Modems”Wherein the Lack of Speed Kills
There are ways to connect to the Internet without a modem, which you'll discover more fully in Chapter 3, "Getting Connected to the Internet." But odds are that you will start out with a modem and phone line for your Internet connection, so you must consider the capabilities of your modem in choosing or upgrading your computer for Internet access.
It doesn't really matter what brand of modem you buy, or whether it's an internal modem (plugged inside your computer's case), an external one (outside the computer, connected to it by a cable), or even one on a PC card inserted in a notebook PC. What does matter is the modem's rated speed. That speed is usually expressed in kilobits per second (kbps, often further abbreviated to simply "K").
The higher the number of kbps (or K), the faster the modem. And the faster your modem is, the more quickly Web pages will appear on your screen, which makes Web surfing more fun and productive. A number of other Internet activities” especially such things that involve audio or video”will also run more quickly and smoothly over a faster modem.
Most modems for use with regular telephone lines are rated at one of the following speeds:
The minimum modem speed for Internet cruising (including Web browsing) is 28.8K, although at that speed, you'll be very frustrated by the length of time it takes pages to appear. Most experts deem a 28.8K connection unacceptably slow. Modems rated at 56K are affordable (almost all new PCs and Macs come equipped with a 56K modem), and almost always your best option.
It's important to keep in mind that a faster modem does not always deliver vastly superior performance. A number of factors”such as the reliability and noise level in your phone line, the speed supported by your Internet provider, and the responsiveness of the servers you contact”can cause 33.6K and 56K modems to perform no better than a 28.8K modem much of the time. In some areas, the equipment installed by the local phone company might not even support Internet connections any faster than 28K or so. Using a 33.6K modem or 56K modem through these lines won't hurt anything, but the performance you'll see will not be any better than what you'd get through a 28.8K modem. (Little by little, local phone companies are upgrading their lines to support faster access.)
Finally, although it's the most important factor, connection speed is not the only thing that governs the apparent speed with which things spring onto your screen. If it takes your computer a long time to process and display the information it receives through the Net, you'll see some delays that have nothing to do with the speed of your modem or phone lines or Internet provider. A fast computer is almost as important as a fast modem”it's a team effort.