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  Motorola CyberSURFR Cable Modem - Review
by: Richard Knight Published: September 16, 1998

 

CyberSurfr.gif (27689 bytes)

Device type: External
Connection: Ethernet + Cable
Shaw@Home Internet Service Provider

Service Costs (in Canadian dollars):

$200

Security deposit for Modem

$50

Installation fee which includes 1 ISA Ethernet 10 Base T card, all necessary cords and wires, and complete installation/configuration.

$40

Monthly service charge for use, included is three self-registrable email accounts and one 5 MB WebPages account allowing up to 300 MB/month in traffic.

$20

For upgrade to PCI Ethernet 10 Base T card (optional).

I remember the good old days of 14.4 modems and BBS's by the dozen. I was amazed at those slick transfer rates and seamless delivery of information. Now the internet is the dominant land of data exchange, and technologies such as Cable, DSL, and even V.90 are shattering old bandwidth barriers. How things have changed, eh?

Shaw Communications is one of the two large Canadian cable companies that uses the @home network for internet access. They provide the physical connections, equipment, and support, while letting @Home handle the email, content, web space, and such. There is no competition, really, either subscribe to their service or use a phone line for dialing into a normal ISP.

Shaw provides this particular area with the Motorola CyberSURFR external cable modem. It connects to the computer through a standard Ethernet 10BaseT cord that plugs into an ISA or PCI Ethernet card. The modem also requires a 3 prong plug-in and a less than 10 foot proximity to a cable outlet.

Installation

The going is tough early on, with a one week waiting period. When the final day comes, two technicians arrive at consecutive times, one to test and setup and cable wiring in your house (right next to the house power supply box), and one to hookup and enable the modem as well as install the software.

It is not surprising that the modem is external, as in order to get the 10 Mbps downstream / 1.536 Mbps upstream, it uses a lot of silicon real-estate which in turn generates a lot of heat. As shown in the picture, almost the entire casing is vented.

The front of the large modem (its larger than a 5.25" device such as a CD-ROM drive) has a curved mold with 4 lights. The Power light is self explanatory, the Cable light lights up when a connection is made to the service provider, and the PC light lights up when the PC has booted. The final light, test, is only on with the modem is reset, allowing it to accomplish a simple diagnostic.

On a side note, I recommend plugging the modem directly into the wall or a separate surge protection device - since you are given a static IP, it seems best to leave it on at all times instead of letting it constantly renegotiate at each startup.

Once the modem and 3Com EtherLink III ISA Ethernet card are installed (the technician does both, as well as running a virus scan), a few settings are changed* in Windows networking, and the computer is rebooted. A modified version of Netscape (or IE if you prefer) Communicator is installed, along with dusty old versions of RealPlayer and QuickTime.

How does it work

Once the technician installs everything, that's it - the cable modem is meant to be on constantly, so you will never need to 'dial-up'. The modem behaves as if you are connected to a LAN with internet access.

Running Netscape reveals an instantly loading Java companion browser that loads material locally. It basically acts as a one stop news source while allowing you to change passwords and such online. Nicely done, but they don't replace dedicated news pages.

What the companion browser DOES do is show the awesome bandwidth levels of @Home. The whole thing loads up in seconds despite all the Java, animated ads and true color images. RealVideo and RealAudio clips come in at high quality with little or no lag.

Downloads from other internet sites are highly dependant on the bandwidth on route, but the typical download is 30 kilobytes/second, with highs of up to 120! After the first few days, it simply changes your philosophy for internet browsing - with no time limit and such high bandwidth, you never think twice about starting a large download or visiting graphic intensive sites.

For the heavy-duty gamers out there, there is no disappointment to be found. Pings from as low as ~5ms depending on connection and easily enough bandwidth to swallow all the necessary packets provides smooth game play that will instantly turn you into the envied "low ping bastard!"

Can there possibly be a downside

Unfortunately, the service is never quite as redundant as one would wish - extreme heat or cold can shut down routers and block access for lengthy periods. @Home has run into an AOL like growth problem with their web server causing month long maintenance and destroying WebPage accounts. Customer service, especially, leaves much to be desired, with week long waits for on-site technicians, and phone support waits long enough to warrant voice mail.

Conclusion

Despite the horrid customer support, cable internet service is really the best choice for the internet. It is much cheaper than ADSL, provides the same functionality as normal providers for a similar monthly charge, and tops them both by providing high amounts bandwidth and low ping times. If this service is in your area, don't hesitate to sign up now!

Pros: 10mbps bandwidth, no time restrictions, 3 E-mail accounts, cost is similar to dialup ISP services.

Cons: "Hidden" $200 Security Deposit Charge, horrible Customer Service, inconsistent WebPage server.

Motorola: www.motorola.com
3Com: www.3com.com
@home:www.home.com
Shaw @Home: www.shaw.wave.ca

Send comments to: Richard Knight

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