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Best Overall: Motorola MG7700 at Amazon
"Pairs a 24x8 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem with an AC1900 Dual Band Wi-Fi Gigabit Router."
Best Performance: Netgear Nighthawk C7000 at Amazon
"A speed demon with support for the fastest internet offerings up to 960Mbps."
Best for High-Speed Internet: Arris Surfboard SB8200 at Amazon
"DOCSIS 3.1 support makes this one of the most future-proof cable modems you can buy."
Best Budget: Netgear CM400 at Amazon
"Harbors the latest DOCSIS 3.0 standard, allowing for up to eight downstream channels and four upstream channels."
Best for Compact Spaces: Arris Surfboard SB6183 at Amazon
"A powerful but unobtrusive and reliable little workhorse"
Best for Streaming: Netgear C6250 at Amazon
"Solid performance for getting your 4K videos around your home."
Best Router Combo: TP-Link Archer CR700 at Amazon
"Brings together a high-performance modem with a wireless AC router to build a reliable home network."
Best Features: Motorola MG7550 at Amazon
"Delivers the speed you’d expect from a modern unit, plus some cool proprietary capabilities."
Best Value: Netgear CM500 at Amazon
"A simple yet smart modem that can handle speeds up to 680Mbps."
Best Splurge: Netgear Nighthawk C7800 at Amazon
"With DOCSIS 3.1 support and AC3200 Wi-Fi, this modem/router will provide all the performance you need for quite a few years."
Strong upload and download speeds
Simple security management features
Only works with Comcast Xfinity, Cox, and Spectrum
Placement locations can be restrictive
Not great for very large houses
The Motorola MG7700 pairs a 24x8 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem with an AC1900 Dual Band Wi-Fi Gigabit Router to deliver high-performance, high-speed Wi-Fi and a reliable connection perfect for your home or office. Calling the speeds "blazing fast," our tester reported, "Everything from surfing the web to streaming video was solid within an approximate 2,000-square-foot radius."
The integrated product, which eliminates modem rental fees, allows for 24 data channels to carry data from the internet, while eight channels can carry data to it. With four Gigabit Ethernet ports, it can also provide an internet connection for your wired products, whether they are computers, gaming consoles, or HDTVs. However, the combo unit also means you’ll need to plug it into your ISP’s coaxial cable, which can limit where you can place it in your home since coax cables are often installed by your provider in less-than-ideal locations.
"The Motorola MG7700 modem/router combo delivers blazing fast upload and download speeds (streaming movies and music will be a breeze), while its above-average range of 2,000 feet and easy-to-use software makes it suitable for the majority of households." — Don Reisinger, Product Tester
Attractive, modern design
Good performance and range
DOCSIS 3.0 connectivity
Expensive initial purchase
Not a ton of extra features
The Netgear Nighthawk C7000 is a speed demon with support for the fastest internet offerings up to 960Mbps. It can handle dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wi-Fi speeds. "We tested this modem in a 2,500-square-foot home, and we got reliable performance in every corner, only running into slowdowns on the farthest side of the house," our reviewer explained. You'll also find four Gigabit Ethernet ports and one USB 2.0 port, so you can plug in directly for the fastest speeds or broadcast via Wi-Fi.
This model is compatible with Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, and more cable providers, but keep in mind that it doesn't support bundled voice. With its DOCSIS 3.0 connectivity (meaning it has 24 channels for downstream data and eight for upstream data), it might be overkill for some customers. Still, our tester explained that while it's a very expensive unit, "over time, this device can actually pay for itself" because you won't have to rent a modem from your ISP. He added, "Combine that with the excellent performance and modern style, and it’s hard to find any reason not to love the Netgear Nighthawk C7000."
"Even with our extreme 250Mbps internet connection, the modem was able to keep up during even the busiest times." — Bill Thomas, Product Tester
DOCSIS 3.1 Support
Two Gigabit Ethernet ports with link aggregation
Awkward coaxial connection placement
If you’re lucky enough to be on a cable provider that can deliver Gigabit-class internet speeds, you’ll definitely want to go with a DOCSIS 3.1 capable cable modem for the best performance, and venerable cable modem manufacturer Arris has you covered with its SB8200 Gigabit Cable Modem.
