WHERE DID THE MODEM GO: A Pictorial History of 56k Modems

c’mere babe, check out my ten inch…modem

an US Robotics 56k modem circa 1995, to my knowledge the first available in the USA consumer market

 What does all this shit do?

  • Codec: man oh man, gotta translate all those annoying scratchy buzzy noises into zeroes and ones, gotta have a chip that can identify and create those noises & stuff
  • DSP: gotta take data from a PC and turn it into instructions for the codec to turn it into an annoying noise and vice versa
  • Flash memory: gotta have a place for the chips to remember what scratchy buzzy noise means what thing and how the chips have to talk to each other and stuff
  • SRAM: gotta have a place for the scratchy buzzy noise data to sit while the other chips sit around and figure out what they mean
  • CPU: Intel 80186, probable great-great-great-great-grandpa to the processor in the computer you’re using now, cuz you gotta have a chip to crack the whip on dem bitchez & organize the whole racket
  • Chipset: somebody gotta send and receive this shit through a serial port

by 1998, US Robotics had concluded it was less about the size and more about how you use it

So they put the CPU & chipset on the Same Freakin Chip & put it in, you know, a White Package

in 2000, US Robotics decided modems should be allowed to…get inside…computers…and…plug in

This joke has gone way too far, but in essence, access to the fast PCI bus inside the computer eliminated the need for a bunch of hardware that sets the timing for what data gets sent around when and allowed the modem to communicate with the rest of the computer more directly

2000 was a great year. Computers were getting more powerful and people started using D.S.L. and other…faster…ways of getting…online. Modems were unloved and sad and people found ways to make them cheaper, mainly by offloading processing tasks to the main CPU using software drivers

around the mid-2000s Agere & others decided it would be cool to offload the…tasks…to the main processor and basically just lie there, moving…data…occasionally

Was that another dick joke?

Then, processors with dedicated multimedia processing instruction sets, or motherboard chipsets with similar capabilities, meant that formal modem hardware to decode and encode audio really wasn’t necessary at all – just a riser card with a phone jack and some power hardware to take the voltage down to something that could be fed more or less directly into the I/O bus.


What did that mean in an historical context?

It meant that if you were a processor and/or chipset manufacturer, you could build an audio transceiver-based backdoor into hardware and allow security services to use it to screw governments and individuals you didn’t like. Go read my acoustic coupler post now and get into a Lotus position and meditate and pretend you’re one of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s nuclear engineers circa 2009 for awhile.