Charles Moore's Mailbag

Modem Magic Boosts Reliability, Speed for Thosewith Less than Ideal Connections

Charles Moore - 2004.09.27 -Tip Jar

Version 5.8 of Tracy Turner's MacaRa ModemMagic suite of alternative modem scripts is now available.

About 60% of Internet users still access the Internet via 56kdialup as opposed to cable or DSL, whether because they can't justifythe higher cost of broadband, or, as in this writer's case, nobroadband service (aside from astronomically expensive satellite links)is available in their location. For me, the nearest DSL is 50 milesaway,

MacaRa Modem Magic includes some 300 modem scripts for variousinternal and Mac-compatible third-party modems, and it promises faster,more reliable dialup Internet connections. Some users and reviewershave enthusiastically praised them. On the other hand, skeptics havealso suggested that they are the cyber-equivalent of snake oilremedies.

I've been using MacaRa Modem Magic modem scripts for about fouryears through various versions, in both the Classic Mac OS andOS X, and I have found that the improvement in performance withthem compared to the stock modem scripts that come bundled with the MacOS varies with different modems. The most noticeable improvement iswith the Global Village Platinum 33k external modem I use with myUmax SuperMac S900 tower. On thatrig, connection speeds and download performance using some of the ModemMagic scripts is noticeably livelier.

The key is optimization that lets the modem interface with thecomputer more efficiently and allow data compression to work better -modem scripts that ship with modems or the ones that come with the MacOS are often pretty mediocre optimization-wise. Many name-brand modemmanufacturers' newest modem drivers for Mac are several years or moreout-of-date.

Conversely, Modem Magic modem drivers have been created and updatedto support current standards like V.92 and V.44.

More recently, I've discovered that certain Modem Magic scripts area partial workaround for the bug in OS 10.3.5 that causes increasinglyundependable and erratic modem dialup behavior with my 700 MHz G3 iBook as uptimeprogresses.

In general, Modem Magic scripts seem to hold onto connections moretenaciously - dropped connections are very rare since I started usingthem. Dialups tend to be faster, and connections are very reliable witha number of the scripts, such as the iBook Internal v90, the AppleLaptop Internal Modem, and the Apple Internal 56k Modem (V.92), amongothers which support the iBook's internal software modem.

I am on a rural dialup connection with 12 miles of indifferentlymaintained ancient copper wire phone lines between me and my ISP. Iguess I should be thankful that I get reasonably dependable service,but it is slow. The stock modem scripts give a connection speed in theRemote Access Control Panel on most days of 24000 or 26400.Occasionally, an old 28.8k USRobotics Sportster modem on my wife's evenmore ancient 68030 LC 520 wouldshow a 28800 connection, but that's it. I've never seen any othermodems connect from here at more than 26400 using stock Apple modemscripts.


However, in the Remote Access dialog in OS 9 and Internet Connect inOS X, the MacaRa Modem Magic scripts routinely show much higherspeeds, frequently 49333 - and even 57600 and 115200.

Therein lies some of the controversy.

MacaRa Modem Magic author Tracy Turner tells me that the 57600 and115200 [speeds showing in Remote Access/Internet Connect] are both portspeeds . The actual line connections are slower. However, opening aport to these two speeds is much faster than having the port set at38400 with old V.34+ modem drivers.

"We get people arguing all day about Port Speed, Modemto Modem speed, 7 bits, 8 bits, etc.," says Tracy. "What I feel isimportant is that logins are usually fast, downloads are fast, and theconnections seem to stay stable. We did thousands of hours of testsbefore our first sale."

"For a person with an iMac Modem connecting at 49333with stability there is no point in using my product. A person with a56K capable phone line having 26400 connections and dropped connectionswith a Teleport 56 X2 flashed to V.90 - this is where we really excel.Our drivers will connect that person at 50666 bps initial connect rateand keep them online without drops as long as they like.

"Probably the biggest weakness in our product is aweakness in the Mac vendor world in general:

"Due to the many competing ISPs, modem brands,firmware versions, and different flavors of 'Apple GV Internal' modems,a person may need to try our drivers one by one until they achievecompatibility between their modem and driver and their ISP. Everyonehas sort of set their own personal standards of what they think V.90code is.