The SB8200 features the same classic Arris Surfboard design, but in this case the unassuming design belies the power hidden under the hood. 2x2 OFDM DOCSIS 3.1 support promises twice the speed of a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, but it also offers 32x8 DOCSIS 3.0 support, so it’s capable of delivering solid performance even if your ISP doesn’t offer Gigabit speeds yet.
The two Gigabit Ethernet ports on the back also support 802.3ad link aggregation, meaning that with a Wi-Fi router that also supports it, you can use both ports to get a total of 2Gbps of throughput. With this kind of maximum performance and great backward-compatible DOCSIS 3.0 performance, even if your ISP doesn’t yet support DOCSIS 3.1 it’s a great future-proof option if you’re in the market for a new cable modem and want to make sure you stay ahead of the curve.
"Although there are DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems that technically support speeds of 1Gbps or higher, chances are that your cable internet provider will cap out at 600Mbps over DOCSIS 3.0. If you want real Gigabit fibre-optic class speeds you'll need to invest in a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer
Maxed out at 340Mbps
Simple, affordable modems are not very difficult to find, and chances are they’ll all work about the same. This one from Netgear harbors the latest DOCSIS 3.0 standard, allowing for up to eight downstream channels and four upstream channels, up to 340Mbps download speeds, and a Gigabit Ethernet port for faster wired access.
It also includes a stand, which allows you to store the modem in an upright position in case you’re short on space. According to our testers, it runs exactly as advertised, and they would "absolutely" recommend it to anyone looking for a cable modem on a budget. As one reviewer put it, "It works, which I think is all that should matter when it comes to a cable modem."
Perfect for HD movies and gaming
Convenient LED indicator lights
Coaxial connection placement isn't ideal
Arris makes some of the most solid and reliable cable modems out there, and the SB6183 is a powerful little workhorse that will more than meet the needs of anybody who doesn’t need blazing fast Gigabit internet speeds and wants something that can be tucked away unobtrusively. At 5 x 5 x 2.1 inches, it small enough to fit on a shelf next to your cable box or router.
A successor to Arris’ extremely popular SB6141, the SB6183 is well supported by all of the major cable providers, so you won’t have any problem getting it set up with your ISP, and the 16x4 channel bonding can deliver download speeds of up to 686Mbps and upload speeds reaching 131Mbps. There’s only a single Gigabit Ethernet port on the back, but Arris expects that most users are going to want to add their own Wi-Fi router into the mix anyway. The coaxial cable connection is also awkwardly placed close to the power connector, but once it’s plugged in that’s not something you’ll need to deal with, and the compact size of the SB6183 is worth the tradeoff.
Limited Ethernet ports
Netgear’s C6250 is an affordable cable modem with a built-in Wi-Fi router that can provide up to 1,500 square feet or solid coverage through your home. Featuring 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi and DOCSIS 3.0 support, this cable modem/router combo can deliver download speeds of up to 680Mbps, letting you stream 4K videos around the home without missing a beat.
Compatible with all of the major cable providers, the C6250 also boats the simplified setup that Netgear products are known for, letting you get up and running with a simple call to your cable provider rather than an on-site visit. 16x4 DOCSIS 3.0 channels offer solid throughput that’s ideal for cable packages with speeds up to 300Mbps. There are two Gigabit Ethernet ports to hardwire in your PC or game console, although that’s a small number for a device that doubles as a router, which means you’ll need to add your own Ethernet hub or switch if you have more than two wired devices. There’s also a USB 2.0 port for connecting an external hard drive or printer to share on your network.
Not many customizable settings
This two-in-one device brings together a high-performance modem with a wireless AC router to build a reliable home network that will let you stream 4K to your heart’s desire. It offers up to 1750Mbps Wi-Fi speeds with simultaneous 2.4GHz (up to 450Mbps) and 5GHz (up to 1.3Gbps) bands.
It supports the bonding of up to 16 downstream and four upstream channels to increase its throughput and has six internal antennas and high-powered amplifiers to boost signal strength and reduce interference. According to our testers, this modem/router combo was easy to install, reliable, and consistent—plus, they noticed a boost in speed.
One of our testers, who had no prior experience setting up a device like this, also said the "easy step-by-step directions with illustrations" made the process very doable for users who aren’t tech-savvy.
