August 2002 PCI ADSL Modem Roundup

Introduction

The ADSL modem/router market is extremely competitive in the areas of USB, Ethernet, Wireless and PCI technology, with a considerable number of manufacturers pushing their "low cost" PCI products towards consumers who wish to take advantage of the benefits broadband Internet can offer, without leaving a hole in their wallets. In our roundup, we look at 9 popular PCI modems and attempt to discover which one is best for you.

The Contestants

In our roundup, there are 3 variations of modem based upon chipsets from Conexant (3805) and ITeX (Apollo 2 & 3). The chipset is the "core" of the modem and is where all of the data processing occurs. Chipsets are supplied to manufacturers along with reference PCB design layouts, which is why the cards with the same chipset can end up looking identical.

Conexant 3805 Based Cards [View Software]


Etec PT-3805

MRi PDSL01

DSLsource Conexant 3805

ITeX Apollo 2 Based Cards [View Software]


Creative Broadxent 7430

DSL Warehouse DSLW-700P

Alcatel Speed Touch PCI

ITeX Apollo 3 Based Cards [View Software]


Turbocomm IA-310

Solwise SAR-310

D-Link DSL-100D

The Assessment

We have assessed each product based upon the following areas of interest, all of which are crucial components of a successful, well marketable product. We have decided not to include price as a factor in the review because it's frequently changing (hopefully downwards!) and all modems reviewed are priced similarly around the £50 mark, with some dipping to around £40.

Physical Characteristics [3 points available]
  • Length (cm) and Height (cm)
  • Does the modem feature a phone connector for a telephone connection? [1 point]
  • Does the modem indicate data flow and ADSL line sync using diagnostic LEDs? [2 points]
Package Design & Contents [4 points available]
  • Is a CD included containing drivers for the PCI modem? [1 point]
  • Is paper documentation included for easy access to configuration settings? [1 point]
  • Is an RJ-11 ADSL cable included for connection to the telephone line? [1 point]
  • Has the packaging been custom designed by the retailer? [Half point]
  • Has the documentation been custom written by the retailer? [Half point]
Quality of Documentation [7 points available]
  • Are UK specific VPI/VCI & Encapsulation settings provided with or in addition to any paper documentation? This is an important factor - many users are unaware of what settings should be entered. [1 point]
  • Is a guide for physical installation into a computer (with pictures) included? [1 point]
  • Is a step by step installation guide included for the following operating systems
    • Windows 95 [Half point]
    • Windows 98 [Half point]
    • Windows ME [Half point]
    • Windows NT 4.0 [Half point]
    • Windows 2000 [Half point]
    • Windows XP [Half point]
  • Does the documentation feature a dialup networking configuration guide? [1 point]
  • Is there a latest copy of the documentation on CD which may include operating systems not featured in the printed manual? [1 point]
Hardware & Software Support [9 points available]
  • PPPoA support? (required for operation in the UK) [1 point]
  • PPPoE (PPP over Ethernet) support? [1 point]
  • Maximum downstream speed
  • Maximum upstream speed [1 point for 1Mbps]
  • Is it possible to swap driver encapsulation support dynamically without the need to change or re-install the drivers? [1 point]
  • Is a system reboot required after driver installation? [1 point]
  • Average CPU usage on test system* when downloading at 512Kbps.
  • Average ping time while idle
  • General quality of driver diagnostics software [maximum 4 points]
Driver Operating System Support [2 points available]
  • Windows driver support (all versions - 95,98,ME,NT,2000,XP) [1 point]
  • Linux driver support [1 point]

A total of 25 points are awardable.

*The test system used was running Microsoft Windows 2000 with a Celeron 500Mhz CPU and 256MB memory.

Assessment Table

(1). Etec PT-3805
(2). MRi PDSL01
(3). DSLsource Conexant 3805
(4). Creative Broadxent 7430
(5). DSL Warehouse DSLW-700P
(6). Alcatel Speed Touch PCI
(7). Turbocomm IA-310
(8). Solwise SAR-310
(9). D-Link DSL-100D

Green cells indicate that points have been awarded. White cells are for informational purposes only (no points are available).

  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9)
Physical Characteristics (Dimensions)
Length (cm) 15.2 15.2 15.2 17.8 16.5 16.8 12.0 12.0 13.5
Height (cm) 6.6 6.6 6.6 8.7 9.6 8.7 8.5 8.5 7.1
Physical Characteristics (Scoring)
Phone Connector No No No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Data Flow LED No No No No No No Yes Yes Yes
Synchronisation LED No No No No No No Yes Yes No
Package Design & Contents
CD included Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Paper docs included Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
RJ-11 included Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Packaging Custom Custom Generic Custom Generic Custom Generic Generic Custom
Documentation Generic Generic Generic Custom Generic Custom Generic Custom Custom
Printed Documentation
UK Specific VPI/VCI No Yes No No No No No Yes No
Physicall install guide Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
Win95 install guide No No No Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
Win98 install guide Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
WinME install guide Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes No No Yes
WinNT install guide Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No No Yes
Win2000 install guide Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No No No
WinXP install guide No No No No Yes No No No No
DUN Guide Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes
Supplied docs on CD No No No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Hardware & Software Support
PPPoA Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
PPPoE Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes
Max Downstream 8Mbps 8Mbps 8Mbps 8Mbps 8Mbps 8Mbps 8Mbps 8Mbps 8Mbps
Max Upstream 1Mbps 1Mbps 1Mbps 640k 640k 640k 768k 768k 640k
Swap Encapsulation Yes Yes Yes No No No No No No
Reboot Required No No No No No No No No No
Average CPU 6% 6% 6% 9% 9% 9% 10% 10% 10%
Average Ping Mid 10 Mid 10 Mid 10 Mid 20 Mid 20 Mid 20 Mid 20 Mid 20 Mid 20
Diag Soft Quality 4 4 4 2 2 2 2 2 2
Driver Operating System Support
Windows Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Linux No No No No No No No Yes No
Total Scores
  17.5 18.5 17 13.5 14 13.5 12 15.5 16

Note: Upstream speeds stated are according to chipset manufacturer specifications unless stated lower on specific product data sheets.

Verdict

It was a close battle for 1st place, with the MRi - PDSL01 taking the gold medal as the best PCI modem - featuring good quality documentation, great driver support and impressive performance statistics. In general, the Conexant 3805 based products tended to collect the most points within the crucial Hardware & Software section due to their excellent diagnostic software and ease of maintenance. Congratulations also goes out to Etec who were only one point behind the winner, and Solwise for supporting the Linux Operating System.

Where to Buy

The PCI cards featured in this review are available online from the following retailers:

Jeremy Ainsworth

The contents of this review should not be relied upon in making a purchasing decision—You should always discuss your requirements with your service provider and hardware supplier.