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ASUS AGC-100 GPRS Modem Review

When I started testing the ASUS AGC-100 GPRS modem it was very interesting to find out whether it could make friends with my notebook. On the other hand, I treated it just as an expensive toy unable to replace a mobile phone or compete with its functionality.

The problems popped up at the very beginning: the modem refused to work in the first notebook (IBM ThinkPad R21) with the OS Windows XP Professional Edition (Russian version) installed. When I inserted it into the PCMCIA connector the device was detected as a standard PCMCIA modem, then the system hang and started up again again only when the modem was taken out of the notebook. I tried to remove all settings left after the previous GPRS connection (Bluetooth), but it didn't help. No other tricks like removal and installation of other modems, IR connections etc. could change the situation.

As we found out later, the Russian version of the Windows XP Professional Edition was the only system the modem didn't want to work in. It had no problems in the Windows 2000 and Windows 98. Afterwards we tested the modem under the English version of the Windows XP Professional Edition which didn't need even special drivers.

Compatibility of the AGC-100 with some notebooks and OSs
Model OS Operability Note
IBM ThinkPad R21 MS Windows XP Professional, Russian version - -
ASUS D1 MS Windows XP Professional, English version + -
Toshiba Sattelite MS Windows 2000 + Drivers required
ASUS M8300 MS Windows 98 + Drivers required

However I had to install special software so that it could be used as a mobile phone with all bonuses provided: answering machine, fax messages reception etc. Some notebooks (in particular, Toshiba Satellite) produced typical sound when the phone number was dialled which probably is caused by poor insulation of the audio section. When speaking on the modem the sound quality seems to be acceptable, and the volume level is excellent indeed. However, the headphone bundled with the phone wasn't expensive, and I could perfectly feel the difference from the sound quality of my cell phone. Nevertheless, the modem is primarily meant for data transfer via GPRS, and the AGC-100 copes with it excellently.

In the GPRS networks of Beeline and MTS the modem performed fairly well: it didn't hang or had any bugs as compared to some other cell phones. Sure, it couldn't reach the maximum speed of 115 Kbit/s: the average speed in the Beeline network made 24-26.4 Kbit/s, and 13.6-14.4 Kbit/s in case of MTS, but it's still more than the low-speed GSM Internet access allows (9600 bit/s). By the way, the connection settings for the networks of both operators were already made, - we had to select a respective menu item.

I hoped Megafon would allow for a higher GPRS speed at least because 1MB costs over a dollar there), but we couldn't get the network access at all making the settings manually (according to the instructions given on the site and in the user manual) and automatically. We addressed the technical support several times but didn't get any answer.

Although the data rate leaves a lot to be desired, I must admit the modem is very comfortable to use - if earlier I had to place a cell phone next to the notebook to access the Internet, now a portable PC can easily turn into a communication center. However, this is a two-edged weapon: on one hand, you don't need to take a cell phone with you, but on the other hand, I wouldn't like to be deprived of the mobile connection when the notebook's batteries run out, and I can't have it connected to the power network all the time. That is why the modem+notebook tandem will never replace a mobile phone but the convenience of browsing the Internet with this compact PCMCIA modem is also precious.

Probably, it will be possible in future to use the AGC-100 in PDAs with the CompactFlash interface (this is the modem's native interface, and it uses a respective adapter for the PC's PCMCIA connector), but there can be a problem of compatibility. I don't think the market will be overfilled with pocket PCs with such support, and the audience of potential buyers will be limited by adherents of one or another company.

Sergei Lourie (archont@ixbt.com)

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