Fast, reliable speed
Security and parental control features
A little bulky
The MG7550 delivers the speed you'd expect from a modern unit, plus some cool proprietary capabilities. First, the modem: This DOCSIS 3.0 device gives you 16 downstream channels alongside four upstreams and a Wireless Power Boost to amplify the wireless signal to increase speed and range.
The wireless router is no slouch either, offering two bands at 2.4GHz and 5GHz, plus AnyBeam technology that focuses the connection based on your wireless client. Anyone trying to connect will have a reasonably customized focus for a more stable connection. The router also features a firewall and parental control features. There are four Ethernet ports on the back and the indicator lights are extremely bright to better show when it's working or not.
Great speed for price
The CM500 is a simple yet smart modem that can handle speeds up to 680Mbps, which means it can handle almost any connection you throw at it. Compatible with Microsoft Windows 7, 8, 10, Vista, XP, 2000 and macOS, this modem can work with just about any computer. It also is compatible with most cable internet providers, including Comcast Xfinity, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Cox and more.
It does not, however, work with bundled voice services that some people still use with cable bundles. When it comes to raw functionality, the CM500 can support 16 downloads and four uploads simultaneously. It can support HD and 4K video streaming, too. And all of this comes in at an affordable price that will save you money on a monthly rental.
Easy to set up
Reported problems with Cox/Spectrum
Reports of poor customer support
One of the first modem/router combos to support the new DOCSIS 3.1 standard, Netgear’s Nighthawk C7800 is a future-proof beast when it comes to performance, ready to support the kind of broadband speeds that were once the exclusive domain of fibre connections. It also works with all of the major cable providers right out of the box, including Xfinity by Comcast, Cox, and Spectrum, and is even certified for Xfinity, meaning it supports web self-activation so you can get up and going without the need to make a service call.
Thanks to a beamforming four-antenna array, it also has great reach, offering AC3200 speeds throughout a large home, with up to 1Gbps in the 2.4GHz band and 2.2Gbps over 5GHz frequencies, and there are also four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports on the back to hardwire in your PC or gaming console, and two USB 3.0 ports for sharing printers or files, with DLNA support to stream media content straight to your entertainment system.
The world is becoming increasingly connected, and it’s more important than ever to make sure that you have a decent connection in your home. Not only does that mean ensuring you’re subscribed to a fast internet service, but it also means making sure you have the right hardware to provide a fast and stable connection whenever you need it.
There are two main components to a decent home internet network: a modem and a router. The modem is what converts a cable signal from your internet service provider (ISP) into something that a digital device like a computer can understand. The router then takes that signal and beams it out through Wi-Fi, which is how you get wireless internet connectivity in your home.
Of course, there are a ton of things to consider when buying a modem. Sometimes, for example, you won’t even need or want to buy a modem, as you’ll be able to rent one directly from your ISP. Other times, it will make more financial sense to buy your own. Then, you’ll need to think about whether you want a modem/router combo and what features you want from your modem—including whether it adheres to modern connection protocols, the number of channels that it offers, and how quickly it can upload and download files.
Whether you think you know everything you need to or you’re starting from scratch, here are all the features you should keep in mind while buying a modem.
Before diving into the features to consider when buying a modem, it’s worth considering the possibility that you could simply rent one from your ISP. The modems on offer by ISPs are generally decent in quality (though not as good as the modems you could buy)—plus it means you don’t have to do the legwork of finding one on your own.
Generally, we recommend not renting a modem and router from your ISP. Since the rental often comes out to between $5 and $10 per month, you could recoup your costs in less than two years if you bought a modem and router for just $75.
There are other advantages to buying your own modem. For starters, the modems that you can rent from your ISP are usually on the older side, and may not offer as fast or as stable of a connection as you could get with something more modern. Most of the time, ISP routers lack features, and they prevent you from getting much control over your home network, which might be important if you want to tweak your network’s settings.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t situations in which you should rent a modem. For starters, if you’re not very tech-savvy or don’t like having to troubleshoot problems, then renting a modem may be the way to go, as you’ll often get full repair services from your ISP.
For most, we recommend buying your own modem and router. You’ll get much more control over your home network, and after a few years, you’ll have recouped the cost of the devices that you would have otherwise had to rent.
