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Modem installation bug in Windows 2000

Plug-and-play was supposed to make hardware installation easier, not harder. In Windows 2000, it's almost impossible.

Installing and configuring computer devices has come a long way since the first PC's graced our desktops. And while the promise of Windows' plug-and-play has, for the most part, greatly simplified our lives, there is still one computer peripheral that always seems to throw plug-and-play a curve ball--a modem. With all the advancements made to simplify computer configuration, battling with modems seems to be an inevitable chore. Despite the good intentions of developers, there is a disconnect (pardon the pun) between the nirvana promised by plug-and-play and real life experience. However, even with this disconnect, there are some things that you can do.

To be fair, there are a number of modems that do install without a hitch and are recognized by Windows 2000. They just never seem to be the ones we buy. So when an effortless modem installation runs a foul, here is one way to get things flying right without pulling your hair out. In a perfect world, the modem hardware would be plugged in before you install the operating system. That way Windows 2000 can load the correct device drivers right out of the shoot. But, when this doesn't work, then it's time to load the drivers manually.

In Windows 2000, that means starting in the Control Panel with "Phone and Modem Options." Click the Modem tab and try to select your modem from the list of manufacturers displayed. Once you've selected your modem, the next step is to use the drivers that were supplied with your modem or the drivers that you previously downloaded from the modem manufacturer's Web site.

To use a manufacturer's driver, click on the "Have Disk" button and browse to the location of the driver--either on a floppy or the hard drive. Now that you've found the correct driver, you might feel like you're home free. Well, not so fast.

In our Windows 2000 Pro test system, we tried to install a US Robotics 56K PCI Fax modem. With the vendor supplied drivers in hand, we proceeded as outlined above, but when Windows 2000 asked us to Select the port(s) you want to install the modem on, (see Figure A), the only ports Windows offered were COM1 and COM2. Since we previously used this same system with Windows 98, we knew that the modem uses COM4. Windows 2000, for some reason, didn't give us this option. Selecting either COM1 or COM2 would have been fruitless.

Figure A: Select the port(s) you want to install the modem on

For the record, we did follow the recommendations in the Windows 2000 help file, but still our modem did not work. So we chose the "Add/Remove Hardware" wizard located in the Windows Control Panel and selected "Add/Troubleshoot a device." If the modem is installed and functioning correctly, it should show up in the "Choose a Hardware Device" list as a questionable PCI Serial Port (see Figure B). The question mark and yellow exclamation point indicate that Windows 2000 does indeed recognize the device, but for some reason, it doesn't know how to handle it. Select this device and click Next.

Figure B: The Choose a Hardware Device list showing a questionable PCI Serial Port

You might get a message saying the hardware was added, but no drivers were installed. This is normal. All that is left now is to locate the vendor supplied modem driver. Point the "Upgrade Device Driver" wizard to the folder containing the appropriate driver(s). After you verify that the device description listed matches the hardware that you have in your system, click the Finish button.

Visit Control Panel's "Phone and Modem Options" to verify whether the modem is configured correctly. Select the modem that you just installed and click the Properties button. From the Diagnostics tab, select "Query Modem."

After a couple seconds, you'll receive what looks like a data dump (a list of numbers and letters). Within this data dump, you'll find information about the modem itself, including its firmware version number and various other settings. That you see it is more important than what it means. The data dump shows that Windows is able to talk to the modem and everything is working fine.

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If there is still a problem with the modem, then you will get a message box stating "Port already open" or something like that. If this happens, then you probably have a hardware resource conflict with the modem. You will need to resolve that before proceeding.