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Frequently Asked Questions

Modem Troubleshooting


How can I tell what kind of modem I have?

If you have an external modem, the model number may be printed on the outside of the modem. Otherwise, you will need to find the book that came with the modem. Important things to know about modems include the brand name of the modem manufacturer, and the baud rate (speed) of the modem. Most new modems are 14.4 Kbps (kilo baud per second) modems, 28.8 Kbps modems or 33.6 Kbps modems. Some very new modems may have a theoretical maximum of 56 Kbps. Very old modems may be as slow as 2400 Kbps. In order to be happy with an Internet connection, you will need at least a 14.4 Kbps modem.

Some new modems are what is called a DSP modem, which means that they "learn" how to be a modem by loading a driver during boot-up. In order to use this kind of modem, you must first install the software that came with it. PC-Card (PCMCIA) modems also require a software driver in order to work.

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What are the plugs for in the back of the modem?

Most modems have between two and four plugs in the back. External modems have a power plug, and it connects to the power supply. Internal modems get their power from the computer's power supply. External modems also have a 25-pin serial (RS-232) plug in the back. This connects the modem to the computer. If you purchased a new external modem, chances are you also need to buy a serial cable for this plug. Internal modems connect to the computer through the system bus. Finally, most modems also have two phone jacks (RJ-11 plugs). One is labeled "Phone" and the other is labeled "Line". The phone jack labeled "Line" should be connected to the phone cable that comes out of the wall. You may optionally connect a phone to the jack labeled "Phone". If you get these backward, it won't hurt the modem, but the modem won't work, either. Some modems only have the "Line" plug. In that case, the cable that comes from the wall should be plugged into it.

PC-Card modems have a plug which goes into the computer, and a phone jack. Again, the cable which comes from the wall should be plugged into the jack.

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I have an external modem, and it has lights on the outside. What do the lights mean?

Some external modems have more lights than others, but here is a brief description of the most common lights:
MR Modem Ready This means the modem is turned on.
TR Terminal Ready This means the computer is ready to use the modem.
HS High Speed The modem is in high-speed mode.
OH On Hook The modem is using the phone line.
CD Carrier Detect The modem has detected a signal on the phone line.
TX Transmit Data The modem is currently sending data to another modem.
RX Receive Data The modem is currently receiving data from another modem.
AA Auto Answer The modem will answer the phone if it rings.

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How can I tell if the modem is connected correctly?

If you have Windows 3.1 and you are using TCPMan to connect to the Internet, you can check to see if your modem is working by opening TCPMan, going to the "Dialer" menu, and choosing "Manual Login". Some text should appear in the main window. Type "at" on the keyboard and hit enter. If the modem is there, it will respond with "OK". Then hit the Escape key to exit manual login mode.

If you have Windows 3.1 and you connect to the Internet by double-clicking on the "SnowCrest" icon with the phone and the hand in front of it, then you will need to open the "Terminal" program in the "Accessories" folder. Go to "Settings" and "Communications". You will need to choose the correct settings for your modem. Type "at" on the keyboard and hit enter. If the modem is there, it will respond with "OK". Make a note of what the correct settings for your modem actually are, and close the Terminal program.

In Windows 95, you can test the modem by doing the following: go to the Start menu and choose "Settings" and "Control Panels". Opening the "Modems" control panel, and click on the "Diagnostics" tab. Click on the correct COM port so that it highlights, and click on the "More Info" button. Windows 95 will query your modem and let you know if it is working.

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What is the difference between an external and an internal modem?

The most obvious difference is that a external modem is in its own box, and an internal modem sits inside the computer. They perform the same function, but the similarity ends there. External modems have lights on the outside which tell you what the modem is doing. Also, if you get stuck on-line, you can turn the modem off without turning the computer off. External modems are more likely to work right out of the box with no modification to your system. For these reasons, external modems are slightly more expensive than internal modems. However, external modems require a high speed serial port, and they use up one of your computer's COM ports. Internal modems provide their own COM port, but in order to avoid conflicts, it is usually necessary to disable one of the computer's COM ports anyway. In order to install an internal modem, you must open up your computer. It is necessary to resolve interrupt conflicts with internal modems.

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How can I tell what COM port my modem is using?

In Windows 95, you can get this information by going to the Start Menu, clicking on "Settings" and "Control Panel", and opening the "Modems" control panel. Then click on the "Properties" button, and the current COM Port will be displayed, along with lots more information on your modem's configuration.

In Windows 3.1, there is no reliable way to determine the COM port directly. You simply have to try various ports until you get one that works. One way to do this is to open TCPMan (if you don't have TCPMan, skip to the next paragraph), go to "File" and "Settings", and change the number in "Slip Port" to a number from 1 to 4. Then click on OK. TCPMan will tell you that you need to restart TCPMan before the changes will take effect. Exit TCPMan by going to "File" and "Exit", and then re-start TCPMan. Go to the "Dialer" menu, and choose "Manual Login". Some text should appear in the main window telling you that you need to hit Escape when you want to quit the manual login process. At this point, type "AT" on the keyboard and hit the "Enter" key. If the modem is set correctly, you will get the response "OK" on the screen. Otherwise, nothing will happen. Try all four COM ports until you get one that works. If none of them work, then you have either specified the wrong baud rate, or the modem has a conflict of some kind.

