We all want more speed. We want the processor that runs our computers to be faster, the graphics acceleration to be faster and disk access to be faster. Above all, we want Internet access to be faster - much faster. The easiest way to get speedy Net access is to work for a company that has a few T1 lines and do lots of overtime, or you could ask the right people to give you a good price on an ISDN line. Although prices keep coming down, it will be some time before ISDN lines are as cheap here as they are in Germany (which charges the same for an ordinary line as for an ISDN). Failing all that, you could go out and buy the fastest possible modem. But that is not quite as easy as it seems. Buying a modem can be a deeply frustrating experience. Usually, you cannot test it in the shop and even if you could, it would not help much as it is not going to be the same as your home environment. On February 6 in Geneva, a compromise was reached between the makers of the K56Flex and the X2 standards. Theoretically, the ITU V.90 standard generated from this agreement should erase all problems. Most modem-makers have flash Rom upgrades to help you move to the new standard, but some experts say users are better off getting a new modem. I wonder if these experts hold any stock in 3Com. In order for me to test the 3Com USRobotics V.90 modem, I had to get an account with one of several ISPs that support this modem. I got an account with HKNet and dialled the special number for the V.90 standard. It can be frustrating testing a modem on the Internet because of all the possible problems. I could test a modem in a laboratory and conclude it is lightning-fast. Unfortunately, most of us do not connect to the Net inside a lab. I live in Mui Wo, on Lantau, where the phone lines are notoriously bad. I connect to the South China Morning Post mail server using the 33,600 bps V.34bis standard and usually connect at 31,000 bps or 28,800 bps. (On the few occasions when I do connect at 33,600, the modem promptly hangs.) When I used the V.90 to connect to the newspaper, I got the same results. Switching to the HKNet account, the log-on figure jumped to 45,333 bps and even reached 48,000. I decided to download something big. I went to Netscape's home page and downloaded the latest version of its browser, version 4.05 at 10,750,464 bytes (10.7 MB). I tried it once using V.34 and then again using V.90. The V.34 session took 135 minutes, while the V.90 session took 40 minutes. I tried other large files, such as Sun's Java Development Kit (8 MB), and got similar results. Comparisons like this are never straightforward. I did one session at night and others in the morning. I have no idea what the traffic on HKNet was like when I downloaded Navigator in 40 minutes. It is fair to say, however, that HKNet would be much busier than the newspaper's server. The V.90 standard certainly is worth getting and the 3Com USRobotics modem is truly fast. It is a pity it looks like a shrunken 1950s reject radio - I don't believe I have seen a computer peripheral as ugly as this one. Perhaps, speed really is all that matters.