How to Choose a Modem

by Contributor

Still waiting for that last Internet page to download? You might want a faster modem. Alternatives such as ISDN, DSL and cable modems are faster still, but they can be expensive to install and require monthly fees.

Choose a 56-kbps modem with a V.90 standard (a stock part on all brand-name machines built in 1999) if the fastest speed is not important to you, or if you don't wish to pay for extra hardware, an expensive installation charge and a $40 per month fee for any type of digital modem.

If you're just buying a modem, buy one with built-in processing capability. Avoid inexpensive modems that totally rely on the computer's processor (these are usually called "Windows modems" or "WinModems"). Buy a PCI modem for any Pentium or faster machine.

Get an ISDN modem, satellite dish, cable modem or digital subscriber line (DSL) if you want more speed. DSL and cable modems are the fastest, but aren't yet available in all locations. DSL is a way of using part of a phone line as a dedicated digital data line. DSL data rates vary from 1.544 to 6.1 mbps downstream (to you) to 16 to 640 kbps upstream (from you). Cable modems use your cable TV infrastructure. Though speeds can theoretically reach 30 mbps, current actual speeds are only around 1.5 mbps downstream and 300 kbps upstream. But monthly fees for DSL and cable modems can be expensive: around $50 per month. Check with providers in your area.


  • check If you'll be paying for a dedicated phone line anyway, consider upgrading to a digital service.
  • check Make sure your Internet service provider (ISP) offers a connection that matches your modem.
  • check Before upgrading to a 56-kbps modem, make sure your phone lines will allow you to see a speed difference. Call the phone company or check the line testing service on the 3Com Web site (see Related Sites) to learn if the age of your home, telephone wires or neighborhood will limit your analog speed to 33.6 kbps. You can also ask your neighbors if they can get faster than 33.6 kbps access with their modems.
  • check If you'll be videoconferencing, get at least an ISDN modem.
  • check Choose a voice modem if you wish to have speakerphone and answering machine capabilities.

Items you will need