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What You Need to Know to Perform Brain Surgery on Your Modem

Sometimes, getting a new brain for your modem can be just as painful as shoveling at midnight. What do you need to know to get new firmware—to dig up a new brain for your modem?

  • The brand and model number of your modem

  • A program to unzip (uncompress) the firmware files

  • A blank disk or two for copying the firmware files

Finding the Modem's Brand and Model Number

This is easy if it's an external modem: Just turn it over and read the label on the back or bottom of the case.

How about an internal modem? If you installed the modem yourself, see if you still have the box, the manual, or the setup CD-ROM or disks for your modem. You'll find the brand name and model number listed there.

Was your modem the Cracker Jack prize variety—built into your computer at the factory? It won't hurt to see if you can find the manual for the computer and its parts, but many of these modems are brand X models—even if you have the manual, it won't have a clue where the modem came from. Are you stuck? Nope. Look on the modem itself for the brand name and model number. If you come up empty handed, look for a sticker on the modem that lists the FCC ID#. Write it down. Either way, you can now go online and get the latest firmware brain for your modem.

Things You Need

If you're thinking about taking your first trip inside your computer, here's what you'll need to have handy:

  • A Phillips-head screwdriver or hex driver—Use this to open the case and (possibly) remove cards that block your modem from view.

  • Newspaper—A low-tech but effective non-static place to put anything you need to take out of your computer.

Don't Say I Didn't Warn You!

Precautions to take before you open your computer:

  • Put some newspapers on the floor to stand on, especially if you are working on a carpeted floor. You can build up a lot of static electricity in your body, and if it decides to discharge while you have the cover of your computer open, goodbye parts or goodbye computer! Plain old newspaper is less likely to build up static electricity than the carpeting it hides.

  • Touch a metal part on the outside of the computer case before you open it. This gives your body a chance to discharge excess static electricity safely before you open the system.

  • Turn off the computer and unplug it. Most newer systems aren't really off when you shut them down. Instead, they go into a sleep mode, and a low level of power might still be flowing through the computer.

To open your computer:

  1. Look for several screws on the back panel of your computer near the edge of the computer.

  2. If your computer has a one-piece cover, remove all the screws that hold it in place.

  3. If your computer has a removable side cover, remove the screws that hold the right-side (as viewed from the rear) cover.

  4. Look at the back of the computer for a card with two telephone jacks; this is your modem.

  5. Now, look inside your computer at your modem; can you read the brand, model number, or FCC ID? Look at both sides of the card. Write the information down here:

    • Brand # _____________________ Model # _____________

      FCC ID#__________________________

  6. If, and only if, you can't see the information on the modem, you'll need to remove the modem from your computer.

If you must remove the modem

  1. Touch a metal part on the case again.

  2. Unscrew the upside-down L-shaped metal bracket that holds the card in place.

  3. Gently wiggle the card up and down until the card comes loose.

  4. Carry it by the bracket (never by the chips on the card or the gold connectors!) and lay it on the newspaper so you can record the information.

Handle With Care

Handling your modem carelessly could destroy it. Be very careful! If your spouse, friends, or kids are more experienced with computer repair and upgrading than you are, don't be afraid to ask for help.

To reinstall the modem in your system:

  1. Carry the modem by the bracket and lower it into place where you removed it.

  2. Line up the connector at the bottom of the modem with the motherboard slot connector.

  3. Push downward to reinsert the card into the slot; it might require a fair amount of force, but if it won't go in, make sure you have it lined up correctly with the slot.

  4. Fasten the card bracket to the case with the screw you removed earlier.

  5. Replace the case and screw it into place.

Drivers Wanted

If you don't know the Web site for your modem maker, or all you have is the FCC ID#, my favorite Web site for drivers is WinDriver's Driver page:


You can perform an FCC ID# search, find your driver by card type or manufacturer, and even find drivers for dead boards made by companies that are no longer in business.

Make sure you look over the online instructions carefully before you download and install new firmware for your modem. If you install the wrong firmware, you'll be in bigger trouble than Igor was when he dropped the jar with the fresh brain!

If the firmware files are stored in an .EXE file, you can open the file and it will uncompress the firmware files inside. If the file is a .ZIP file, you'll need to use an unzipping utility such as WinZip.

Getting Unzipped

You can download many unzipping programs. Two of the best are PKZIP for Windows, available at http://www.pkware.com/ and WinZip, available at http://www.winzip.com/.

In many cases, a firmware update, along with new driver software (see the next section) is all that you need to turn an X2 or K56flex modem into an up-to-date v.90 modem. Some vendors also offer firmware updates that turn 33.6Kbps modems into v.90 modems. See Figure 3.1 for a typical example of how modem vendors list firmware updates.

Figure 3.1 Some firmware updates for Zoom Telephonics modems. Note the warning at the top of the page, and note that different modem model numbers require different firmware updates.

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