New computer - will it have a dial up modem and if not what to do
June 2, 2014 6:48 PM   Subscribe

My mother uses dial up internet (yes, it is true, I can hear the groans now) on her old computer which uses Windows XP. I just ordered her a new Dell 745 Mini-Tower Desktop PC with Intel Core 2 Duo Processor, 4GB Memory, 1TB Hard Drive and Windows 7 Professional. It has a 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet - Connect to a broadband modem with wired Ethernet. My question is will she be able to connect with her dial up internet connection with this and if not what are our options? Could I take out the modem in the old computer and install it in the new tower or should I buy a external dial up modem - if so can you tell me what kind - I am not tech savvy so the more details the better.
posted by just asking to Computers & Internet (22 answers total)
If the modem uses RS-232 to connect to the computer, you might need a USB-RS232 converter. Some modems have USB ports, but only more recent ones.

I think that would work better than trying to connect with ethernet.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:54 PM on June 2, 2014

Best answer: It's unlikely the old modem will work in the new computer.

Purchase this and install it. Here's some video instructions on how to install a PCI card (which is what the modem is). It's super easy; probably the second easiest thing you can do to a computer. (the first is adding RAM)
posted by royalsong at 6:58 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hate to sound dumb but - the old computer she has now you just plug the phone line in the back - I have no idea what kind of modem it is...
posted by just asking at 6:58 PM on June 2, 2014

I keep one of these usb modem dealies around for use during power outages. Check for compatibility (there are several models of this), but the best thing you could do for mom in 2014 is get her off dialup.
posted by sageleaf at 7:02 PM on June 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Seconding royalsong. Buy the thing she recommended and follow the video instructions. This will allow you to 'just plug the phone line in the back'.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:03 PM on June 2, 2014

Best answer: If installing that card royalsong looks scary, I'd go with any USB Modem instead for about $20. For that matter Dell should still have a modem as an option.
posted by Nelson at 7:05 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The only reason I didn't suggest the USB modem is because I have concerns that it'll fall out and lead to troubleshooting phonecalls about how come the internet isn't working anymore.

As for installing things inside a computer: I know I said it's easy, and it is. I want to explain that I was SCARED OUT OF MY MIND when I first cracked open a computer to put some RAM in it. What if I broke it?! What if I did it wrong?! My computer might blow up! But, none of that happened. I must have watched like four youtube videos to feel confident that I knew all the steps. You should do it, because then you will have done something new and can say: hey, I know how to add a PCI card to a computer. Go me!

If you'd still rather not, Nelson's suggestion is your next best option.
posted by royalsong at 7:18 PM on June 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I will have to agree with the USB Modem option. Very easy to set up.

1) Connect the modem to a USB port on the back of the computer.
2) Install drivers (usually they install themselves automatically, and worst case scenario they will come with a CD to get it set up)
3) Take the old modem's cable you connected on the other computer, and connect it to the modem you just got.
4) Bam! You're set.

Doesn't have to be more complicated than that :)
posted by AbePlaysGuitar at 7:30 PM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

The PCI card royalsong suggests has the additional complication that the new computer simply might not have any PCI slots. They're rapidly being phased out in favor of PCI Express (which is not the same thing despite the name).

To answer your question about the Ethernet port, no, it won't work. They look similar but Ethernet uses a larger plug than a phone line, and it's a totally different thing anyways.
posted by neckro23 at 8:24 PM on June 2, 2014

Chiming in to say that the external USB dialup modem I used with my old XP computer, now works fine with my Windows 7 computer, using the updated driver (with instructions) that I downloaded from the manufacturer's website. Mine is Zoom brand; I don't know how they rate compared to other brands, but I'm happy they have kept coming up with new drivers so I can still use it - maybe check for this kind of support on the manufacturer's website if you're considering one.
posted by hsieu at 8:54 PM on June 2, 2014

Seconding that you can't count on a new system having an available PCI slot, but there will be USB ports for sure.
posted by in278s at 8:55 PM on June 2, 2014

From the spec sheet, she has both a PCI and a PCI-e slot available. The card linked to by royalsong will work fine.

For that matter, I think I have an old PCI modem laying around, I'll mail it to you.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:06 PM on June 2, 2014

A brief history of modems (or: why your Mom's old modem probably can't just be plugged into her new computer.)

Once upon a time a modem was a device external to your computer, which your computer talked to over a well-understood, industry-standard, universally (or nearly) supported serial protocol (such as RS-232, and all was good.

