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XP Modem Driver Problems & Solutions

On October 25th Microsoft released Windows XP Professional & Home to the public for retail sale. While the next generation of Windows will go a long way in increasing stability of the desktop operating system for most computer users, it has turned out to be a problem for many who decided to upgrade their computers. Many of those users end up finding out that their hardware does not work inside a regular installation of Windows XP. As many techonlogy web sites have reviewed XP for its pros and cons and even made VERY GOOD suggetions on how to ensure that your upgrade to XP goes smoothly, those of us in the real world know that this only works for 15-25% of all computer users. The rest of us are so eager to install the new software that we do not pay attention to the consequences. One of those consequences that is becoming increasingly alarming is the inablity to get the modem working even though it worked perfectly fine a few hours prior in an earlier version of Windows.

The modem driver dillemma is a large one. With most other hardware, you can jump online and go to the vendor's web site to download updated driver software, but with a modem driver problem you cannot get online at all. This makes it nearly impossible to get the updated driver software. DSL & Cable users dont have the roadblock that regular analog modem users have in this situation, but they still run into it. One way of getting by this is utilizing another computer to download the driver software to a floppy or CD-RW and then transferring it to the Windows XP computer.

Microsoft has not made the situation any easier either. Microsoft made avaialable a new section inside of Windows Update called Windows Update Catalog that you can manually look for updated drivers (like my 3dfx Voodoo 3000 video card). Although this is a great addition to Windows Update, it is only available from a Windows XP computer. This makes the option of utilizing another computer even more difficult. The other small difficulty is the fact that on many Windows XP computers the Windows Update Catalog does not show up by default when you go to Windows Update. To make it available do the following:

  • Visit Windows Update (XP Only)
  • Look at the left hand pane and under Other Options click Personalize Windows Update.
  • Now in the right hand pane check the box - Display the link to the Windows Update Catalog under See Also
  • Below Choose which categories and updates to display on Windows Update - make sure you check all the boxes you want shown.
  • Click Save Settings
  • Now look in the left hand pane under See Also click Windows Update Catalog and choose what you're looking for. Choose Drivers for Hardware Devices.
  • Start the Wizard and off you go.

After you have completed these steps, the Windows Update Catalog should always be available on the left pane. The drivers that are available from the Windows Update Catalog have either been WHQL certified or tested by the vendors to work in XP .

Now some of you reading this may also be aware that in the past Microsoft provided two ways for getting WHQL certifed drivers. The first is from their FTP server at ftp://ftp.microsoft.com/services/whql/drivers/ where the drivers are separated out by OS version & hardware type. Microsoft names the downloadable driver files obscurely (at least as far as the general public is concerned) so finding exactly what you want this way is difficult. The second is from the Hardware Compatiblity site at http://www.microsoft.com/hcl/default.asp where you can search for the hardware you have and see what versions of Windows it is "Logo" or "Compatible" certified on. For more details on what the "Logo", "Compatible"

and other labels are on the HCL site, please check out the Legend Microsoft has available. Unfortunately at the time this article was written, Microsoft has neither provided a Windows XP OS section on its FTP server nor has it provided Windows XP driver downloads from the Hardware Compatiblity List site that I know to be available from the Windows Update Catalog. This makes it nearly impossible for a user having problems with their modem driver in Windows XP to be able to download the drivers they need to get it working properly. From the information I've gathered it appearsthat some modems utilizing the following chipsets have had some difficulties with the drivers provided in Windows XP:

  • PCTel HSP chipset
  • Conexant HCF PCI & USB chipsets
  • Conexant HSF chipset (SoftK56)
  • ESS Technologies ESS56 chipset
  • Broadcom chipset (GTW v92 & BCM v90 from Gateway & BCM V90 from Dell)
  • Agere Scorpio chipset (Lucent Softmodem AMR & Toshiba Softmodem AMR)
  • SmartLink 56K AMR chipsets

From the initial research that I've done on the drivers that Microsoft is providing for these and other modems on the Windows Update Catalog section, it appears that there are already Windows XP drivers for a wide range of modems including ones with the chipsets above. It also appears that some of these drivers may be newer versions than any released to the public by the chipset vendor or modem manufacturers themselves (example: one PCTel modem driver carries version 8.50 and the only Intel modem download provides a v92 driver for their HAM modem even though their website says there are no v92 drivers avialable at this time.)

Some vendors already have Windows XP drivers on their web site so you can get to them from another computer:

So what is a Windows XP user supposed to do when they run into the modem driver catch-22? A few things can be done:

  1. Contact microsoft immediately and complain!!! The only way to get this catch-22 situation corrected is to cause a huge public outcry and get them to make the Windows Update Catalog for XP available from non-Windows XP computers.
  2. Find a friend or Co-worker that has Windows XP & internet connectivity and borrow their computer to download drivers for your modem.
  3. Contact your Modem or Computer manufacturer to get them to send you Windows XP drivers for your modem. If they do not have them, then complain!
  4. Try utilizing Windows 2000 drivers for your modem. Although not 100% do, most Windows 2000 drivers will work inside Windows XP because XP's underlying structure is based in Windows 2000. (sidenote: The OS identifies itself to programs as NT 5.1, whereas Win2k identifies itself as NT 5.0...getting the picture now?)
  5. Contact your local US Congressman or Senator to make them aware that Microsoft has utilized Windows XP unfairly to drive the market toward their standards. (Well maybe this is a bit too far, but you never know!)

      There's even more to the Windows XP modem driver problems than this. it is ONLY available via Windows Update. As noted in the ZDNet article, some laptops also require a BIOS update to fix the problem completely. They also say that the problem this problem is almost exclusively limited to the ultra-thin laptop category since that is design that most of the Intel 440MX motherboards were in. To get away from the techno-babble, you would probably beted if you have a laptop modem that's got "AMR" or "mini-pci" in its name. This would be modems such as the PCTel HSP AMR, Lucent SoftModem AMR, SmartLink AMR, USRobotics minipci, and Conexant HSF or HCF minipci. It might also be possible that some Lucent Winmodems would have been utilized for motherboards with the Intel 440MX chipset.

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