Modems are dead. They just don’t seem to know it. In today’s world of plentiful broadband Internet connection options, modems still fill a vital niche as a fallback during a broadband outage, or as an easy way to get online while traveling. Modem users welcome products that boost modem performance and make modems more convenient to use. Two such products are Ilesa’s Download Deputy and Macntosh.com’s Mac aRa Modem Magic. Both packages promise to save you connect time and, ultimately, money. Only one delivers on that promise, however. Download Deputy makes downloading files more convenient and efficient. It’s well documented to boot and has a slew of clever features. Modem Magic, on the other hand, fails to make good on its claim of improving modem connect speeds.
Download Deputy’s premise is simple: downloading large files, especially over a modem, is a boring, tedious process. Not only do you have to sit around making sure the download is progressing but also, if you have multiple downloads, you have to initiate each one as the previous download finishes. And just when that giant three-hour download is about to finish, you could get disconnected and have to start all over again.
Running as a background application, Download Deputy accepts URLs for files you want to download — by either drag and drop or contextual menu from your browser — and puts them in a queue. You can set up as many queues as you like, each with different characteristics, such as destination folder or scheduling options. No downloading occurs until you explicitly click on Download Deputy’s Go button, or until a previously scheduled download time arrives. The program can queue up both FTP and HTTP URLs, and you can order the downloads any way you like.
Download Deputy has some slick bells and whistles. One of the best is Automatic Retry, which picks up a failed download where it left off, eliminating the need to start over after a disconnect. A MaxMyBandwidth option will ensure your downstream bandwidth remains saturated to minimize download time at the expense of other Internet operations, such as browsing. A Link Extractor feature will find all the downloadable links within a particular Web page and queue them up for processing.
When downloading is finished, you can optionally request automatic decompressing of compressed files using StuffIt Expander. You can also automatically disconnect your Internet connection after all queues are empty, and even shut down your computer.
The one fly in Download Deputy’s balm is that it automatically extracts your e-mail address from Internet preferences to use as a password to sites from which you anonymously FTP files. There is no way to manually configure that e-mail address, and many people do not want to give out their personal e-mail address in this way. I, for example, use a special e-mail address reserved for junk mail, as e-mail addresses passed on to anonymous FTP sites often become spam targets.
Modem Magic is a collection of 200 modem connection scripts that Macntosh says are optimized to get the highest speed possible out of a particular manufacturer’s modem. There are scripts for all Apple-supplied internal modems, as well as for other vendors such as Zoom and 3Com, including the latest V.92 modem standard. Most Apple-supplied modem scripts are old, and therefore obsolete, argues Macntosh. By rewriting these scripts, tailoring them to the latest modem specifications, Macntosh can boost the connection speed and reliability.
And at first blush, Modem Magic appears to do just that. It seemed that no matter what connection script we used, with practically any brand modem, Apple’s Remote Access (ARA) application reported connection speeds in excess of 50,000 bps, and often as high as 57,600 bps.
However, download tests did not seem to be moving at these rates. Our actual measured download performance was often less than half the reported speed. To see what was actually happening under the covers, we decided to take a closer look at Modem Magic’s connection process. In an extensive round of testing with a cooperative ISP, we monitored both sides of a dial-up connection. Establishing numerous test connections over controlled lines through a local Pacific Bell central office, we discovered that Modem Magic’s scripts consistently reported speeds much higher than the ISP’s equipment measured on the remote end of the connection. We eventually determined that the actual modem connection speed was not being reported by ARA.
Examining Modem Magic’s scripts closely reveals that most Modem Magic scripts configure the modem to report the
speed, rather than the actual modem connect speed. The serial port speed is the speed between the modem and the computer, and it is almost always higher than the actual modem connect speed. In fact, most Apple-supplied scripts set the serial port speed to 115,200 bps, which accommodates the performance boost gained through modem-supplied data compression. Modem Magic scripts used a serial port speed of 57,600 bps for the most part, and because the script configures the modem to report the serial port speed, 57,600 bps is what the modem reports to ARA, even if the actual line connection is only 28,800 bps or slower.
Worse, when Modem Magic artificially lowers the serial port speed from 115,200 to 57,600, it is actually hobbling the modem’s built-in compression. Our tests bore this out: frequently Apple’s modem scripts outperformed Modem Magic scripts on high-speed connections. At best, Modem Magic matched Apple’s performance for low-speed lines. In our testing, Modem Magic scripts never outperformed Apple-supplied scripts.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Download Deputy has a lot going for it: good documentation, sensible features, and a real payback in improved download performance and reliability. Download Deputy will be helpful to broadband users as well — it’s not limited to modem Internet connections. For the price, it’s a bargain.
Modem Magic on the other hand does not appear to provide any performance benefit. Because we saw no improvement — and often degradation — compared to Apple-supplied scripts, we can’t recommend Modem Magic.