"There are not good standards of V.90 even now. OneISP will allow a '115200' connection with analog, but the next willnot. We designed our drivers to connect fast in many differentsituations, yet we also kept them simple.

"This is the default speed in a Global Village Modem,but some ISPs will have a login error until this is out of a 56K MacDriver. Another ISP will have 50667 as a V.90 speed, while the modemsfirmware and driver will have 50666 as the rate. In this instance theconnection negotiates to slower speeds like 48000. With our drivers theconnection goes through at 50667 or 50666.

"Our modem drivers do not turn 28800 phone lines into56k lines.

"56K Modems take digital data in your Mac and turn itinto analog carrier waves traveling at (realistically) a 53333 bps or54666 bps speed. Some people get these speeds regularly, but by nomeans a majority. Apple's modems are more likely to do 49333 bps with agood phone line. Zoom and USR V.90 and a few [other] brands (Zoom,Hayes, Supra) 56K modems can go 50666-52000 bps or faster regularly ongood copper pair phone lines.

"According to Fitzgerald and Dennis, page 95, edition7 of Business Data Communications and Networking, about 80% (mostlyurban, newer phone lines) of North America can achieve 56K speed, 20%(mostly rural, older phone lines) cannot achieve true 56k....

"Before we put each driver in our product, we loggedin repeatedly with each given modem (48000 or above) and downloaded a36 MB file. The driver had to download the file to completion at a fastrate or we did not put it in our product. For every driver in ourproduct, there are a dozen that failed to meet our standards....

"In plain English, consider the names assigned to ourmodem drivers a guide rather than a static certainty. Some of thedrivers report a connect rate of 57600 or 115200 with some brands ofmodems. The acid test of connection rates is timing downloads of largefiles, graphics, software downloads, etc. Average throughput onhttp://mac56ktest.com should be40-50k; if not you may have pair-gain.

"If you have a long history of connections under33600, including with our product, you probably have pair-gain, ormultiple analog-digital converters. These issues can only be remediedby telephone company linemen (or line-women). Although telephonecompanies sometimes show reluctance to deal with this, our personalexperience was that when we offered to pay for a lineman's (orline-woman's) time to move a phone line to copper-pair configuration,the phone company responded by doing the work at no charge. For us,this made for 53333 bps maximum, compared to pair-gains 28800 maximumin our case....

"MacaRa Modem Magic cannot make overloaded Servers,PoPs, ports, nor your ISP's modems go faster. Some Internet ServiceProviders suffer Net Congestion* or have too many unresolved TechnicalIssues. Before you decide your ISP is at fault, see if they have otherPoints of Presence (PoPs) in your Local Calling Area. PoPs changeperformance frequently due to customer migration, hardware, software,and network practices."

These seem to me to be reasonable and not extravagant claims, andthe description is consistent with what I have experienced with thisproduct.

Another point Tracy addressed:

"...regardless of the connect rate in remote access,our drivers will download files or bring up bandwidth test pages fasterthan other modem drivers. In several independent tests, there were upto 3 times as fast of downloads with our drivers."

I can't say that I've gotten anything close to 3x faster downloads,but using Modem Magic scripts in place of the stock ones does appear tospeed things up noticeably, especially with some modems.

Here are some comparison times I ran on the S900/GV Platinum rig inOS 9.0:

Apple GV Script (Mac OS 9.0)

Dialup connection time: 37 seconds
Load National Post Homepage: 65 seconds

GV High Speed Reliable V.92 (MacaRa Modem Magic)

Dialup connection time: 32 seconds
Load National Post Homepage: 58 seconds

"No More Noise" script (MacaRa Modem Magic)

Dialup connection time: 33 seconds
Load National Post Homepage: 60 seconds

The MacaRa Modem Magic 5.8 package includes installers for both theClassic OS and OS X. Use the OS X installer for 10.0.4 orhigher (up to Jaguar and Panther, 10.2.x, 10.3, etc.). All the modemdrivers are OS X compatible. Early versions of OS X requiredyou to login as root, run the installer, and then log out of root.Versions from 10.1.5 or later should work fine with you logged in asadmin. I just double-clicked the OS X installer in OS 10.3.5, andit did its stuff slickly and quickly.

