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Feature Article
The Cable Modem Arrives

September 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

I finally received my cable modem from Paragon/Road Runner. If you area regular to this site, you are aware that I have compared Cable Modems to ADSL, and have been waiting quite a while for my cable modem. In this article I will tell you the details of my cable modem, and how it is to live with. So let’s sit back and have some fun.

For starters let me give you a little background. Paragon (of San Antonio) mentioned on their web site that they would be providing cable modems sometime in the summer of 1999. (They just barely made it.) They never gave an exact date, but it wet my appetite. You could sign up to be on an "early bird" list. This list would be the first people to get modems.

Bottom line I joined the list in January. They went live with the cable modems on July 26th. I received my modem at a self-install class on Aug. 10th.

The self-install class is for people that are technically competent to install the modem themselves. Paragon came to my house back in May to install the jack in my wall. Basically they split the signal coming into the house at the earliest point, and sent a line directly to a jack by my computer. The other end of the splitter gets further split among the three regular cable jacks for TV) in the house. I bought a 10/100 Ethernet card mail order for $12.

The Class

I was scheduled to take the self-install class. The class was pretty simple. Most of the time was spent on explaining how to setup your computer to use TCP/IP and turn off file and print sharing. They briefly walked us through the steps, and let us leave with our modems, and our account names and passwords.

It was a painless experience. I left 20 minutes after the class was scheduled to start.

I waited until the kids were asleep before starting the installation. I opened my computer and plugged in the Ethernet card. I turned the machine on, and Windows 98 detected the card, and prompted me for the drivers. I put the disk in and told it to look on the A: drive. Simple enough. A quick reboot and the computer was working normally.

On to the modem. The quick instructions said to plug the modem in the jack in the wall. Check. Plug in the modem to an outlet using its transformer. Check. Now plug in the modem to the back of my computer with the included Ethernet cable. Check.

That was the entire hardware side of it. Truly simple. I powered the computer on, and went onto the software install.

Software?

The software install has its own unique story. I went to run the setup.exe file on the CD-ROM that they provided. It caused the dialer to my old ISP to pop up. I didn’t want to dial my old ISP, so I hit cancel. I got an error message saying the setup program couldn’t connect to the network.

I thought that was odd, so I opened a DOS box and pinged their server. Once again I was prompted to dial my old ISP. This time I hit the Settings button. I changed the option for dialing the Internet to the option to only dial when I was not connected to the network. Puff! The ping returned. Without any software.

This means that my computer is live on the internet anytime it is on. Without even logging on to anything. I opened Internet Explorer and surfed around a little. The speed was great. I opened Outlook Express and setup an account for getting mail. I entered the password and ID they gave me in the class. Puff, my e-mail was working.

OK. Time to find out what there software does. I ran the setup program and it flickered the modem light a bit. I installed their "Road Runner Manager" software, but declined the options to install IE 5 or Outlook Express, since I already had them running.

I tried logging onto their software, and didn’t notice anything different. When I created some new "accounts" I was able to tell. Their software only logs you in so their web site will know who you are. This means that you not only have to have your ID and password, but you need their software running to access your account information on their web site.

The new accounts are for e-mail. You get 5 e-mail addresses. The main one they supply, and you cannot change. The others you can create. I assume you can not create one that already exists in their system. I create a couple of accounts, and setup Outlook express for the accounts. I was e-mailing myself back and forth in no time.

Once I got my account setup to my liking, I disabled their software. I can run it when I need it, but 99.9% of the time it is a waste of resources. For all you Road Running users out there... You shouldn’t need the RR Manager software. Turn it off. It leaves you with a false sense of security. A guy I know got his cable modem a week before me. He was under the impression that logging off with the RR Manager software logged you off the Internet. You are very much "on" the Internet all the time. He was very glad I told him about this.

How fast is it?

So, you all want to know how fast it is. Well that is hard to quantify. But I will try. I tried downloading a game demo from ZDNet’s web site. Windows reported I was getting about 60KBytes per second (480Kbps) transfer rate. I thought that was a bit slow (for a cable modem) so I tried downloading something from another site. The second download was running at about 23KBytes (184Kbps). And these were both going at the same time. Stopping either one had no effect on the other. Combined that was a sustained transfer rate of about 83KBytes (664Kbps).

(Note: I am mentioning 2 numbers for each transfer. This is because Windows, and most utilities, report your transfer rate in bytes, but hardware is rated in bits. A 28.8 modem is capable of transferring 28.8Kilo bits per second, or 28.8Kbps. FTP software, and the Windows download dialog box, report the transfer rate in Bytes, at around 3Kilo Bytes per second, or 3KBytes. Standard notation uses a "K" for bytes, and a "k" for bits. I will supply both whenever possible so you don’t have to do the math.)

I was hoping for over 1Mbps with the cable modem. So I went to the home page of my old ISP. They posted a copy of Internet Explorer 5.0 when it first came out. This was to give their customers a place to download it without the headaches of downloading it from Microsoft. I downloaded their copy of IE5. It was a 54.4MB file. It took 4 minutes, 40 second. That works out to 1.55Mbps. Clearly my cable modem is not the bottleneck with downloads from the other sites. (You can download TexasNet’s copy of IE 5 here for comparison. Please, let me know your results if you do it.)

Then I ran this speed test. The first time it ran I didn’t even notice. When I saw the number I was shocked. I got a speed of 8190Kbps. That’s right, over 8Mbps. Check the site, you’ll see a thermometer. My speed was listed as "off the chart."

The cable modem is supposed to be set for a limit of 10Mbps at the server side. Unfortunately, I have never received that level of performance again. But I am glad to report that the slowest speed I ever got was 190Kbps. And I immediately got a number in the mid 400Kbps when I refreshed the page. Even at 190Kbps, that’s over 6-1/2 times faster than my old 28.8 modem was capable of.

That speed test has given me numbers ranging from mid 300Kbps - mid 800Kbps scores. Mostly in the 600-700 range. At work where I have a couple of T3 lines (max rating of 44Mbps each) I get numbers ranging from 400Kbps - 1200Kbps. So my cable modem is a little slower than sharing a couple of T3 lines with thousands of people.

When I wrote this Paragon/Road Runner had only installed around 600 users. I will have to see what thousands of users will do to the speed. For the moment I am enjoying every bit of it.

It takes less time to download a song in MP3 than it does to listen to it. Gaming on Battle.Net has been completely lag free when I enter a game for Cable modems. I can’t wait to see what Age of Empires II will be like on MSN Gaming Zone. It took a little less than 10 minutes to download Microsoft’s Personal Web Server (35MB) from their site. I was able to install Apple’s Quick Time 4 directly from the web. It ran as smooth as if I had been running it from my CD-ROM drive.

I would love to compare these numbers to someone with ADSL from Southwester Bell. If anyone has ADSL, please e-mail me and we can compare numbers.

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