As we continue to place more of our lives online, the demand for faster internet speeds is accelerating at an exponential pace. If you pay for an internet service plan, then you no doubt want to take full advantage of your advertised maximum connection speed. The most efficient way of improving your home network speeds is to upgrade your DSL modem.
A DSL, or direct service line, will optimize the connection between your Wi-Fi router and all the devices in your home. In this guide, we discuss the fundamentals of what you need to know before purchasing a DSL modem. We then offer our top picks for modems that are sure to take your home network to the next level.
- 1 What types of DSL modems are available?
- 2 How do modems work and why do they benefit me?
- 3 What specs or features should I consider before purchasing a modem?
- 4 The main players
- 5 The best DSL modems currently on the market
- 6 NETGEAR N600 Dual Band Wi-Fi ADSL Modem Router
- 7 CenturyLink ZyXEL PK5001z
- 8 TP-LINK ADSL2+ Modem Router TD-8816
- 9 NETGEAR AC1200 WiFi DSL
- 10 Actiontec C3000A DSL Modem
- 11 Motorola MD1600 DSL Modem
- 12 Linksys X2000 Router With ADSL2+ Modem
- 13 The Final Verdict
What types of DSL modems are available?
There are three main types of modems to choose from. That said, only one of them has been widely adopted for residential use. The first is SDSL, which stands for symmetric digital subscriber line. These are closely related to VDSL, or very high bit-rate digital subscriber lines. Both of these are mainly used by large companies that must keep massive offices running smoothly. By keeping both the download and upload speeds similar, businesses can use these modems to keep up with their extreme workflows.
On the residential side of things, you have ADSL modems. ADSL stands for asymmetric direct service line. Simply put, this means that the upload and download speeds vary immensely. Typically, ADSL modems allow you to download faster than you can upload. The variance allows modem manufacturers to keep costs reasonable for the average customer. Companies pay a pretty penny for the added consistency of VDSL and SSDL units.
How do modems work and why do they benefit me?
DSL modems operate in a similar manner as old landline phones. The process is so similar that many households can simply plug their modem into the landline for an easy installation. Then the modem must be plugged into the WiFi router via an ethernet cord. Close proximity and a wired connection help improve the connection quality dramatically. As long as your internet service plan includes higher speeds, you’ll notice the improved response times immediately.
What specs or features should I consider before purchasing a modem?
The main factor to consider when buying a DSL modem is the upload and download speeds. These values are guaranteed to be different because of the asymmetric nature of the service line. You must compare the advertised range with the range offered by your current internet plan. Choosing a modem with speeds that match the top speeds of your ISP is a great start. Even if you aren’t paying for the best plan, buying a slightly stronger modem allows you to smoothly transition to an upgraded line later on. Both download and upload speeds are measured in Mbps, or millibits per second.
Taking a look at the available connection ports is another important factor. The number of ethernet ports, USB slots, and other adapters will determine how much you can do with your new device. Some DSL modems even come bundled in with a new Wi-Fi router. In these cases, be careful not to purchase a separate router by mistake. Finally, ardent privacy seekers may want a modem that lets you create your own VPN. Virtual private networks allow you to obscure your internet activity and location from those who want your data.
The main players
Like most industries, the world of DSL modems is dominated by a few key brands. Centurylink, NETGEAR, and Linksys are some of the market leaders. Each of these brands have delivered stable online connections for many years now. These are your best bet if you want a hassle-free experience. That being said, there are always new brands willing to charge less for the same specs. This leaves many opportunities to bolster your internet speeds without breaking the bank.
The best DSL modems currently on the market
Without further ado, here is the list of our top picks for DSL modems. There are tons of options for users all across the board. Let’s take a look at each to determine which DSL modem is the best for your situation.
NETGEAR N600 Dual Band Wi-Fi ADSL Modem Router
The N600 serves as both a capable modem and a dual band router. Each band can carry 300 Mbps of download speed, so expect a full 600 should your internet plan be up to snuff. On the connect side, you get 5 ethernet ports capable of 1 gigabit transfer speeds. You also get a ADSL2+ port for advanced network configurations. There is even a USB slot that allows you to wirelessly transfer flash drive data to any other device on the network that supports DLNA connections.
- 600 Mbps wireless and 1 Gbps wired connection speeds
- Easily facilitates wireless printing from any device on the network
- Simple browser-based installation that doesn’t require a CD
- Doesn’t support AT&T U-verse or CenturyLink VDSL setups
CenturyLink ZyXEL PK5001z
This offering from CenturyLink is a great choice for budget users who don’t want to sacrifice solid performance. It contains an N300 router, which will get you up to 300 Mbps download speeds. Unless you have a fiber internet hookup, 300 Mbps is more than enough in most areas. The unit supports both DSL and ADSL2+ configurations, so it works in small office environments in addition to households.
The back of the modem features four ethernet ports and a single USB connection. Again, this is more than enough for the average use case. Installation is also a breeze as you can click a button to establish WPS connections with any devices nearby. Advanced users can forward ports and perform other modifications from the browser-facing control panel.
