There are some names in the computing industry that are synonymous with quality, among them Intel, Micron, Quantum and, of course, U.S. Robotics. Now under the wing of networking giant 3Com, U.S.R. continues to crank out top quality high-performance modems, the Sportster x2/V.90 being no exception.

First off, a word to the wise: be careful opening your Sportster’s box! Surprisingly, the Sportster is shipped fairly loose in a cardboard insert and, as a result, has an inclination to fall from its packaging once free of the outer box. So, remove the insert SLOWLY and make sure you have a hand ready to catch the unit if it falls out of the packaging. If you do drop your modem, fear not! The evaluation Sportster dropped 36 inches (a meter) onto a marble floor and came through without a scratch.

Although the Sportster’s rectangular case looks somewhat dated, it also presents the user with readily accessible controls, such as a volume knob on the modem’s left side and an up-front power switch. The unit’s 7 status LEDs are also located at the front of the modem and are easily read in bright light and from various angles. Underneath the Sportster 3Com/U.S.R. has printed a legend that deciphers the abbreviations used to identify the status LEDs (CD, SD, etc.) and also a table that permits the user to set DIP switches located at the back of the case for various modes, such as auto answer on/off, dumb/smart mode and a setting to reset the modem to factory or NVRAM defaults. The latter suggests, you guessed it, that the modem’s internal code is flash upgradeable.

Installation went very smoothly. After attaching the external modem cable to my test system I powered up the modem and system and waiting for plug and pray…um, play, to do its thing. Happily, Windows 95 spotted the modem immediately and asked for the drivers located on the "Connections" CD-ROM. The drivers were loaded in less than 2 seconds and we were off to the races.

My first step was to dial 3Com/U.S.R.’s 56K test site to make sure my phone line was capable of 56K connections. After a brief interrogation my line was pronounced capable of high-speed data transport and I hung up to dial into a large x2/V.90 ISP.

Like the Hayes Accura 56K modem, I consistently achieved the same connection rate with the Sportster 56K. At 48,000 bps however, the Sportster outpaced the Hayes product by 4,000 bps. Not a huge margin, but enough to make a noticeable difference.

By downloading the same test files faster, the Sportster proved that the extra 4k per second throughput makes a difference. Through 30 runs, the 7.4 MB Netscape 4.05 Smartupdate downloaded in an average 23:18, beating the Hayes by a nearly two and a half minutes. The 181K zipped bitmap image came through in an average 40 seconds and the compressed 755K Pkzip file from Winfiles.com took an average 2:07, both times faster than what the Accura managed (47 seconds and 2:23 respectively). The 2.1 MB Diamond Stealth II driver update zoomed down the line at an average time of 7:08, again beating the Accura by a fair margin. The Sportster V.90 also loaded the test web pages more quickly than the Accura. Anandtech’s front page loaded in an average 11 seconds and the graphics-heavy Diamond Monster review at Tom’s Hardware Guide loaded in an average 1:02.

If your ISP doesn’t yet support V.90 and you need to go with an x2 modem, you can’t go wrong with the Sportster 56K x2/V.90. This robust unit consistently outperformed the Hayes Accura 56K K56Flex/V.90 modem and also features a better, though dated, layout that includes an external volume control. My only real complaints are the shipping box (careful!) and the fact that with only two rubber feet (the Hayes modem is guilty here too) the Sportster tends to slide around on the desktop. If your ISP supports V.90, the nod still goes to the Sportster. It’s a little less expensive than the Hayes and comes with a better software bundle. Overall, the 3Com/U.S. Robotics Sportster V.90 modem is a winner worthy of your consideration.


3Com/U.S. Robotics 56K Faxmodem x2/V.90 External Data/Fax Modem (retail version)
Website: http://www.3com.com

Recommended Vendor: http://www.megadepot.com
Prices: $152.83 US, $214 CDN.

Bundled Software (some are demos):

  • Netscape Navigator 4.03
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.01
  • AOL, AT&T, Compuserve, Sprynet, IBM, Mindspring, Netcom, Netcom Canada, Prodigy, Sprint, Web America Networks ISP software
  • Backweb
  • Connected Online Backup
  • Cyber Patrol
  • Juno
  • The Palace
  • RealPlayer
  • The Pointcast Network
  • Towne Square 2000
  • U.S.R. Net.Medic
  • VDO Phone
  • Vocaltec
  • Active Presenter
  • Hotfax Message Center
  • Iris Antivirus
  • Mac CommCenter
  • Megaphone
  • PKZIP
  • RapidComm, RapidComm Voice
  • Remote Office Gold
  • United Connection
  • Disney’s Daily Blast
  • Electric Library
  • e.Schwab
  • Myth: The Fallen Lords (demo)
  • PC411

By Colin Saunders

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