You Gotta Have a Modem if You're Gonna Hit the Road!

Every day another business is telling its people, "Hit the road--and don't forget your computer." The mobile workforce is growing at a tremendous rate, and the number of notebooks and laptops is growing with it. More and more of these computers are running Windows NT 3.51, which lacks some of the zippy laptop features that Windows 95 has (see "Life on a Laptop," on page 30). But NT does have a good connectivity tool, Remote Access Service (RAS).

One problem in taking NT on the road is modem compatibility. RAS requires a modem to dial in to a network. But finding an NT-compatible 28.8Kbits-per-second (Kbps) PC Card (formerly PCMCIA) modem that you can set up for RAS can be difficult. NT 3.51 is the first version to support PC Card devices. The Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) offers little help; few 28.8Kbps PC Card modems were available when it was printed.

To help mobile users, the Windows NT Magazine Lab has assembled some 28.8Kbps PC Card modems and installed, tested, and verified their operation with RAS. For each modem, a few tips will smooth your installation. Each modem requires a PC Card Type II slot; all these modems are 28.8Kbps data and 14.4Kbps fax modems.

Hayes Optima 288 PC Card with EZjack
Setting up RAS with this modem is a painless process. Although RAS has no Hayes Optima PC Card selection, you just tell RAS to auto-detect the modem and choose the standard Hayes Optima 288. Using this selection, we had no problems dialing in to our RAS server. The EZjack connector pops out of the modem's shell, eliminating the need to carry additional connection devices. The EZjack is sturdy and should not easily snap off. The Optima 288 PC Card with EZjack from Hayes sells for $319.

Xircom CreditCard Modem 28.8
This modem comes with a short connector cable that has an RJ-11 phone jack. Congratulations are in order for Xircom! This is the only modem in the group that has specific installation instructions for NT. Although the CreditCard Modem is not in NT's modem.inf file, setting up this modem is a snap. The installation disk includes a handy batch file that appends all the necessary information to the modem.inf file for you. Instructions on how to use the batch file are in the installation manual. The CreditCard Modem 28.8 from Xircom costs $329.

Olicom GoCard Modem 288
This modem's connector cable is six feet long with a standard RJ-11 connector on the other end. This means you don't have to travel with an additional phone cord, but you must have a coupler if you're more than six feet from the nearest phone jack.

The Olicom modem's responses are not in NT's modem.inf file by default, so you must add them. If you already have RAS installed, go to Olicom's bulletin board system (BBS) or its ftp site at in the pub/bbs.mirror/updates directory. Download the file named olimodem.inf, and append it to the end of the modem.inf file, using Notepad or another text editor. Then RAS will properly auto-detect your modem.

If you don't have RAS installed, you can't append olimodem.inf yet. Install RAS, and when selecting a modem, choose the Hayes Optima 288. The GoCard functions very well with this setting. Then append the olimodem.inf file to modem.inf, and reconfigure the modem. RAS will now auto-detect the correct modem. The GoCard Modem 288 from Olicom sells for $349.

Practical Peripherals ProClass PC Card 288
This modem has the EZ-Port connector, which pops out of the modem, much like the Hayes and Megahertz models. Installing the ProClass with RAS is a simple matter. This modem is model PC288T2-EZ, but when you choose a modem, have RAS auto-detect and select the Practical Peripherals PC288SA. Restart your system, and your ProClass modem should run without a hitch. The ProClass PC Card 288 from Practical Peripherals costs $299 with EZ-Port, $289 without.

US Robotics Sportster PC Card 288 with DataView
The connector cable for the Sportster features dual RJ-11 phone jacks, so you can plug your modem into the wall and plug your phone into the other jack, like with most standard modems. The Sportster is easy to set up in RAS; the modem-initialization strings are already in the modem.inf file. You just set up RAS, and NT will properly auto-detect your modem as a US Robotics PC Card. The Sportster PC Card 288 with DataView from US Robotics sells for $329.

Megahertz 28.8 PC Card Modem with Xjack
This modem is already defined in the RAS modem.inf file, where modem-initialization strings are stored, so NT will properly auto-detect it for you. The Xjack connector pops out for use with a standard phone cord and is very rugged. The 28.8 PC Card Modem with Xjack from Megahertz sells for $349.

Megahertz 28.8 PC Card Modem with Xjack Cellular
The Megahertz model XJ3288 is similar to the XJ2288, except that it is cellular-capable. The XJ3288 has the standard Xjack connector, and it has an additional socket for a direct-connect cable to a cellular phone.

The addition of cellular capability causes some difficulty. When RAS detects the modem, it sees a standard Megahertz 28.8 PC Card. When you try to dial in, you receive a message saying the modem response is unrecognized. To fix this problem, you must copy this message--it's in a message box, so you can't cut and paste it--and add it to the general modem response section of the modem.inf file in the \\systemroot\system32\ras directory (for example, c:\winnt35\system32\ras). The Windows NT 4.0 beta auto-detects this modem, however, and uses it without difficulty.

The only problem I ran into was with a Motorola MicroTac II cellular phone. The extra cord fits in nicely, but either the line was too noisy or the data rate was too slow because the RAS server hung up before it verified the connection. The 28.8 PC Card modem with Xjack Cellular from Megahertz costs $369.

On the Road Again
Life on the road isn't easy, and running NT on your laptop won't necessarily make your life any easier. But the upcoming release of NT 4.0 (see "Windows NT 4.0," Windows NT Magazine, April 1996) should help solve some problems. NT 4.0 will have more laptop-centric features, such as a PC Card services applet on the Control Panel.

Until Windows NT 4.0 is released, however, you must rely on vendors who make sure that their PC Card modems are compatible with NT and RAS. Before buying a PC Card modem, just remember to ask the manufacturer whether it works with NT and RAS. That question can make your next road trip a lot smoother.

Contact Info
Hayes Microcomputer Products * 770-840-9200
Megahertz * 800-527-8677
Olicom * 800-265-4266
Practical Peripherals * 770-840-9966
US Robotics * 800-877-2677
Xircom * 800-438-4526