This paper critically compares, for the first time, common microwave and optical procedures used for the highspeed characterization of vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). The intrinsic small-signal modulation characteristics of a VCSEL are measured, and the related rate equation parameters are extracted. Observed trends show excellent agreement with theory. The modulation characteristics of the VCSEL are determined by examining three different responses: relative intensity noise, S21 response, and high-resolution optical spectra. The various experimental techniques yielded consistent results. The relative strengths and weaknesses of each measurement are investigated.