or a pack of five for $1,480, or $296 each, a savings of
more than $100 per unit over the list price.


Xircom, which marked its 10th anniversary in September, had gross revenues of $185
million in 1997, a fraction of the sales of modems reported by 3Com Corp.’s US
Robotics unit.


Both produce excellent products, but comparing the two is very like comparing sales
figures of, say, Rolls Royce with those of Honda. The latter sells far more cars, but the
differences in features offered are striking.


In the case of the RealPort Ethernet 10/100+Modem 56, the biggest difference is up
front, literally. All the connectors in the RealPort are integrated into the unit.
There’s nothing—such as a wired, detachable dongle—to snap off, break apart
or get lost. I’ve used cards with dongles, and they have performed well. But working
without the fear of dongle loss or damage is a tremendous advantage.


The four connectors are built in to the card, and its profile occupies both slots of a
typical portable PC.


But because many notebook users would populate those slots with separate modem and LAN
cards, it doesn’t appear to be a great loss.


With portables and subnotebooks such as Hitachi Data Systems Corp.’s
VisionBookTraveler, which offers more than the two usual PC Card slots, one slot would
remain available even when using the RealPort.


The packaging of the RealPort is impressive; the box holds the card and a telephone
cable, as well as 31'2-inch diskettes containing drivers for Microsoft Windows 3.x,
Windows 95, Windows NT and various networking protocols including Novell NetWare, Artisoft
LANtastic, Banyan Vines and Digital Pathworks, as well as TCP/IP.


The modem itself is sturdily built and includes LEDs that indicate modem activity.
Installation of the device took less than three minutes.


Before powering up my notebook PC, I inserted the card in the PC Card slot.


At power up, Windows 98 searched for drivers, which were found on the supplied floppy
disk. With drivers installed, the system identified and used the modem instantly.


My testing included a dial-up connection with EarthLink Networks, one of the
nation’s top Internet service providers.


Connection speeds did not hit 56 Kbps or even come close, but that is more likely a
result of EarthLink points of presence and my local phone access network than of the
modem’s performance capability. Connections with the RealPort were reliable and sure
in my testing.


Although I couldn’t test two features, their presence was nonetheless reassuring.
The modem features built-in protection against digital public branch exchange problems.


It also comes with CountrySelect software, which can configure the modem to work with
networks anywhere in the world. For international travelers, this capability would be
invaluable.


Would I buy this product? Yes, especially if I could find a better price than list.
I’d even pay the full price if my travels required a drop-dead certain, fail-safe
modem and LAN adapter in one. Get more information at http://www.xircom.com.


Contact Xircom at 805-376-9300. 

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