Directcom 56k modem

Review date: 18 November 1998.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.


Shopping for a 57,600 bit per second modem priced around the $150 mark (Australian dollars, November 1998)? You’ve got a few options. For a name brand you’re looking at at least $50 more, but there are several off-brand models with proper Rockwell chipsets for around $150.

Directcom modem

Directcom’s inventively named "56Kbps External Modem" is one of them, and not a bad choice. It’s a data/fax/voice modem with microphone and speaker jacks for speakerphone operation, plain beige styling and the industry standard Rockwell chipset.

It comes with Rockwell’s k56flex protocol built in, but can be upgraded to v.90 spec with the firmware update found at – a little detective work revealed that the Directcom is actually a rebadged Puretek modem. This page confusingly tells you that the update is only available to US customers (different countries need different updates to comply with phone regulations), but provides a "Non-US customer" link that takes you to the update. Mind you, Puretek’s whole site looks as if it was put together with the monitor off.

When you run the firmware updater, it complains about not being able to ID the modem and presents dire and perfectly correct warnings about the perils of updating a modem with the wrong firmware and/or interrupting the update. But it backs up the old firmware and updates the modem just fine. If you need k56flex again, you just run the updater again and go back to the backup.

Software and docs

The Directcom comes with a CD-ROM containing the popular SuperVoice 2.2 package, which is the 1997 version of the software (SuperVoice is up to version 4 now) but still works well. The interface is one of those ugly Windows 3.1 hangovers, but fax, data and voice mail is all handled, with remote access so you can use your computer as a quite elegant answering machine-cum-fax collector that you can talk to from any tone phone, just like a regular answering machine. Bundled software with cheap Taiwanese gear is usually pretty dire, but this is above the average.

SuperVoice software

Mind you, a lot of modems come with SuperVoice, so it’s far from a unique selling point. You can, by the way, download a free 2.2F update for SuperVoice from

The CD-ROM also contains modem drivers for Windows 95/98, which is just as well, because the Directcom isn’t in Windows 98’s monster modem driver list under its own name or as a Puretek product.

The modem manual is sparse, but not many people need four hundred pages on the intricacies of AT commands any more. The software documentation is on the CD-ROM, and is passable. If the drivers didn’t work, the slim manual would be annoying, but they do so it’s not.


Circuit board

This is about as cheap as you can get a decent 56k modem at the moment. Netcomm’s Roadster II V.90 sells for around $210, and supports both K56flex and V.90 out of the box, automatically detecting which is in use. This auto-detection is filtering down into off-brand modems around $150 now, but it’s not an important feature, since most people need only one protocol and your dealer should be able to provide the upgrade software for you, if needed.

If you’re a real pennypincher you can get a 56k modem for a few dollars less, but to make sure you’re comparing apples with apples, check that other bargain modems come with a serial cable (the Directcom has a double-header 9/25 pin cable) and a phone cable (the Directcom has a modular to Australian lead included). Many el cheapo modems lack one or both of these items, which explains the saving.

For the money, this is a good unit. It’s well made, it comes with OK software, the drivers work and the upgrade procedure is simple enough. It’s only one horse in a pretty crowded race, but it’s a good bet.



  • Standard chipset
  • Good bundled software
  • Decent price


  • Not that much cheaper than a brand name unit
  • Not V.90 out of the box

Identifying clone modems

How did I know the Directcom modem was really made by Puretek? I used the US Federal Communications Commission ID Search Form at Many modems have an FCC ID number on them – generally on the data sticker on the bottom – and the first three characters of that number, in this case "H52", denote the manufacturer. For more information on whatever manufacturer you turn up for your yum cha product, try

Quite a few modems, however, now don't have an FCC ID number, because they instead have a "Declaration of Conformity", decribed on the FCC site here.

doc.GIF (858 bytes)

If your modem has this logo on it or its box, it's got a DoC, not an ID number, and you're out of luck hunting down its identity the FCC way.

Kinds of 56K

There are three mutually incompatible flavours of 57,600 bit per second ("56k") communication, but many modems can be set up to use any of them. The official standard is called V.90, and was defined in February of 1998. Prior to V.90 there were Rockwell's K56flex and U.S. Robotics' X2 standards. A lot of modems, especially bargain basement models, still come from the factory set up with K56flex firmware. You can upgrade all but the cheesiest of these to V.90 with free software from the manufacturer, but cheap modems generally support only one standard at a time – if your ISP uses K56flex you need a K56flex-compatible modem.

This is not a big deal, because most people use only one ISP, and none of the 56k standards work between two plain 56k modems. 56k modems only offer full speed in one direction - from the ISP to you. The ISP uses special modems at their end to do this. Two regular 56k modems can only connect to each other at 33,600 bits per second, the same speed at which your data goes to the ISP via a "56k" link.

Rockwell chipset

The Directcom modem uses the industry standard Rockwell chipset, which doesn’t mean it’s as good as any other Rockwell-chipped modem (the quality of other componentry can make a significant difference) but does mean it’s a good bet to work fine with pretty much anything. The chipset supports simultaneous voice and data, so if you’re using software that supports it you can connect to another user of a similarly equipped modem and talk to each other while transferring data. This is not a very widely used feature, but it’s there.

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