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    Review of Zoltrix Phantom 56k HSP PCI Modem

    This month we decided to test Zoltrix's bargain basement Phantom 56k V.90 HSP PCI modem. PCTel has come a long way in developing the HSP modems since the early days. Remember whenever you mentioned that you had an HSP modem, your friends just bowed their beads and mumbled, "I feel sorry for you buddy". Today's HSP's are tenfold more reliable and performance is on par with most other 56k modems and the price, well the price is the main drawing card. These modems are dirt-cheap and that's why they are gobbling up the market. $29.99 is all this Zoltrix 56k HSP cost me. When you compare $30 versus say $129 for an external USR, GVC or a Zoom for example, you see that price wins...

    Why am I testing this modem? Well to me the answer is simple; the price may sell the modem, but is it in the same ballpark as the more expensive modems. In other words, does the saying, "You get what you pay for" hold true for this modem?

    Some of you might be asking what is an HSP modem and why does it have such a bad reputation? Well an HSP modem uses some of the unused instruction cycles (MIPs) from your computer's CPU to perform this some functions that are normally handled by a separate Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chip which non HSP modems have. What are the advantages or disadvatanges of not having a DSP modem (other then price)? Well HSP modems are supposed to use only the unused CPU cycles but if you have a sub Pentium 200 or play a lot of graphic intensive games online without a good graphics accelerator, you usually run into problems because your CPU is being used so much that your modem will drop the connection.
    Zoltrix has long had a reputation for building cheap/poor quality modems. In the last 2 years I personally have seen Zoltrix's quality increase 200% yet the modems have remained extremely affordable. Gone are the days when playing quake with your 33.6 HSP deluxe meant dropped connections every 20 minutes or the antagonizing "spiral of death" that plagued some modems. Remember how hard it was to install that HSP 33.6 and the instructions?? Actually sometimes it was, "What instructions?" The modem manufacturers have generally learnt their lesson and the modems are much more reliable, offer good performance and instructions are much, much improved.
    The Zolrix Phantom HSP is no exception. It had an amazingly simple to follow instruction manual. Even someone who has never used a computer before could install the modem. Instructions for Win95, Win95 OSR2 and Win98 were separate and complete with screenshots to follow. This was by far the most boring modem installation I have ever had, not one problem or question! To Zoltrix, I commend you on creating such an amazing manual and installation instructions.

    Performance was quite good, speeds of 42,000bps to 48,000bps were continually achieved and we never had a connection slower that 42,000bps. (All tests were conducted using Cisco 5200, Ascend Max, USR total control Hyperarc and Quadmodem Remote access servers). All the remote access servers were quite pleased with the Phantom and gave good solid initial connections.
    Initial connection speeds were never a problem, nor did we ever encounter "the spiral of death" but we were amazed at how many times the modem just stopped responding. Disconnects? Only a few but this modem would just stop transmitting but stay connected. What was even more disturbing was that if you disconnected, and reconnected (be it 15 seconds or 15 minutes later) the modem would reconnect and immediately stop transmitting. Very very very odd. The modem would still respond to AT and ati commands yet when connected it would not transmit a byte. The only way around this was to reboot the machine. Nothing else helped.. Others have contacted me as well, about this and the frequent disconnects they keep receiving.

    Remember the old days when your warranty was 30 or 60 days. Well Zoltrix has a 5 year warranty on this modem which shows the confidence they have in their modems. Zoltrix's tech support has also come a long way, although recently I've seen a lot of variance from them. I've received responses within 24 hours, (which is quite good) and I've also seen tech support questions and requests go unanswered. The Zoltrix support site set the standard a couple of years ago for modem manufacturer support sites and although the site hasn't had any major changes (other then adding new products) it is still quite good.

    Yes Zoltrix HSP's have come a long way in quality, but unfortunately you still "get what you pay for" so if price is the main factor in your modem purchase, then the Zoltrix Phantom 56k V.90 HSP PCI modem is right for you.

    Craig Stumpf

    Mark Breakdown:

    Category: Comments:

    Performance: This modem's connect speeds are comparable to other 56k V.90 modems in the field today. The problem with the modem staying connected yet not transmitting as well as some disconnects do subtract a few marks here.

    Supportability: This modem's instruction and installation manual was a work of art. Something all other modem manufacturers should read and learn from. Init strings have little effect on HSP modems such as this one and sometimes no response or long response times from Zoltrix's email tech support. Zoltrix's usual good support site is a plus though and it's easy to find the info you need here so you usually don't need to email Zoltrix tech support.

    Ease of Use/Configuration: Installation of this modem was like I said earlier, boring, Why? Well because it was so easy, not a problem, not even one screen where a novice can make a mistake with the software installation. I have never had a problem connecting with this modem and the remote access servers we tested against didn't have problems negotiating a connection.

    Compatibility: The big test of k56flex/V.90 modems comes when they connect to USR total control X2/V.90 remote access servers. Well here this modem worked wonderfully. As for compatibility with your computer? Well as long as you have at least an Intel Pentium 200 with Win95 or greater you will be fine. As for Cyrix or AMD chipsets I've seen more disconnects and problems from HSP modems.

    Features: I didn't talk about the voicemail program the modem comes from, but it like most other voicemail programs for modems, it does work quite well. This modem also has the ability to fall back to k56flex or 33.6 automatically when connecting to X2 remote access servers or when a V.90 connection can't be negotiated. The 5-year warranty is also a feature (that you hopefully don't have to ever make use of).

    Personal: I personally am a person who looks for quality over price when I make purchases. I feel if you buy something because it is so cheap, then you should also live with its drawbacks because its cheap for a reason. An old wise person once said, "It's cheap for a reason, if you can live without whatever they forgot to put into it then it's a bargain."

    Overall: Zoltrix HSP's have come a long way in quality, but unfortunately you still "get what you pay for" so if price is the main factor in your modem purchase, then the Zoltrix Phantom 56k V.90 HSP PCI modem is right for you. 70/100

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