Of Modems and Winmodems

Time for a shocker. Device support under Linux is excellent.

No, really. We have been trained to assume that anything and everything just works with Windows but that isn't even remotely true. From time to time, even Windows users must visit hardware vendors' Web sites to download a driver. Furthermore, some hardware works with one version of Windows and not another so having all your hardware work under Windows is far from being a given (probably closer to a myth). When running Linux, the sheer number of things that will work "out of the box" without you having to search for and install drivers is nothing short of impressive and, quite frankly, beats your old OS hands down. No contest.

That doesn't mean all is rosy, however. Let me be brutally honest here. Some devices have been written to work with Windows and only Windows . . . or so it seems. One of the great things about this open source world is that developers are constantly working to write drivers to make it possible to run popular hardware, regardless of how helpful (or not) some hardware manufacturers are.

That said, if you haven't already bought that new gadget, there are a couple of things that you should do. For starters, if you are in the store looking at that new printer (or modem, for that matter), pull the salesperson aside and ask then whether it runs with Linux. If the person doesn't know (which is sometimes a problem but less so as time goes on), take a few minutes to check out the hardware compatibility guide on your Linux vendor's site.

As Linux gains in popularity, you’ll find that hardware vendors are increasingly motivated and interested in tapping into this ever-growing market. Those who don't may soon find they ignore Linux at their own peril. But I digress . . . I started out talking about modems.

Modems versus Winmodems

Winmodems are one of the very few minuses of running Linux. What people commonly call a winmodem is a modem designed to work only with Windows. Sometimes referred to as software or controllerless modems, they tend to be less expensive than controller-based modems. One way to avoid the whole problems surrounding this problem is to get yourself a good external modem. Of course, none of this whole winmodem problem applies if you also happen to be among the lucky ones using a cable modem connection or high-speed DSL access from your local phone company.

However, if your system came with a Winmodem, all is not lost. The Linux community is nothing if not resourceful. Even when manufacturers are slow to notice Linux users, the same isn't true the other way around. As more and more people run Linux, this becomes less and less of a problem. In time, hardware manufacturers may be building for Linux first and Windows second.

In the meantime, there are a couple of things you can and should do. The first place to look is your Linux distribution. Commercial Linux distributions sometimes provide drivers (SUSE and Mandrake come to mind). This usually involves purchasing the boxed sets as opposed to just downloading an image and burning your free distribution. If that doesn't bring you any satisfaction, check out the Linmodems.Org Web site at http://www.linmodems.org and you should be up and running shortly. Another great companion site is the "Winmodems are not modems" site at http://start.at/modem. Tons of information here including a fantastic list of what modems work, don't work, and everything in between.

Remember, many winmodems can be made into useful and productive members of Linux society with a visit to the right Web site. You'll find that most drivers are free for the price of a download. One exception is the Linuxant website which sells full featured drivers that support 56K fax modems for a small fee (roughly $15). That said, a free version of the drivers is available but these only provide speeds of 14.4 K. This is a good place to start anyhow since it provides you with the means of testing the drivers at no cost. For what it's worth, I've bought drivers from Linuxant and found them to work flawlessly.

On that note, here's my roundup of some of the more popular winmodems and the accompanying site to find the driver you need.

  • Conexant Modems (HCF and HSF)
    • http://www.linuxant.com/
  • Smart Link Modems
    • http://www.smlink.com/main/index.php
  • Lucent Modems
    • http://www.physcip.uni-stuttgartde/heby/ltmodem/
  • PCTel Modems
    • http://linmodems.technion.ac.il/pctel-linux/


So, What Have I Got?

In order to get the right driver for that winmodem, it helps to know what kind of winmodem you have. Users running KDE need only open kinfocenter and select PCI in the sidebar menu. Your modem will be listed there (see the image below and click for a full size version).

If you don't have access to kinfocenter, there are lots of ways to find that out but the quickest is probably to open a shell prompt, also known as a terminal session. KDE users will start a konsole while GNOME users will run a gnome-terminal. Once the terminal window is open, type the following.

lspci | grep -i modem

Note that the vertical bar, referred to as a pipe symbol, is usually located above the Enter key.

On my notebook computer, this returns the following

00:08.0 Modem: ALi Corporation M5457 AC'97 Modem Controller

I can now use that information to track down the appropriate driver.

USB Modems

When I said that external modems won't be a problem, I was talking about the classic modem style, the one that plugs into your computer's comm (or serial) port. That is still true and given a choice, that is still your best bet.

These days, there's a new class of external modems and these plug into your computer's USB port. Before you spend the money on a new USB modem, you should check out that modem on the Linux USB Device Overview website.


Last thoughts

As with anything else in this world, it makes sense to shop around beforehand. If you get a modem that is already guaranteed to work with Linux, you won't have to jump through hoops to get your hardware working. Buy an external serial modem or check with your Linux vendor (ie: RedHat, SUSE, Mandrake, etc) or the manufacturer of the modem itself (their website should have this information) to make sure that what you are buying will work with your Linux distribution.

