Need a Linux distribution that recognises PCI modems

Q I work for the University of Western Ontario in Canada and I have access to a lot of old and broken computers that I rebuild and give away to charities. I've used Windows in the past but it's a bit of a pain because of copyrights and its inability to recognise hardware. It would be a lot easier to use a Linux operating system; the problem is, I need a Linux system that's able to recognise PCI modems without having to search the net for drivers. It would be nice if you could tell me which operating system would be the best for using PCI modems, or which PCI modems would be the easiest to use so that I can make these computers internet capable.

A PCI modems are a sticky topic. Most internal modems are controller- less (also known as winmodems): they are missing the digital signal processor of a normal modem, offloading the work to the computer's CPU instead. Hardware modems, those that have a full controller, generally appear as a serial device so you use them exactly the same as an external modem, with no need for special drivers. These are your best choice, but you need to check the specifications carefully to make sure a particular modem is a true hardware device. Some controller-less modems will work with Linux. You'll find a list of supported models at www.linmodems.org along with a program that will identify your modem's chipset and indicate the correct driver.

It's not possible for us to recommend specific makes and models, because manufacturers sometimes change the chipset of a modem without changing the model designation. This doesn't matter to Windows users (apart from the potential drop in performance) because the driver disc supplied with the modem takes care of the differences. Anything with an Intel chipset is likely to be a good bet. They supply drivers from their website at http://developer.intel.com/design/modems/support/drivers.htm. The distro is less important as most of them have excellent hardware detection nowadays. A more important consideration is how well it runs on older hardware.

If you find a modem that works, you should get further models from the same supplier, preferably from the same stock to ensure they're all compatible. You may also find eBay a good source for older, and often more compatible, modems as so many people no longer use them. Alternatively, if any of our readers have compatible modems they no longer use, we would be happy to put them in touch with you so they can help with your efforts.

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