Fax modems--what's not to like?
They're smaller, cheaper, and less wasteful than fax machines. Best of all, they're supported by a host of standard programs on just about any kind of computer, making installation almost as easy as a fax machine.
There's only one problem, which has consistently plagued these wonderful devices: in order to use a fax modem, your computer has to be on, with the fax software running. Which means that you have to leave the computer running all day, even if you're not using it. Even with power-saving motherboards, that means a certain amount of energy being wasted. Further, if a fax comes in while you're doing some system maintenance or sneaking a game of Total Annihilation, you're out of luck.
If this were a television commercial, this is the point where the spokesman would brandish Panasonic
's KX-FB40C--otherwise known as the PC/FAX Store 40. Briefly, the PC/FAX Store 40 is a fax buffer, a tiny grey box that sits between the phone line and the fax modem, patiently receiving and storing any incoming faxes. To get the stored faxes into your computer, all you have to do is activate your fax software, set it to receive, and push the Send to PC button on the PC/FAX Store.
It doesn't get more complicated than that. There are only two buttons on the unit: the aforementioned Send to PC button, and an Auto Receive On/Off button. These two buttons can also be used to set the number of rings before answering, but even if you take this step you'll find that it takes longer to unpack the PC/FAX Store than to get it up and running.
There are also two indicators on the unit: one for power, and one for memory (the KX-FB40C stores about 40 faxes, while its bigger sibling, the KX-FB80C, stores about 80). The memory indicator is comprised of three LEDs, which act as a gauge to estimate the number of faxes in the PC/FAX Store. Of course, the only precise measurement you'll get is when no LEDs are lit (no faxes present) or when all three are lit (the unit is full). The nitpicker in me would like to see some sort of numerical display, but I didn't lose any sleep over it.
Panasonic threw in two bonuses with the PC/FAX Store. First is the ability to connect an answering machine into a third jack in the back of the unit, giving callers the choice of leaving a voice message or a fax. The second makes up for the lack of a "Receive Now" button; if you answer the phone on the same line as the PC/FAX Store and get a carrier in your ear, you can automatically route the incoming fax to the PC/FAX Store by pressing *9 and hanging up. Not too shabby.
If you've already got a fax modem for your small or home office, the PC/FAX Store is worth the money. It only consumes 4 watts when idle, and 6 watts when receiving a fax. During the two weeks in which I used the PC/FAX Store, I had the computer switched off for about 90 hours more than usual. Even with an Advanced Power Management (APM) motherboard, this represents a noticeable energy savings.
Incidentally, during those two weeks, my computer was also completely disconnected for a while as I replaced two hard drives; knowing I didn't miss any faxes while I worked gave me a certain peace of mind. And with that peace of mind, I can happily go and spend some of the money I saved on my electric bill.