Zoom Telephonics Zoom/Modem PC

The first decade or so of the PC saw hundreds of peripheral and add-on vendors compete for sales among a rapidly growing user base. The modem market was particularly crowded. To succeed, modem manufacturers had to keep improving performance and adding features while keeping prices low.

Zoom Telephonics (not to be confused with Zoom, the video conferencing company) first began producing modems in 1983. Three years later, the Zoom/Modem PC was a market leader in terms of price and performance. It was an internal, Hayes-compatible modem that came with its own Zoom/Disk communications software package.

Zoom/Modem PC
Source: Zoom Telephonics, 1986

In 1999, Zoom Telephonics bought modem pioneer Hayes. The company merged with Minim in 2020, but still sells home networking products under the Zoom brand.

Touchbase Systems Worldport 1200 and 2400 Portable Modems

Portable computer designers made sacrifices as they continued to shrink the size of the systems through the 1980s. Internal expansion options were one of the first to be cut in the name of achieving a smaller form factor. For some systems, the only way to add a modem, for example, was to plug one into an external port.

The Worldlink 1200 was eventually rebranded as Worldport
Source: Touchbase Systems, 1986

External modems were almost as big as the portable computer in many cases, making them poor choices for traveling professionals. To solve that problem, some vendors shrank the modem as well.

Worldport 2400
Source: Touchbase Systems, 1987

The Touchbase Worldport modems were small and light enough to be easily carried in a briefcase or coat pocket. They had a DB25 connector for the computer and an RJ-11 jack for the phone. The Worldports (initially branded Worldlink) were compatible with the Bell 103/212A and CCITT V.21/V.22 telecommunications standards, which allowed them to be used worldwide. The Worldport 1200 was introduced in 1986, and the Worldport 2400 followed in 1987.

This type of battery-powered portable modem soon gave way to even smaller units based on the PCMCIA card standard.

Hayes Stack Smartmodem 300 and 1200

If you wanted to go online in the early 1980s, you either used an acoustic coupler that you set a telephone headset into or a slow, expensive internal modem made for whatever bus your computer used. Hayes changed that with the introduction of the Smartmodem in 1981.

The 300 bps Smartmodem was an external device that connected to a standard RS-232 serial port. It had several features that set it apart from the competition. Dual-mode operation was an innovation that provided for a data mode and a command mode. This allowed the modem to distinguish from data being sent and commands such as hang up or dial a number. It also had its own microcontroller, which was unusual at the time. The Smartmodem could also tell the speed setting for the computer’s serial port.

The Smartmodem was renamed the Stack Smartmodem when the 1200 bps was introduced in April 1982. The term “stack” referred to its case design which allowed for a desk phone to sit on top. Hayes also planned to introduce other peripherals that could be stacked on the Smartmodem.

Many of Hayes’s competitors soon tried to imitate the Smartmodem’s features. Those modems were referred to as “Hayes compatible.”

Introduced: April 1981 (Smartmodem 300), April 1982 (Stack Smartmodem 1200)
Original Retail Price: $699 (Stack Smartmodem 1200)