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What is a DSL modem and how does it work?
These days, home and business internet connections can be received via satellite, cellular network, fiber, cable or phone line. The most common form of connection for home internet service is a digital subscriber line or DSL. A DSL internet connection provides internet through copper wires in your phone lines. An essential part of this connection type is a DSL modem and router — but this won’t be the dial-up modem and slow speeds of the dial-up internet of old. DSL can provide broadband speeds, depending on the provider.
Why are DSL modems important? They allow data from your internet service provider (ISP) to be sent to the devices that you want to connect. Think of the modem as the translator in this interaction, offering communication between your computer and your ISP to keep information flowing between the two.
DSL modems come in standalone form, which is great for a wired connection. But if you want to use the internet wirelessly, you will need a modem and router or a DSL modem router combo. A router creates a wireless network that you can connect to with your devices in order to get an internet connection. A DSL modem router combo builds this functionality into a single device.
What are the benefits of DSL modem?
A DSL modem is essential for anyone with a DSL internet connection. The modem allows you to connect to the internet that is provided through your phone line. By connecting a device to your DSL modem, you will be able to browse the internet. With a higher speed connection, a modem will allow you to do things like stream video content and play online video games.
A DSL modem router combo provides additional flexibility by allowing you to connect to the internet wirelessly in your home. This gives you more freedom to move around and connect to the internet even if you are not in the same room as the modem.
How we picked the best DSL modems
Picking out a DSL modem or modem router combo can be a challenge, but you can more easily navigate this task if you know what to look for. In order to help you in your search, we’ve curated a list of the five best DSL modems that cater to different needs. We scoured through many of the most popular, best-selling and most talked about DSL modems on the market in order to select our top recommendations. We used the following factors to generate these recommendations:
- Supported speeds
- Price and value
- Specific customer reviews
- What it’s best for: budgets, speeds, all-in-one, etc.
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Best overall DSL modem: Motorola MD1600
- Solid high-speed connection
- 4-gigabit Ethernet ports
- Compatible with most DSL providers
- Dual-band connection for connecting multiple devices
There’s nothing more valuable for a modem than stability, and the Motorola MD1600 is one of the most reliable modems on the market. It’s not the fastest option on the market, but with gigabit Ethernet ports, you’ll be able to get high-speed connections when wired — and speeds that are more than capable of keeping you connected with streaming or gaming when you go wireless.
Customer reviews indicate that the Motorola MD1600 is a solid modem router combo, and the dual-band connection allows multiple devices to be in use without interrupting each other. If you’re looking for a DSL modem that will give you a consistent connection that will provide speeds, this is an ideal option.
Best budget-friendly DSL modem: Netis DL4323
- Solid bang-for-your-buck performance
- Up to 300Mbps
- Smart features for optimizing connection
- Works with most carriers
If you’re looking for a router that will provide you with a solid internet connection but won’t require you to break the bank, the Netis DL4323 will get the job done. It provides more than adequate connection speeds and uses some smart technology to help route traffic in a way that makes sure you don’t experience slowdowns even with multiple devices connected and in use at the same time.
This router is compatible with most major DSL providers, but you’ll want to make sure that it works with yours before buying. Also, don’t expect the absolute top performance here — it is a budget modem, after all. But you should be able to do things like stream high-definition video and game with no problem with this modem.
Best high speed DSL modem: C4000LG CenturyLink DSL Modem
- Up to 3 Gbps Speed
- 160MHZ Channel Support
- Dual-core processor for improved performance
- DSL port for more DSL connections
If you need the fastest speeds imaginable, the C400LG CenturyLink DSL Modem is what you need. This modem is all about speed. It is capable of providing a connection of up to 3Gbps, which is more than enough to stream 4K video and game without any lag or delay. More than that, it’s capable of handling multiple connections that eat up lots of traffic at the same time.
This modem is only compatible with some DSL providers, so check before buying. But if you need a fast and reliable connection, it’s your best choice. Media lovers, people who have set up their own media servers and gamers are most likely to benefit from a modem like this.
Best DSL modem for gamers: NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 D7000
- Modem Router combo
- Four Ethernet ports
- Up to 1300Mbps
- Dual-core processor for improved performance
- NETGEAR genie app for managing connections
Netgear has managed to brand itself as the company that can provide high-seed, reliable internet service and the Nighthawk DSL modem router combo does not disappoint. It’s capable of gigabit quality speed, and with the dual-core processor, it is capable of both delivering a stronger signal and prioritizing traffic. That means no buffering for your streaming video and no lag in your gaming just because someone else is connected and browsing the web.
The Nighthawk doubles up as a modem and router, providing a direct, wired connection or a wireless one that should be able to reach most corners of your home thanks to the strong signal. The Netgear genie app gives you additional control over your home’s Wi-Fi, which is handy for anyone looking to prioritze gaming or media.
DSL modem router combo: NETGEAR N600
- Speeds up to 600 Mbps
- Steady, stable wireless connection
- Compatible with most internet service providers
- Gigabit Ethernet ports with auto-sensing technology
- ReadyShare USB for media sharing across network devices
Anyone who has ever experienced a poor Wi-Fi internet connection knows the value of consistency. That is where the Netgear N600 shows its strength. It doesn’t have the best high-end speeds, though 600Mbps is more than capable for most things from streaming to gaming. But what it may lack in top-end speed, it makes up for with a solid connection. Netgear’s simultaneous dual-band technology means a stable connection for every device that is on the network.
No router is perfect, and if there is a flaw for the Netgear N600, it’s that it is not compatible with every DSL provider — though it does work with most. That means you’ll want to check with your provider before buying. But as long as it is compatible, expect a steady, high-speed connection whether you are choosing to stay wired with the modem or go wireless with the router.
DSL modem buying tips
- Confirm your modem is compatible with your internet service provider
- Consider how many devices you will have connected
- Check download speeds to make sure the connection will be fast enough
- Consider a DSL modem router combo for wireless internet connection
Need a faster internet plan?
While your DSL modem is important for providing an internet connection, it can only provide you with speeds and functionality that is available through your ISP. If you need faster internet, consider upgrading your plan or changing service providers if possible.
The bottom line
A DSL modem is a great tool for staying connected, and a DSL modem router combo gives you the benefit of a wireless connection. This device is ideal for everyone from students looking to do their homework online to media lovers who want to stream movies and TV shows to gamers who want to play games without interruptions. Our favorite is the Motorla MD1600, but there are many great choices Remember that internet speeds are only as good as your internet service provider offers, no matter how good of a router that you have, so double check your current service and consider an upgrade if needed.
Written by:AJ Dellinger
AJ Dellinger is a writer and editor based in Madison, Wis. He has spent the last 10 years writing about the internet, gadgets, technology and a variety of other topics. His work has appeared in Wired, Gizmodo, C… Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
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