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A Sequel to "Was Compaq's Presario Pressed into Service Too Soon?" (Annex Bulletin 98-35, Sept. 4, 1998)

Compaq's Rockwell Modems May Rock Well, But That's About All They Do Well

Using Cheap Technology Backfires on Compaq's Global Brand Name


  Our article, "Was Compaq's Presario Pressed into Service Too Soon?" (Sept. 1998) described an actual case in which the Rockwell modem, which Compaq advertised and sold as a 56K V.90 modem, actually performed at only a 19K speed, when an IBM technician tested our Internet connection. We concluded that Compaq seems to have known that it had shipped a sub-par unit at a par price and performance. For, it was trying to remedy the problem retroactively - by offering a software patch. Nor did we ever received any notice about it, either from Compaq, or from the CompUSA store from which we bought the unit. Nor did we ever get a reply from Compaq's chairman, Eckhard Pfeiffer, to whom we sent a note with a complimentary copy of our Annex Bulletin 98-35. So we limped along at about a third of the speed we paid for.

  The upshot of the whole process was that we've discovered that even our IBM Thinkpad's Motorola MobileSURFR 56K modem, purchased only six months earlier, wasn't working properly, either, and had been discontinued by Motorola - without any notices to us. So we replaced it with a 3Com US Robotics 56K PCMCIA modem, which worked fine. As I left for Australia in mid-December, no permanent solution had been found for our Rockwell modem, however.

  Upon my return on Feb. 15, I was still unable to connect to the Net regularly, ergo a renewed effort by IBM to help us solve the problem.

PHOENIX, Feb. 17 - The following e-mail letter to the manager of IBM Global Services' technical support is a sequel to the Annex Bulletin 98-35, "Was Compaq's Presario Pressed into Service Too Soon?"

"Dear Tim, knock on wood, let us hope we are all out of the woods with my nuisance connection problems, after all these months and hassles.

After experiencing this morning with my other ISP similar connection problems to those I've had with IBM, this afternoon I've finally been able to make time and test the connections using my IBM Thinkpad, rather than my normal desktop. FYI - the T-pad also uses a 56K modem, but it's a 3Com US Robotics with an X-jack, not a Rockwell 56K V.90 Datafax, which came with my Compaq Presario 5630 when I bought it last summer. And bingo! I had no trouble connecting either to the IBM Net or to my other ISP.

Which led this lay and reluctant "techie" to conclude that the problem is probably in that piece of dung beetle food from Taiwan which Compaq installed in its whiz bang, "best of the best," "top-of-the-line," 400 MHz screamer of a desktop (see our Annex Bulletin 98-35, "Was Compaq Presario Pressed into Service Too Soon?," for more detailed unflattering epithets which I sent personally to Eckhard Pfeiffer - see www.djurdjevic.com/Bulletins/PCs-wkst/98-35.htm ).

So after work, I drove up to my nearest CompUSA store and bought a 3Com US Robotics 56K V.90 internal Faxmodem for $119.99 (or something like that). Even the security guard at the entrance, who checks customers' bags to make sure they are not carting out stolen goods, was stunned at the price. "The 56K modems sure have come down in price a lot in the last 12 months," he said. "They used to be something special. Now everybody's got them."

"Not a typical security guard," I thought, as I smiled back instead of replying to his savvy comment.

Back at the office, for the first time since my days as a new business, IBM 5100 Portable Computer salesman (in 1975-1976), I ventured to open the covers of a computer with my own rusty old screwdriver. What followed was a brave attempt to install the new modem with no one else's help, except for 3Com's printed instructions and my own common sense. Either I'll pull this thing off and put a stop to the enormous waste of my time, as well as that of many good IBM people who were trying to help me, or at least I'll have a first-hand account, and a possible story, about how difficult (impossible?) these days it is to install the "easy to install" products (which is what the instructions printed on the outside of the 3Com modem box said),

Well, just as I had taken the cover off, and with my office looking more like a hardware repair shop than that of a business analyst and consultant, my not-so-very-computer-savvy wife walked in. "I see you're right into the guts of things," she remarked nonchalantly, walking past me as if I regularly performed such computer colonoscopies.

"I could use your help," I muttered, trying to get one of the stubborn screws to pop out. She obliged, by pressing Compaq's whiz bang baby in the opposite direction.

"Gee, I had no idea they were so hollow," she exclaimed, surveying the mass of wires and cards around the surgical table.

