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Which is better or faster - a Cable or DSL modem?

Answer: Both cable and DSL connections are significantly faster than dial-up modem connections. However, there is often debate over which is the fastest of the two.

Cable and DSL modems are typically external devices that connect to your computer's Ethernet port. However, a cable modem connects to cable wiring (the same connection used for cable TV), while a DSL modem connects to a phone jack (used for a regular phone line). While these are significantly different connections, they both provide the same "always-on" Internet access for your computer.

Both cable and DSL Internet connections have increased in speed over the last few years. As of early 2005, a typical cable connection supports speeds of 2 to 3 Mbps (Megabits per second), while a typical DSL connection supports speeds of 768 Kbps (Kilobits per second) to 1.5 Mbps. This means cable modems usually have the capability to be faster than DSL modems.

However, a cable modem shares bandwidth with other computers in the area that also have cable Internet connections. If there are many people in your neighborhood that use the same cable service, it is likely your data transfer speeds will be reduced. DSL, on the other hand, is a direct line to the phone company, and therefore is not affected by other users. So DSL generally offers a more consistent speed.

That being said, I have tried both services and found that cable Internet service is faster. I have achieved speeds of 4.3 Mbps with the Time Warner cable connection, while I have not seen anything higher than 1.5 Mbps with the Qwest DSL connection. Also, I have not noticed the cable modem bandwidth drop significantly at busy times of the day, though my transfer rates are definitely faster at night than during the afternoon.

From my experience, cable is faster than DSL. Though I should note that DSL companies offer a number of different connection speeds for different prices. If you are already paying for a phone a phone line, a DSL connection may be $15 to $25 cheaper a month than cable Internet service. However, if you don't have a land line (and just use a cell phone), cable is most likely the best choice.

Published: December 3, 2004 — by Per Christensson

Answer from the PC Help Center