The newer versions of the SnowCrest Internet Tools include a new driver which will attempt to automatically detect which COM port your modem is using. You can change the modem the computer tries to use by double-clicking on the "SnowCrest" icon, selecting "Properties", choosing the "Modem" tab, and selecting "Change Modem". If you know what the correct port and interrupt settings are for your modem, you can try clicking the "Advanced" button instead.

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How can I tell what interrupt my modem is using?

In Windows 95, go to the Start Menu, then "Settings", "Control Panel", and open the "Modems" control panel. Then click on the "Diagnostics" tab at the top of the window. Select the correct Port, so that it highlights, and click on the "More Info..." button. Windows 95 will talk to the modem, and when it is done, it will tell you the Interrupt, the Port, the Address, the UART, and the DTE rate, which it calls the Highest Speed.

In Windows 3.1, there is no way to accurately determine which interrupt your modem is using. However, you can figure it out from a few things. First, if you have an external modem, and you know which COM port your modem is on, then the following rules probably apply: COM1 and COM3 use interrupt 4, and COM2 and COM4 use interrupt 3. Second, if your modem is an internal one, the port and interrupt are either set by jumpers on the modem itself, or, if the modem is plug-and-play, with a software utility. You will have to determine the interrupt by looking at the jumpers and reading your modem manual, or by using the software utility.

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What do I need to know about COM ports and interrupts?

There can be up to four COM ports in a PC, COM1, COM2, COM3, and COM4. COM ports, also called serial ports, are used to communicate with certain peripherals, including mice, and modems. Most computers come with a COM1 and a COM2 port. The COM1 port is a plug on the back of the machine with 9 pins. If you have a serial mouse, it is probably plugged into this port. The COM2 port is usually a plug on the back of the machine with 25 pins, however, the newer machines (those that use the ATX specification) have a 9-pin port for COM2 which looks identical to the port for COM1. Note that the printer port also has 25 pins. The COM port is a male (pins stick out) port, however. COM1 uses interrupt 4, and COM2 uses interrupt 3. Only one device on the system may be configured to use any one interrupt. If you have more than one device configured to use an interrupt, you have an interrupt conflict. An interrupt conflict will keep you from connecting to the Internet, even if your modem works with other services. This is because of the rigorous nature of an Internet connection. Unfortunately, most internal modems are configured to use COM3 by default, which usually uses interrupt 4. This will frequently conflict with a serial mouse, making it so that when you move the mouse, the modem hangs up. The easiest way around this is to configure your modem to use interrupt 5, but most sound cards use interrupt 5. So, the best thing to do is to configure the modem to use COM2 and interrupt 3, and then disable COM2 on your computer's serial card. On newer Pentium systems, COM2 can be disabled in BIOS. You reach BIOS by hitting the delete key or the F1 key during the boot-up process. Older systems usually have a serial card, which requires that you move some jumpers to disable COM2. You will need the instruction sheet for the serial card. If you are not comfortable with opening your computer and moving jumpers, you should have a qualified technician do it for you.

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Why do I need a high speed serial port, and how can I tell if I have one?

Some older computers have a low speed serial port, which uses the 8250 UART chip. This chip is unbuffered, and it is not possible to use an external modem to reliably connect faster than 9600 bps with a low speed serial port. Newer machines have a 16550 UART chip, which will allow communication with the computer up to 115,000 bps. If you want to connect to another computer with a 14.4 Kbps or a 28.8 Kbps modem, then you need a high speed serial port. Internal modems have them built in, so if you have an internal modem, you don't need to worry about this. External modems require that you have a high speed serial port.

In Windows 95, you can find out what kind of UART you have by going to the Start Menu, choosing "Settings" and "Control Panel", and opening the "Modem" control panel. Then click on the "Diagnostics" tab on the top of the window, select the appropriate port so that it highlights, and click on "More Info...". The computer will talk to your modem, and when it is done, it will tell you what kind of UART you have. If the number 16550 is part of the number, then you have high speed serial ports. If the number 8250 is there, then you have low speed serial ports.

In Windows 3.1, you can get this information by exiting to DOS, and typing "msd" at the prompt. Microsoft Diagnostics should begin. Once it is done examining your system, it will tell you a few things about it. Hit "C" on the keyboard to get more information about your COM ports. One of the things it will tell you is which UART chip is being used. If the number 16550 is there, then you have high speed serial ports. If the number is 8250, then you have low speed serial ports.

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How do I change the COM port and baud rate in TCPMan?

TCPMan was included in versions of the SnowCrest Internet Tools which included Internet Explorer version 2 and earlier. Starting with Internet Explorer version 3.0, SnowCrest is using the dialer which is built into this program.