Then, because they could be made a few bucks cheaper (because they didn't need their own enclosure and power supply, nor did you need an extra serial cable to connect them to your computer) the internal modem came along. And things were not quite as good, but during the early years, at least, the internal modem looked (to your computer's operating system) pretty much like a standard serial modem -- they were built around a 16550 UART or similar chip and they presented to the operating system as another serial port, one that just happened to have a modem hardwired to the end of it. And they talked using the same well-understood, industry-standard, nearly universally supported serial protocol and so the early internal modems were an acceptable alternative to a standalone external unit.

But then a darkness fell upon the earth, and the age of the software modem or "Winmodem" dawned. If you were a bottom-of-the-line modem vendor cranking out hardware by the millions, spending a couple of dollars on a standard, well-supported chip like a 16550 was just too much money. And besides, computers were now fast enough to do a lot of the work that special chips in modems used to do, so why not just make the cheapest thing possible by throwing together a couple of DSPs and a DAC or two and do all the rest of the work in software on the host computer?

And because winmodems could be made a few dollars cheaper still, and because very few consumers understood the difference, they pretty much drove proper modems off of the market except for relatively expensive specialty units. But the relentless price pressure that drove hardware modems off the market didn't do software modems any favors, either -- being software controlled, they were completely dependent on specialized drivers for functionality and the driver software was subject to the same "as cheap and quick as possible" pressures as everything else in the market.

Fast forward to today. It's very likely that the modem in your mother's old computer is completely reliant on proprietary driver software that was poorly supported to begin with and which has never been updated to work with the almost-certain-to-be-significantly-different operating system on her new computer -- because almost nobody buys dial-up modems these days and so there's no incentive for the one-time modem manufacturer, if they even still exist, to update drivers that were originally written back in the Windows 95 & Windows XP heyday of dial-up to support Windows 8.1
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:09 PM on June 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

The only reason I didn't suggest the USB modem is because I have concerns that it'll fall out and lead to troubleshooting phonecalls about how come the internet isn't working anymore.

That's what duct tape is for.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:11 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Did I miss the part where you said why the cheapest tier of DSL doesn't work for your mother? Last I looked, dial-up service was often more expensive than the cheapest tier of DSL.
posted by Good Brain at 9:35 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used a USB modem to dial up for a week last year, while I was working in a remote cabin with no cell reception. It was perfectly reliable and easy. (It was of course slow as molasses relative to what I'm used to, but if she's really satisfied with dialup speed -- or unable to switch -- there you go.)

The one I used was a US Robotics USR-5637 that I got from ebay for under $30. It was by far the most recommended when I did a quick google for opinions.

To address your other concern, a USB modem should stay plugged in without any issues. There will be a cable between the modem and the USB port so it won't be directly stressed like, for example, a thumb drive would.
posted by kalapierson at 9:57 PM on June 2, 2014

Did I miss the part where you said why the cheapest tier of DSL doesn't work for your mother? Last I looked, dial-up service was often more expensive than the cheapest tier of DSL.

Believe it or not, DSL is still not available everywhere.
posted by empath at 10:12 PM on June 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had a weird problem with cheap USB to serial port adapters, if you unplug it from one USB port and plug it into a different one it changes the port number. This is the drivers fault, it ties the Serial Port number to the USB port not to the individual adapter.

My concern is that if your mom unplugs her USB modem from one port and plugs it into another it will show up as a different port number and now her connection doesn't work until the port number is changed to match in her dial-up program.

An internal modem won't have this problem.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:16 PM on June 2, 2014

FWIW the minimum extraction force on a USB connector is 2.2 lbs (1 kg) (per table 6.7 of usb_20.pdf) which doesn't seem like a lot but is pretty hard to achieve accidentally from the back of a desktop computer.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:22 PM on June 2, 2014

It may be a lot less expensive for your Mom to get Internet through her Cable Provider, is she open to that?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:32 AM on June 3, 2014

Believe it or not, DSL is still not available everywhere.
Quite true, but we don't know if that is the case here. Also, for someone used to dial-up, but doesn't have DSL or Cable available, there are often fixed cellular and other wireless ISP options will be faster than dial-up without (necessarily) being more expensive.
posted by Good Brain at 10:13 AM on June 3, 2014

Response by poster: Felt the need to explain, we live in a remote area and the cheapest thing to access the internet is dial-up. It cost a little extra to get the high speed internet and my mother will not do it. BUT in the very near future she will be hooked up to fiber optic line through our local phone company and she will have no choice but to pay a little extra for the internet because dial up will no longer be available. Boy, I can't wait for her to see how much better it is though!!!
posted by just asking at 1:53 PM on June 3, 2014

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