In the Classic Mac OS the Mac Modem Magic installer replaces theModem Scripts Folder in your System Extensions Folder with a new onecontaining over 300 different high-speed modem scripts. The old ModemScripts Folder is saved as Modem Scripts Disabled. Existing ModemScripts are not thrown away; you will find them in "ExtensionsDisabled" in the Classic OS, in Folders renamed "Modem Scripts (old).1"etc.

OS 9.2.2 or older looks for the Modem Scripts in the Modem ScriptsFolder in Extensions. OS X looks for the Modem Scripts in theModem Scripts Folder in Library, on the hard drive. You can alsophysically copy or drag the drivers from the 9.1 System Folder:Extensions: Modem Scripts Folder into Hard Drive: Library: ModemScripts.

After installation finishes, go to (OS 9: the Apple Menu, ControlPanels, Modem Control Panel) or (OS X: Network system preference panel,Configure button, Modem Tab) after installation, and use the pulldownmenu to select a new modem definition or modem script.

Since some of the MacaRa Modem Magic 5.8 scripts are available as afree demo and they are a relatively small download, if you think theymay offer some improvement in your dialup performance, there is noreason not to give them a try.

MacaRa Modem Magic was first conceived of and development started in1997 due to Tracy Turner tearing his hair out over dropped connectionsand stalled, broken downloads. Not all people have connection troubles.Then again, many Mac 56k or ISDN users do get dropped connections orslow, stalled downloads.

Initially, modem init strings and modem drivers were experimentedwith for 2-3 modems. After success with both increasing download speedsand stability, numerous Mac friends and acquaintances asked for helpwith their modems. The demand for help via the Internet led to both atech support help site and MacaRa Modem Magic 1.x through 5.x.

"We are a big fans of the Mac," says Tracy. "There arecurrently about 15 new and older Macs that we use for testing purposeshere . . . We have done our personal best to address the droppedconnections/slow downloads issues with the Mac OS."

MacaRa Modem Magic Features and claims:

  • Optimizes any type of Macintosh dialup modems of any speed.
  • Users typically realize an extraordinary improvement in Internetconnection speed
  • Virtually eliminates dropped connections (involuntary modemhang-up)
  • Keeps on working even if you upgrade your operating system orchange modems
  • Backwards compatible from System 7.5.3 to current Panther (Mac OS X10.3)
  • For users of the poorest 20% of rural telephone lines, generallyprovides a tremendous improvement in stability and a modest speedimprovement.
  • For users of the 80% of telephone lines in urban/metropolitanareas, generally provides a vast speed improvement and rock-solidstability.
  • Download more Web pages, software, MP3s in less time. Avoid wastingtime waiting for stalled Web pages and downloads.

MacaRa Modem Magic 5.8 supports these common Mac 56k V.90 or V.92Modems:

All 68k Macs; Performas; iMacs (including flatscreens); iBooks;eMacs; PowerBooks; and Power Mac G3, G4, and G5 modems

MacaRa Modem Magic 5.8 also supports these common V.90 or V.92Modems:

All "Apple GV Internal 56k" Modems (Beige G3 Internal Modems, Blueand White Tower Modems, G3 Modems, G4 Modems, Apple Cube Modems, iMacModems, iMac DVD Limited Edition Modems, iBook Modems, iMac FlatscreenModems), 3Com Modems, Atech Modems, Aztec Modems, Best Data Modems,Boca Modems, Diamond Modems, Eiger lab Modems, Global Village Modems,Hayes Modems, Lucent Modems, Motorola Modems, Olitech Modems, RockwellModems, Supra Modems, TDK Modems, US Robotics Modems, Viking Modems,Zoltrix Modems, Zoom Modems. Modem Magic 5.5 also supports less commonbrands of modems (with extensive selections of drivers. Modem Magic5.1.2 Modem Drivers download faster, stay connected longer than "stock"Modem Scripts.

MacaRa Modem Magic 5.7 is free to try and currently sale priced at$39.95 (regular price: $99.95) plus $5.25 shipping and handling for aCD in the US, $6.50 for CDs sent outside US. LEM

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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