To change the COM port and baud rate, open TCPMan, go to the "File" menu, and select "Settings". The COM port is labeled "Slip Port," and the baud rate is labeled "Baud Rate". Change the COM port to a number between 1 and 4, and change the baud rate to the appropriate speed. If you have a 14.4 modem, the baud rate should be set to "19200", and if you have a 28.8 modem, the baud rate should be set to "38400". Don't set it to a higher number, or you may not be able to connect. Higher numbers than 38400 won't give you any better performance, anyway.

Once you have entered the correct information, hit "OK". TCPMan will tell you that you need to restart TCPMan before the changes will take effect. Hit "OK" at this window, and then exit TCPMan by going to the "File" menu and choosing "Exit". Then re-start TCPMan to check to see if your changes worked.

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How do I change the modem initialization string in TCPMan?

TCPMan was included in versions of the SnowCrest Internet Tools which included Internet Explorer version 2 and earlier. Starting with Internet Explorer version 3.0, SnowCrest is using the dialer which is built into this program.

To change the modem initialization string in TCPMan, Open TCPMan, go to the "Dialer" menu, and select "Edit Scripts". A file selection window will appear. Choose "login.cmd" from the menu and click on "OK". Notepad should start up with the login script in the window. One of the lines in this script should read "output AT&C1&D2\13". The "AT&C1&D2" part can be replaced with a different modem initialization string. The "output" and the "\13" must remain, or you will not be able to connect. When you are done, go to the "File" menu, and select "Save". Then exit notepad, and try dialing again. It is not necessary to exit TCPMan for this change to take effect.

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What are some modem initialization strings which I might want to try?

at&c1&d2
at&f1&d2
at&c1&d2s27=48
at&f1
at&f
at

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How do I make changes to the modem settings in the Internet Explorer 3.0 dialer for Windows 3.1?

Double-click on the "SnowCrest" icon, and choose "Properties". There are many settings which can be changed here, and they are all mostly self-explanatory.

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How do I choose my modem type in Windows 95?

Windows 95 should detect and install your modem when you install the system. If not, or if you bought your modem after installing Windows 95, you can go to the Start menu, select "Settings" and "Control Panel", open the "Modems" control panel, and click on the "Add..." button. The "Install New Modem Wizard" will guide you through the process of installing your modem. If you want to change the settings for your modem, that can also be done through the "Modems" control panel.

Note that settings for the COM ports and other hardware devices are accessible through the "System" control panel.

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How do I configure the TCPMan to dial manually?

TCPMan was included in versions of the SnowCrest Internet Tools which included Internet Explorer version 2 and earlier. Starting with Internet Explorer version 3.0, SnowCrest is using the dialer which is built into this program.

Sometimes, if you can't get your modem to connect, you can connect by dialing manually. In order to do this, you should open TCPMan, go to the "File" menu and select "Setup". Put a checkmark in the box next to "Internal PPP", and click on "OK". TCPMan will tell you that you must exit and re-start. Exit TCPMan by going to the "File" menu and choosing "Exit". Then open TCPMan again. To connect manually, you must go to the "Dialer" menu and choose "Manual Login". Some text will appear in the main window when you do this. You should then type the command "atdt245-4690", substituting the correct phone number, and hitting the Enter key when you are done. The modem will dial, and when it is done, you should get a "login:" prompt. Type in your account name, and hit Enter. Next you will get a "password:" prompt. Type in your password, and hit Enter. The password will not be displayed on the screen as you type. If you correctly typed in your account name and password, you will get a menu. Type "2" on the keyboard, and hit Enter. You should see garbage characters appear on the screen. Hit the Escape key (top-left of the keyboard), and wait for about 10 seconds. Your IP address should appear on the screen. At this point, you can minimize TCPMan and use the Internet applications.

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What is line noise, and what can I do about it?

Line noise occurs when the connection between your computer and the computer you are connecting to is not perfect. This is caused by a problem in the actual phone line. The problem can be anywhere from the cable that is connected directly to your modem all the way to the cable that is connected to the modem on the other end. Unfortunately, in many of the areas in the north state, phone lines are poor, and line noise is common. Line noise can be minimized by shortening the distance between your modem and the central office for the phone company. For this reason, all of SnowCrest's sites are located very close to the central phone company office. 28.8 and 33.6 modems are the most susceptible to line noise, because they are so fast compared to voice communication, which is typically 4800 bps. Modern 28.8 modems use advanced negotiation protocols to allow them to slow down in order to preserve the connection. In the best case, then, line noise will slow you down a little. In the worst case, it will prevent you from connecting to the Internet.

Unfortunately, there is little that you can do about line noise. You can minimize possible line noise in your house by making sure that your modem is connected close to the main line that comes into your house. Other than that, you will have to deal with the phone company. If the line noise is very bad, you may hear a buzz on the line when you talk to people. If you don't hear the buzz, you may still have line noise, but it may be difficult to convince the phone company to fix it for you. The phone company should guarantee a certain minimum connection quality. You can have them test this.

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None of these ideas worked, what do I do now?

At this point, the best thing to do would be to get a qualified computer technician take a look at your computer and try to get it to work. Most local computer stores are happy to fix this kind of problem.

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