If, however, you do find yourself with one of these cheap built-in modems and you desperately want it to work, remember what I said about the resourcefulness of the Linux community.

Marcel Gagné - Fri, 2020-11-26 11:56.

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linux drivers

i have a D-link modem .Model: DFM-560IS+++ Internal 56Kbps V.92 Data/Fax/voice Modem .Its chipset is conexant HSFi CX11252-11.If anybody can give me the drivers ,that would be kool.
I use fedora core 3.and the only thing which it displays id "UNABLE TO OPEN MODEM"
try for free driver if possible.
Thanx in advance

Ramchandra (not verified) - Thu, 2020-06-23 16:14.

linux driver support

This issue gets muddled a lot on both sides. Here's my observations so far, as a longtime windows user (3.1-XP) starting to kick the linux tires.

1. Linux has better driver support out of the box. Not a lot better, but better.

2. Windows has MUCH, MUCH better oem driver support. So it may not be included in the kernel, but it's nearly gauranteed that you can find it on a website somewhere, provided by the manufacturer. On linux you may not find it at all, and if you do, it might be created by volunteers who had no access to the devices technical specs (i.e. drivers due not expose all functionality).

In the end, it means Windows has driver support for 99% of all consumer/enterprise hardware, while linux has maybe 50/60%. This is changing rapidly in the enterprise space, not so fast in consumer.

tardboy (not verified) - Thu, 2021-03-31 10:18.


I agree that in certain situations that the cost factor of this type of pseudo modem architecture plays a large part of the average Windoze user/buyer however I more often than not instruct my clients to spent the extra money to purchase an external every time.

The reasoning behind this is our locality. This area during our summer months is extremely prone to drastic weather changes, ie- monsoon rains. And as an extension to this the extremely common occurence of lightning within such storm activity.

Our telephone lines may be located underground however some of the access pots are susceptible to lightning strikes, in turn causing the potential to damage computer equipment from the resultant voltage.

I have been an avid linux user for the last 6 years.

Mandrake 10.1 is my preference.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.

AusMounty (not verified) - Wed, 2021-01-05 09:47.

Linuxant drivers

I have purchased both the winmodem and wireless drivers from Linuxant. About $40 all up in my currency.

Work well and support is prompt (all for my stuff-ups!)

Alex (not verified) - Sat, 2020-12-11 04:32.

Controller-based vs "winmodems"

I agree that the best route to follow is to get a controller based modem. However, if you have a "winmodem" and it's made by Conexant, the Linuxant drivers are great! If you can live with the slower speed of the free version, this works just fine.

Colleen (not verified) - M - , 2020-12-06 15:25.

Use "controller-based" modem to avoid winmodem problems

In shopping for a modem that would unquestionably work with Linux, with no driver difficulties, I found that some of the less expensive external modems are not "controller-based," so they may create the same difficulties as an internal winmodem. On the other hand, some of the more expensive internal modems are "controller-based" and you can count on them to work with Linux. In short, "internal" versus "external" doesn't matter for this purpose; "controller-based" versus "controllerless" does matter. (I did end up getting a Zoom 3048 external, controller-based modem, though, and found it quite satisfactory, though not exactly cheap.)

David McClamrock (not verified) - Thu, 2020-12-02 05:05.

Excellent driver support a shocker? Not really...

I've been thinking for a long time already that Windows driver support isn't really too good. Just last weekend I tried to install my shiny new external USB2.0 DVD burner on an aging Win98SE system.
It took me ages to find out which USB driver was missing and causing an unknown PCI device to appear. For starters, Win98 doesn't show clearly which PCI ID an unknown device has. I had to run Linux in order to get much more detailed information about the devices in the system, necessary to be able to download the right USB2.0 driver (yes, there are good third-party Windows tools for system diag purposes, but I didn't know them instantly and didn't have them).
After about 10 reboots (yes, at least 10, not 5) I had the freshly downloaded USB2.0 driver for the builtin USB2.0 port installed properly.
That was at a time when I had already wasted almost 2 hours on this crap. With the USB2.0 driver working properly, I plugged in the external burner, only to find that despite being connected to the USB2.0 port (it showed up as a subdevice of that USB controller), it still transferred at USB1.1 speeds. This might have been due to Win98SE lacking USB Storage support by default, and the USB storage driver added later probably didn't support USB2.0 480Mbps speeds.
At this point I threw in the towel (and everything else ;) and went with Linux instead (murmuring that "I had meant to use Linux at first, but then thought that I'd try Win98 support first"). Needless to say everything worked in Linux, with proper USB2.0 speeds, too.

An - ymous (not verified) - Wed, 2020-12-01 09:19.

Win98SE is a bit NOT!

I would say that it is in appropriate to publicly announce the opinion that Windows support is bad because a product made 7 years ago doesn't support a shiny new USB 2.0 product (USB 2.0 didn't come out but a couple years ago). Besides Win98SE has been essentially discontinued.

Even so, say, under Windows XP you get a shiny new USB 2.0 device. Unless you apply at least SP1 you won't have support for 2.0 devices. Why is this? Because that product was created AFTER the version of XP was created. Why would anyone expect a CD which was made perhaps years before a technology was created, would have support for a technology that didn't exist?

