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 Home -> Reviews -> Internet Gaming Modem
Internet Gaming Modem By John "Award" Del Percio, August 2, 2000
. .
Manufacturer : 3Com/US Robotics
Interface : Internal PCI or External
Table of Contents

Introduction
Closer Look
Facts
Final

High Speed, Low Hassle

When my modem arrived, I began my usual nail biting at the thought of messing with hardware in Windows. I have had a long heritage of generic hardware that Windows did not enjoy too much, and unlike other OSes, removing the drivers for hardware in Windows doesn't always remove them. After popping out my old (fried) modem, and popping the IGM in, the driver install was a clean, easy, straight INF file install, and it went without a hitch (aside from having to move around some IRQ's due to a dual-drivered sound card).

Now came the fun part, game testing. I tried each game in normal 56k mode, and then in gaming mode. While it should be noted that you must switch modes while disconnected from the net. (Further insight into how the modem works explains why. For more information, visit 3Com's website.) The first game I tested, is the logical start, Heavy Gear II, one of the games that came with the modem. HG2 didn't have much of a problem with lag, even in standard 56k mode. I did, however, get dropped from the server twice, as a result of lag. So I reconnected, for my first time, in gaming mode. I took a look at my connect speed and noticed something rather interesting. My connect speed was down from 49333bps to 43000bps. After reconnecting to the server, I noticed my ping time was down by about 80. In the game, I played for another hour or so without a single drop.

My second attempt was Total Annihilation: Kingdoms. This game, I have battled for quite some time with low speeds. While the original TA didn't have many lag problems on a normal size map, TA:K always seemed to have choppy unit movement and attacks. Sure enough, in normal mode, the same problem consumed my game. After connecting in gaming mode; however, for the first time ever, I had entirely smooth unit movement, and only one "blink movement" where the units magically move themselves.

Klingon Academy was next (as it was just in time for the review.) Lag was definitely a problem on normal mode, as with any sim, there is a lot of data that must be transferred. On normal mode, it had a lot of lag, a lot of ships disappearing and reappearing behind me, a lot of spontaneous combustions as a result of being hammered by enemy fire, but losing half of the packets and never knowing it. It wasn't friendly. Switching to gaming mode, however, I noticed a huge difference. No longer was my ship jumping from one place to another, nor were the enemies disappearing and reappearing; and when they did, it was only a very short difference. Not once did I "spontaneously" explode.

Now, mentioning that normal mode is severely worse than gaming mode in most instances, you could begin to think that the modem is rigged in normal mode. Not the case. In fact, I have obtained a 56k connection (a 56k connection is defined as any connection over 33.6kps). Every time, I get either a 48000bps or 49333bps connection. Now, that varies over different phone lines and different ISPs, but since my ISP does not use 3Com equipment, you know that there is no special optimization to get that sort of connection. My transfer rates for downloads blew my mind as well. A steady 5.5kps from ftp.gamevisions.com, and a quick load of some of the pages that always took me the longest to load (such as www.interplay.com, and the GV news archives) were nice, and while my previous modem was a 33.6 modem, I have had the opportunity to sample 56k modems on other line conditions with other ISPs, and have even been on a dedicated 56k line. The Internet Gaming Modem out-peaked my top speed on the dedicated line!

One thing that I did have to stop and laugh at is the information that 3Com gave me. Most hardware companies provide reviewers a packet of information regarding the technical info about the product, and in many cases, a packet providing tips on how to review it, and key points worth looking into. As I opened the packet, I was presented several pages on how to set up a laboratory environment to test the modem, including diagrams. This in itself is not only normal, but typically a very helpful little tid-bit for benching hardware. The humorous part about this, however, is that while a laboratory environment is wonderful for things such as video cards, processors, memory, and the like, as you want the most general testing setup so it does not focus around a specific hardware setup, the same is not true for modems. Sure, one modem can be better than another in a lab where you use solid gold for wiring couplings and the like, but real world phone lines and ISPs that will cut costs wherever they can present a very different set of rules where electricity is concerned, and a unit that won out in a lab may have an entirely different way of dealing with line noise etc. The best test for a modem, though the reviewers lines and ISP may differ greatly from yours, is a real world test. In this case, for the longest time, I thought my lines were terrible. It turns out that my lines are fine, my modem was terrible.

Another point of interest is the lack of a manual that comes with this modem. Even my old cheap 33.6 modem came with a nice 30 page or so manual giving the different init strings, jumper settings etc. The 3Com/USR IGM comes only with a fold out poster with the 5 easy steps of setup, and nice, glossy, color pictures of the process. Another selling feature to me is something, that while most Windows gamers may not care about, there is a large enough crowd that does. This modem is not a Winmodem...it works happily enough in Linux, or any other Operating system that doesn't care much about specific modem drivers. While you won't get gaming mode for Linux, as it is a proprietary driver (and rightfully so), and 3Com doesn't seem too enthusiastic about writing a port of the drivers for any other OS, we'll just have to stick with our regular modem speeds for our Linux games.

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