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Modems are perhaps the most-trouble free pieces of common computer peripheral. I say that based on their incredibly long warranties, five years for the Supra and a lifetime warranty for the PPI. Nevertheless, I’ve seen a number of reports of modems being dead on arrival, so support carries a fair amount of importance. In addition, during the first few weeks of use as you gradually connect to more and more high-speed modems, you may need help in figuring out the best configuration strings. Finally, although a modem’s programming is burned into a chip, modem companies do occasionally, or even frequently, update those ROMs to add features or fix bugs. Both Supra and PPI have issued several ROM upgrades since shipping the modems.

I had a doozy of a support problem that isn’t related to either of the modems, but which gave me a good sense of the level of support. The day I installed both modems, my UUCP mail host upgraded its modems to Telebit WorldBlazers. Since that day, I have not been able to send to that machine with either of the new modems or with my old 2,400 bps modem, using any program or protocol. I’ve even tried it not only from my SE/30, but also from our PowerBook 100 and Classic. Receiving works fine, but sending fails, though not always in the same place, and slowing down the speed usually increases the time before the first packet time-out. Even stranger, other people with the same modems, the same computers, and the same software can send files to this machine with no trouble, and I even used a neighbor’s phone line briefly to make sure my phone line hadn’t changed. We’re talking the communication problem from hell here, and we have no clue how to fix it, although we’ve determined it even happens when my Mac is directly connected to the Vax via a long cable. As I said, I now speak the Hayes command set fluently because I’ve changed literally every setting that could affect the connection.

First I called each company’s tech support people, and received little help. Both technicians said that the problem obviously wasn’t with their modem, so they couldn’t help me. True, but I would have appreciated any suggestions they could have provided. Next I asked on CompuServe, where both companies offer support. PPI’s tech support staff there, Paul Hansen and Marty Azarani, offered numerous suggestions and hints, and sent me a new front panel for the PPI modem (mine had a bad LED for transmit) and a new ROM to fix some fax difficulties among other things. The process was absolutely no hassle – just a message outlining what I needed and where to send it, and from the messages I’ve seen, everyone gets the same level of support. Though not quite at the level of the support I received from PPI, Supra’s online support was good as well. The only drawback here is that you need a CompuServe account to easily receive this excellent service, although you can send Internet email to Supra and Paul Hansen of PPI will try to help via email as well, although without the thread context, he will have more trouble keeping what’s happening straight. Paul said that he’s in the process of setting up an Internet account (see below for addresses).

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