"What is so hollow?"

"Computers. Look at all the empty space!"

"I know. I was surprised to see it, too. Guess that's par for the course for the PC makers who generate so much hot air around the industry." (e.g., Dell - stand by for our research report on this stockmarket hot air furnace).

After some struggles, I was able eventually to remove the suspected cancerous tissue - the Taiwan-made; Compaq-installed Rockwell modem. About the only thing it did well is rock. After being removed first, of course.

Then I discovered that the 3Com US Robotics' modem card could not fit into the same slot as Rockwell's. The former needed a single long slot, while the latter used a shorter, two-pronged slot (the latter improvisations of terminology should put to rest anyone's suspicion that I was really a 'techie,' even in one of my former lives).

"Oh, God," I thought. "What do I do now? The patient's bowels are ripped wide open, and now I find that the intended colon patch doesn't fit!"

Then I noticed another "long" slot, into which some other card was plugged in. I pulled the card out. It looked as if it were my Fujitsu's Magnetic Optical Drive, which I use for backups. I tried fitting in the 3Com card. It worked!

"Great!" I thought. "Now I MAY be able to communicate normally with the world, but may NOT be able to back up my files. One step forward, one step back."

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my IBM Thinkpad. Bingo! That can be my backup device. The Fujitsu MO technology has given us enough troubles since we installed it in 1995 to warrant getting rid of it at a time like this. And so, it was decided. The 3Com US Robotics card was in; the Fujitsu MO drive's was out.

After I managed to sow up the patient's bowels with my astonished wife's help, and followed the rest of the software installation instructions, the moment of truth had arrived. Ring, hiss, scratch... and finally, CONNECT! At 49,333 bps, the highest V.90 speed attained so far in the Phoenix dialing area! I could hardly believe it... And it all happened on the FIRST TRY!

So, Tim, this message is coming to you via my new modem. My next move was to drop the removed Rockwell modem card into the trash can. I felt really good! It was one of the high points of my day. I only wish I could drop Eckhard Pfeiffer right next to it. Unfortunately, that would take the kind of compression that even my new whiz bang Presario doesn't have. Oh, well... It was a pleasant thought.

Bottom line? My kudos to the 3Com US Robotics and the IBM Global Services technical support service! As for Compaq's building cheap parts into its "Porsches," well, it's sufficient to note that any computer is as good as the most vulnerable of its components. Evidently, Compaq has a long way to go before learning what it takes to win a PC race.


Bob Dj.

P.S. I've just realized, as I was typing this memo to you, that I've written another Annex Bulletin, perhaps a sequel to the Presario one I did last summer?"

Happy bargain hunting!

  Bob Djurdjevic

APPENDIX - A Word of Caution for International Travelers

Best Is Not Always Smart

  During one of my around the world trips in March 1997, a bulky, Soviet-style X-ray machine at Moscow's Sheremetyevo domestic airport terminal killed my IBM 28.8K MWave modem in March 1997 with a radiation overdose. So I bought my first US Robotics modem (28.8K) while still in Europe, before continuing on to Asia and Australia (the IBM MWave modem was later repaired, upon my return to the States).

  Ever since, I have been traveling with two modems in my laptop. Just in case. And just as well. For, we discovered on this last trip to Australia that my (now upgraded) 3Com US Robotics 56K V.90 modem worked fine when connected to the IBM Global Network, but was as dead as a doornail when trying to access the Net using a local ISP's Telstra lines (Telstra is the national telco in Oz). Luckily, I had my old IBM MWave with me which saved the day in the end.

  So sometimes having the best, top-of-the-line technology, isn't so smart - when traveling internationally.

  Finally, don't believe everything the overseas telcos and/or ISPs tell you about the speed of their lines. Our line in Western Australia was supposed to be 28.8K. And it was - at the first local node. But after we had experienced unusually slow response times, we ran a trace to our server in the U.S. And found out that, as the message hopped across the various Telstra nodes in Australia, the times increased by 10- to 15-fold!!! In other words, the Telstra customers, including the ISPs, were being ripped off - evidently unbeknownst to them, as we've discovered.

  So buyers beware - overseas, as at home.

Also, check out... "Was Compaq's Presario Pressed into Service Too Soon?"  To learn how to subscribe to our on-line reports, click on

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Volume XV, No. 99-05
February 17, 1999

Editor: Bob Djurdjevic
Published by Annex Research;
e-mail: annex@djurdjevic.com

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