- Dual ethernet firewalls that automatically protect your network from malicious activity
- A wide range of configuration settings for beginners and experts alike
- Very affordable while still providing solid value
- Lack of any time out controls when the modem fails to connect to a network
TP-LINK ADSL2+ Modem Router TD-8816
The DSL modem and router combo is a great choice for anyone who prefers a stable and reliable connection to the fastest speeds around. While the wireless download speed caps out at 25 Mbps, the unit provides one of the most stable connections we’ve seen. The smaller range of possible output means that any dips are far less severe than what you would typically see with 300+ Mbps connections. This also means that this modem is fantastic for online gaming. If you have ever lagged out of a multiplayer match, then you know how important a reliable connection is.
Novice users will also enjoy the easy setup wizard. This interactive guide walks you through the whole installation process. Anyone who lacks technical skills can have this modem up and running if they stick to the simple instructions. The downside to this easy setup is that you lose many customization features present in other modems. However, most people won’t ever dive into those settings in the first place.
- Quick installation and intuitive user interface
- Rock solid 2 year warranty and lifetime technical support
- Compact design that saves on space
- Only 1 Ethernet and no USB ports
NETGEAR AC1200 WiFi DSL
High end users who want the fastest possible speed and beefy specs will love this powerhouse. The AC1200 features dual bands that allow for 300MBps + 867Mbps download speeds. These swift speeds are required for streaming video or playing online games in 4K or higher resolutions. Designed with the modern lifestyle in mind, this modem can simultaneously handle dozens of devices at once. This means everyone can stay connected even during house parties or holiday gatherings. Parents will love the ability to monitor the data being transcribed by each device on the network.
- Beamforming technology that boosts speed while multiple devices are connected
- Wi-Fi range extender is built right in
- USB port with wireless data transfer and printing capability
- No compatibility with U-verse, CenturyLink VDSL, or Comcast
Actiontec C3000A DSL Modem
The ActionTec line from CenturyLink is for tech junkies who love to push the limits of their home networks. Even if you don’t love numbers and stats, anyone can appreciate the ridiculous performance of this dual band router DSL modem combo. It supports up to 3Gbps wireless download speeds on each router band, so you’ll have more than enough leeway for futureproofing your network. There are 4 ethernet ports and even a USB 3.0 slot. The 3.) USB format allows for insanely fast transfer speeds that match your downloading capability nicely.
Because of all this power, the modern is shaped like a computer tower. This prevents the device from overheating during prolonged use. Because of this, be sure to leave some additional room for ventilation just as you would a PC or game console. You also get QoS functionality, which lets you allocate how much bandwidth goes to each device on the network. For instance, you can prioritize the game console where you stream videos and play online over the old laptop you only use for emails.
- Dual band router with impeccable Wi-Fi speeds
- USB 3.0 slot for convenient data transfers
- QoS protocol for managing bandwidth allocation across devices
- The modem is top-heavy when stood up vertically
Motorola MD1600 DSL Modem
The MD1600 is a prime addition to any DSL setup. Just be aware that it doesn’t work with VDSL networks of any configuration. The black matte design is very easy to keep clean, so there is no need to hide it from visitors. You get four ethernet ports and a USB 2.0 slot. You also have the option of setting up a custom VPN directly from the control panel. The rest of the user interface is easy to use and initial setup takes just a few minutes.
The included WiFi range extender can connect to every device within a 2500 sq ft space. Within that space you can get up to 1600 Mbps downloads with the use of both wireless bands. This means that the whole family can enjoy unhindered use of the network.
- Blazing fast speeds and impressive Wi-Fi range
- Attractive design with no antennas
- Fantastic technical support and customer service
- Advanced users won’t have much room to alter custom settings
Linksys X2000 Router With ADSL2+ Modem
This modem router combo from Linksys provides a ton of value for the price. The single band achieves 300 Mbps downloads, so you can have multiple devices operating at the same time without any hitches. The best part however is how easy it is to install. After plugging it in, you need only enter the login credentials provided by your ISP. Beginners who just want their network up as quickly as possible should take note of this convenience.
The back of the unit features three ethernet ports and that’s it. While the lack of USB will turn off advanced users, many customers won’t even notice. The Wi-Fi signal remains stable enough where needing to plug in for troubleshooting is highly unlikely.
- Very easy setup that anyone can complete on their own
- Stable wireless connection across many devices simultaneously
- Data transfer speeds over Bluetooth are impressive
- Parental controls are a bit weak
- Ethernet ports offer less than the gigabit standard
The Final Verdict
Each of the above modems is an excellent choice for bolstering your internet connection. That being said, there is one DSL modem that reigns supreme among the rest. The ActionTec C3000 is the best bang for your buck. The massive speeds capable on this device make it suitable for homes that are filled to the brim with network devices. Your investment will last quite a while as internet service plans gradually catch up the the benchmarks achieved by the C3000. If you must stick to a firm budget, then the TP-LINK TD-8816 modem will provide you a steady connection that you can always rely on.