when Dan Gorman says, "I'll fax it to you," he doesn't feed sheets of paper into a machine. The president of AIS Systems, a Jericho (N. Y.) computer consulting firm, taps a key on his PC. The matter on his screen then goes over phone lines to emerge on paper from his customer's fax machine.
Gorman accomplishes this task with the aid of a fax board, a plastic rectangle imprinted with electronic circuitry that fits inside the computer. The board lets the PC communicate with distant fax machines. When first offered by a handful of makers a few years ago, fax boards cost $600 to $1,000, roughly the price of a fax machine itself. But now, some two dozen brands--with such names as EZ-Faxit, SatisFaxtion, and TurboFax--are available for from $200 to $500. Be wary, though, of super discounts: A $90 model may let your computer send faxes out but not receive ones coming in.
PRIVATE EYES. A computer with a fax board gives you more control over incoming faxes than a regular fax machine. All incoming material goes directly to your PC, where you're the only one who sees it. There are no paper copies lying around for others to read. If you want a hard copy, you can print one out on a dot-matrix or laser printer. And if your screen shows a junk fax, you simply touch a key and send it into the ether.
Like a good fax machine, a fax board lets a computer transmit automatically at off-peak hours when phone rates are lower. The PC can also store incoming faxes automatically as they're received, keep a log of all fax activity, and perform word processing or other tasks while it's receiving a fax.
It takes only a few minutes and a screwdriver to take off a computer cover and slip a board inside. Increasingly, fax boards are sold with built-in modems that fit into one of your computer's internal slots. Fremont Communications, which sells the popular Fax96 board at $195, will soon sell a modem version for $250.
If you use an external modem, or if you have a laptop, several companies make a lightweight fax-modem device that simply plugs into the computer's serial port. About the size of a cigarette pack, a ZoFax model from Zoltrix costs $350.
If there's a drawback to faxing by computer, it's that you can't send such things as photos, drawings, or newspaper clippings. To do that, you could fit your PC with a scanning device to convert the material into electronic data. But a scanner is a costly add-on: about $1,000.