Internet service providers typically lease modems to subscribers, but some consumers prefer to buy a modem outright rather than pay the monthly fees associated with modem rental. Choosing a good stand-alone modem may seem tricky because they so often come bundled together with routers. A modem is a simple device, though, so as long as it can handle the latest data speeds, it should be fine.
The TP-LINK TD-8616 is a solid choice as it supports ADSL, ADSL2, and ADSL2+ standards. It handles as much as 24 Mbps downstream, which is plenty for any existing DSL service. Its built-in firewall offers protection from malicious Internet activity, and it offers the uncommon addition of six kilovolts of lightning surge protection. The Actiontec Universally-Compatible ADSL modem is another compelling option because it is upgradeable to ADSL2 and includes an energy-efficient power adapter that consumes as much as 30 per cent less energy than conventional alternatives.
Much like DSL modems, the primary consideration when shopping for a cable modem is whether it is capable of handling the maximum possible download speeds. These standards are continually evolving. A modem that supports DOCSIS 3.0, for example, works until newer technology renders it obsolete, an inevitable occurrence with most electronics. The Motorola SURFboard line of cable modems is consistently popular for keeping pace with the latest speed and compatibility requirements.
Many networking experts, such as those from CNET, advise against the use of combined modem/routers if performance is the top priority. Combos are a fine solution for reducing the clutter that results from having two devices instead of one, however; for an optimal networking experience, stick with two separate units, each dedicated to its specific task.
Exceptional combo units
PCMag.com named the Netgear C3700 the "lone exception" to the rule that dedicated routers do a better job than combo modem/routers. CNET reviewers also praise the Motorola SBG6782-AC Surfboard eXtreme for its high-quality hardware, impressive performance, and advanced feature set.
Be it a cable or DSL connection, the router is the real superstar of the home networking arena. Wireless routers bring Wi-Fi into the home, something many people cannot do without. Common Wi-Fi-connected devices include:
- Laptop and desktop computers
- Gaming consoles
- Smart TVs
- Internet radios
- Surveillance cameras
Routers disseminate the inbound data downloaded by any nearby networked devices, while routing uploads back to the Web. It also facilitates wireless communication between networked devices, such as a computer and a printer. Key specs for routers include up-to-date Wi-Fi standard compatibility, throughput speed, and range.
Best in class
The Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router AC1900 is a favourite amongst critics at PC World and Engadget for its unparalleled speed and its techie-friendly hackable firmware. The Trendnet TEW-812DRU AC1750 has a clear user interface, impressive range, and good throughput speed, as well as a comparatively low price for a high-end router.
No Apple advantage
There are times when staying within a product ecosystem bears certain advantages. Buying a router is not one of them. Apple often makes features and performance sweeter for its own devices than for competing ones, yet its Airport Extreme base station router does not offer much by way of advanced features or functions. By only allowing Apple devices to share printers and data over the Internet, for example, it is more of a door closed than it is a door opened. The Airport Extreme is otherwise an excellent router, praised for its speed and unparalleled ease of setup.