This itty-bitty USB modem keeps you well connected

This itty-bitty USB modem keeps you well connected

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff

Bigger isn't better when it comes to modems.

External analog units have changed little after the V.90 standard capped performance at 56 Kbps. A few companies have made minor design innovations, such as tower units that stand upright. But Multi-Tech Systems Inc.'s MultiMobileUSB modem for the Universal Serial Bus port breaks new ground.

The MultiMobileUSB is a full V.90 modem that weighs just 2 ounces and is hardly bigger than its cable. The modem, just a bulge at one end of the cable, even has four LEDs that blink to show connection status'information that is denied to users of PC Card or internal modems.

Installation took about two minutes. I plugged in the USB cable, snapped in a phone cord and rebooted. Microsoft Windows 98 recognized the new modem and asked for the driver disk, which I popped into the drive. Within another minute I was dialing up.

The modem performed as expected for a V.90 unit. Over a good, all-digital connection or with a single analog-to-digital link in the chain, the MultiMobileUSB averaged about 52 Kbps in my tests. The V.90 standard cannot compensate for more than one analog-to-digital connection in the path, and if a private branch exchange is involved, for example, speed drops to about 33 Kbps.

I gave bonus points for the modem's USB umbilical cord. USB devices make a lot of sense; most PC users have only one or two serial ports and one parallel port.

No worries

Furthermore, plugging in a USB connector is as easy as plugging in a lamp. And you never have to worry about the orientation, number or gender of the pins.

An advantage for mobile users is that the MultiMobileUSB does not take up a valuable PC Card slot. Notebooks usually have only two slots, and many devices vie for them.

Although the USB modem does weigh twice as much as a standard PC Card, the difference is only 1 ounce. Frequent travelers can use the same modem on the road and in the office, as mobile and desktop PCs generally have USB ports.

Box Scores''''

56-Kbps USB modem

Multi-Tech Systems Inc., Mounds View, Minn.; tel. 800-392-2432

Price: $189

+Full V.90 function and very lightweight

+Plug and play for any USB port

Real-life requirements:

Windows 9x and free USB port

The MultiMobileUSB also seems to be more durable than a PC Card modem. I dropped it a couple of times on trips without ill effect, whereas I have had PC Cards die after minor tumbles.

Kudos to Multi-Tech for taking advantage of USB, something most peripheral makers still have not done despite its success on Apple Computer Inc. computers. The MultiMobileUSB is tiny and fast, and it works with desktop as well as portable PCs. For such a small device, the performance and functionality are outstanding.

Medium-speed devices such as modems and scanners don't require any more bandwidth than USB delivers, and 16 or 20 USB ports could fit in the same space as two serial connections.

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