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Steps to take if your Modem Won’t Talk

Troubleshooting a modem that isn’t working:

Having repaired many computers for a number of years,troubleshooting a modem that isn’t working isn’t that difficult if you understand how a modem works, and its relationship with other devices you may be using in conjunction with it.

The two basic types of modems that are used today are internal modems (those that are either integrated into the motherboard, or sit in a special slot on the motherboard),and external modems which are in a special case of their own that attach to the computer by some form of cable.

Regardless of whether the modem is internal or external, all modems are basically dumb, and will not work with your computer until you tell the computer what kind of modem you are installing.

Every modem comes with a compact disc that contains a special program on it that will tell the computer what kind of modem you are trying to install, and how to make that modem work with your specific operating system. This CD is often referred to as the “Drivers Disc.”

In order to troubleshoot a modem properly, you must have the “Drivers Disc” with you during the troubleshooting process.

We need to ask a series of questions before we begin the troubleshooting process, because the answers to the questions may give us a starting point, or an obvious solution to the entire
“Modem not working” problem.

1. How old is the modem? If it’s two to three years of age, and been used on almost a daily basis, it’s seen better days but check it anyway.

2. Has it been communication slowly recently, and at what speed(s)? Most damaged modems that still work will only communicate at about half or less of it’s total capacity on a phone line that is working normally.

3. How is the phone line connecting to the modem (Does it come from the wall jack and go to a surge protector first, and then a second line come from the surge protector to the modem?) The
problem may be that the surge protector ports the phone lines enter and exit have gone bad.

You can check this right now by plugging your phone directly into the port that goes from the protector to your modem. If you hear a dial tone, it’s good, if not, it’s bad so buy a new surge protector and try dialing out through your modem. If the modem still doesn’t work, it may have been damaged by the same thing that destroyed the ports on your surge protector.

4. Has there been a recent electrical storm with strong lightning that may have struck near the computer? Even though the computer may have been turned off at the time, the phone line is always powered on! Lightning, like water, always follows the path of least resistance, so if lightning struck it would most certainly have entered through the phone line to the modem.

Since step #4 is the most drastic, we’re going to begin here.

Disconnect all power and cables from the computer, open the case, and locate your modem card. Once you find it, remove the screw, clamps or whatever mechanism is holding the modem
on the motherboard. Now, gently reach in with your fingers and wiggle the modem back and forth until it comes out.

Visually inspect the card for any signs of damage. If it has black scorch marks on it, or obvious missing circuits that have been blown apart or melted away, a massive power surge (a.k.a. lightning)took its life so you’ll have to install a new modem. If there is no obvious damage, just push it all the way back into it’s slot, secure it and reconnect all the cables.

Connect the phone line from the wall jack directly to the modems “line” port, and then connect your telephone to the pass through “phone” port on the back of the modem. Pick up your phone receiver and listen for a dial tone. If you don’t hear it, this is a pretty good sign that your modem is either dead, or hopelessly crippled. Go ahead and install a new modem now, and follow the installation procedures that come with your new modem. If you do hear a dial tone, your Modem may still be good so press on.

Turn your computer on and watch what happens. Since we pulled, inspected, and re-inserted our old modem, the computer will more than likely recognize it and re-install the drivers automatically. If it doesn’t, there is a possibility that the slot on the computer’s
motherboard that your modem is plugged into, may be bad. This will prevent the computer from recognizing that your modem is even there. Keep this thought in the back of your mind as you continue troubleshooting.

If it did look like the computer recognized the modem during the boot sequence, place your ear close to the modem, and try to dial out and listen to what the modem does. If you hear one or more audible clicks with no dial tone, and the computer obviously isn’t making a connection, your modem can’t speak anymore and will have to be replaced. Go ahead and install a new modem now, and follow the installation procedures that come with the new modem.

If the modem your troubleshooting does give a good dial tone, and does connect, take a look at the connection speed that displays for a few seconds right after connection. Since most modems are rated at 56,000 bps (bauds per second), the connection speed should be at least 48,000 bps or better if the phone lines are in good shape, and you don’t live too far from a switching station. Some people who live in the country with a new computer often can’t connect much faster than 28,000 to 32,000 bps, but these are rare cases.

If your connection speed appears to be good, chances are your Modem developed a yeast infection of some kind on its contacts at the motherboard, and when you pulled and re-inserted the Modem card, the contacts were cleaned and made a good connection again.

But if your connection speed is questionable, and the modem still doesn’t appear to be working correctly, the modem drivers need to be un-installed and re-installed through the computer control panel.

Go to your control panel, open the system icon and navigate to your hardware and device manager icons. Locate your modem in the device manager list, highlight it and uninstall it. Shut down your Computer, re-boot the system and re-install the device drivers for your modem from the modem’s CD. Go through the dial-up sequence again to see what happens. If the modem finally is working ok, the device drivers were bad and it should work good for a long while. But if the modem still isn’t working right, there is one more test that can be performed.

Shut down the computer, disconnect all cables, and take a look inside your computer case again. Look at the modem card to see what kind of slot it’s in. Is there an empty slot on the motherboard that is identical to the slot the modem presently occupies?

If yes, pull the modem, re-insert it into the new slot, re-connect everything once again, power-on the computer, install the modem drivers if needed, and do the dial up test again to see what happens. If the modem works fine now, make a note that you have a bad slot on your motherboard that can no longer be used. But if the modem still does not work correctly, go ahead and install a new modem now, and follow the installation procedures that come with the new modem, and everything should work as advertised!

The procedures that I have just discussed work well on most computer configurations. But for any system that has a modem integrated right into the motherboard, the only option is install a new modem card in an available slot.

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