Either way, you can get drivers from other sites, mostly for free, such as www.driversguide.com which provides free of charge tens of thousands of drivers for various versions of windows. It bothers me that any person/entity is charging for a driver. Those guys need to produce a free 56K modem driver and then add extras for which they charge.

Jimb (not verified) - Wed, 2020-05-11 10:10.

Probably wouldn't have had th

Probably wouldn't have had that situation if you were running XP instead of 98. That's like complaining that DVD players suck becasue you can't use your betamax tapes with them.

An - ymous (not verified) - M - , 2020-12-06 16:28.

If you read the post you'll s

If you read the post you'll see he mentioned *old hardware*. A bloated XP OS probably won't run on his system. He probably better off downloading a linux distribution and running a window manager like fluxbox, windowmaker, afterstep, xfce4, icewm, or something similair. It sure is nice having a choice of window managers (or none, like on a 486 I use for web/newsgroups) to match the capabilities of your hardware. With M$, I guess they figure you need a computer that will connect to them so they can let the RIAA know what you're doing with that DVD burner.

An - ymous (not verified) - Sun, 2021-04-17 07:57.

Tell the manufacturer

This will only get fixed when manufacturers decide to support Linux. We need to tell them that our purchase decision was based on their Linux support (or lack thereof). Don't tell the Webmaster. Find a sales, marketing, or management contact to tell.


Anth - y E. Greene (not verified) - Wed, 2020-12-01 07:54.

Don't tell the Webmaster.

Don't tell the Webmaster.

As far as I'm concerned, if you've got a degree from Hogwarts: fine, you're a webmaster. The rest of them are 3 rungs below code monkey.

Let that buzzword die please.

An - ymous (not verified) - Wed, 2020-12-01 19:08.

A lot of people forget that m

A lot of people forget that most device drivers for Windows comes on a CD with the device. Without the CD, it's a pain to locate, download and install the drivers (try needing to connect to a high speed internet connection through an addon ethernet card, after a fresh windows install only to find you can't download the required driver because you can't connect without it!).

ejraka32 (not verified) - Tue, 2020-11-30 12:14.

A lot of people forget that m

Be careful with that CD though, often the driver on the CD is old. What companies often do, is get say 500,000 disks punched, then ship those disks until they run out. This is because it costs $50,000 to get a master disk made, even today. Of course, now when they get a new disk punched, it's easy to include a copy of the new Linux driver.

If I buy, a new device today, even though I am not currently using Linux on the desktop, I look for Linux compatable devices.


Wogster (not verified) - Wed, 2020-12-01 08:14.

Not that expensive to cut cd's

It does NOT cost $50K to get a master CD made.
There are places that will stamp CD's for you
(REAL CD's NOT CDR's) for less than $2 each, minimum order
of 500 pieces. Buy in larger quanities and it only gets
cheaper. If you burn them a CDR (so they don't have to create
the image) you can save yourself some setup fees.
I went through this about 10 years ago at a former job, we
used a company called Disk Makers to cut us about a thousand
CD's. The price was no where near $50K back then and it's only gotten cheaper.

An - ymous (not verified) - Wed, 2020-12-01 09:25.

But drivers come with OS in Linux

As the author said, you would be amazed at how many drivers come with the Linux distirubutions. For example, I bought SuSE 9.2, and I didn't have to search for a single driver for my laptop. (It has 2 DVDs packed with software.)

Admittedly, this is getting to be the case in Windows with their Plug and Play, as well.

Jimbo (not verified) - Tue, 2020-11-30 15:54.

Windows and driver support

I have a brand new cheapie NVidia board (5500 I think). The latest Windows drivers make Unreal Tournament crash and other programs forced a reboot. I had to wipe the new drivers off and install older and older drivers until I found one that worked.

The latest NVidia drivers work on Linux fine. Even Unreal Tournament works fine.

That's just one data point, but it's proof one cannot always expect windows drivers to go smoothly and Linux driver to give you the most trouble.

(Yes, I admit it - I play UT with my 8-yr-old son for about a half hour at a time every few days, and he beats the sno...er, phlegm out of me. And although I'm not good enough to be competitive with most teenagers, I'm not all that bad a player -- although I do like camping and sniping, which is something people hate.)

npetreley (not verified) - M - , 2020-11-29 17:00.

Linux Device Support

The only place where linux lags still now in terms of devices is
probably the usb devices. I have an external usb hard disk
(IOMEGA ~ 120 GB). It is recognised and mounted alright,
(Fedora Core 3 - updated from rpms from newrpms, I use
apt-get/synaptic). But while coping files in the middle the
connection suddenly goes. This happens quite often. Previously
after this happened, the device was not accessible, but after
I updated the kernel, after few minutes again the device is
accessible. Once this is fixed, I will say that I don't ever want
to use anything but linux.

Bye the way, if anybody knows a fix for this, please post it.

An - ymous (not verified) - Thu, 2021-03-31 08:57.