There are two main types of cable modem: a standalone modem and a router/modem combo. There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these options, which we’ve outlined below.
A standalone modem is the route we recommend for most people. First of all, if a new wireless technology comes along — and it often does — buying a separate modem and router means that you’ll only need to replace one of them at a time. On top of that, buying dedicated devices gives you a lot more flexibility because they often offer more options and features than a combination device.
So what are the disadvantages of buying a router and modem separately? Well, for starters, with two devices, you’ll need to deal with more wires and set aside more space in your house. In other words, it’s a slightly less clean setup, although, for the performance-minded, that may not matter too much.
While we generally recommend that most people buy a standalone modem and standalone router separately, there is a case to be made for combination devices. For example, if you simply want to plug in the device without tweaking the settings—and don’t anticipate needing to in the future—then a modem/router combo might be the right choice for you. These devices have been getting better over the past few years, too, so you should be able to get by perfectly fine with the factory settings and options of a combination device.
No matter what you decide on, it’s worth reading up on the features on offer by the router part of a combination device or the router you might buy separately. Take a look at our router buying guide.
Once you’ve decided on the type of modem or router to get, it’s time to think about some of the other features that your modem might have. These features can have a significant impact on the overall performance of your modem, so it’s worth getting acquainted with them.
As you might expect, more expensive modems offer features to deliver faster speeds. The maximum speed that your modem can deliver has a whole lot to do with the "Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification," or DOCSIS, protocol. DOCSIS is essentially the standard by which all modems provide internet access over cable. The most recent standard is DOCSIS 3.1, which is capable of providing speeds of up to a whopping 10Gbps.
You don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest standard to get good internet speeds, however. Even DOCSIS 3.0 offers some pretty fast speeds—maxing out at a cool 1Gbps, which is more than fast enough for the vast majority of users.
Unfortunately, ISPs have confused things a little, too. Some ISPs offer 1Gbps data plans over DOCSIS 3.0, while others offer 1Gbps data plans over DOCSIS 3.1. Thankfully, however, DOCSIS 3.1 is backward compatible, meaning that if you have a modem that supports DOCSIS 3.1 and an ISP that only supports up to DOCSIS 3.0, you should still be fine, and your modem will be ready to go if and when your ISP rolls out DOCSIS 3.1 support.
If your ISP does support DOCSIS 3.1, we do recommend buying a modem with support for the standard. You may not need it now, but, as time moves on and faster data plans become available, you might want a modem that supports the faster speeds.
The only downside to buying a modem that supports the newer standard is that it may be a little more expensive. Providing your ISP supports the newer standard, we think it’s a price worth paying. Note that you might run into modems that only support up to DOCSIS 2.x or even DOCSIS 1.x. We recommend steering clear of these models altogether.
The DOCSIS standard isn’t the only thing that affects the speeds you can achieve with your modem. The number of download and upload channels is also a big factor.
Download and upload channels are expressed as a number “x” another number, where the first number is the number of download channels and the second number the number of upload channels. So, for example, a 16x4 modem has 16 download channels and four upload channels.
DOCSIS 3.0 and later allows for up to 43Mbps download on each channel—so a modem with four download channels will get up to 172Mbps, a modem with eight download channels will get 344Mbps, and a modem with 16 download channels will get 688Mbps. DOCSIS 3.0 will get you 31Mbps upload speed per channel.
We recommend getting a modem with at least eight download channels and four upload channels, though if you can afford one with more of each, it certainly can’t hurt. That’s especially true if you’re using DOCSIS 3.1, which, as mentioned, supports a much higher overall download and upload speed.
It’s important to note, however, that just because you have a modem that theoretically supports up to 688Mbps (on a 16-channel down modem), that doesn’t mean that you’ll achieve that speed. You might only be subscribed to a data plan from your ISP that offers up to 100Mbps — in which case that’s the maximum you’ll get from your modem ... if you even reach that.
While the DOCSIS standard and number of channels have a significant impact on the download and upload speeds a modem offers, modem manufacturers still normally list the maximum download and upload speeds that their modems can handle, making it easier to determine how fast a device will be without having to calculate the number yourself.
So what’s a good download speed? Well, it really depends on your usage, but more is better. While the average download speed in the United States is 64.17Mbps, that number is likely to rise in the near future as ISPs roll out Gigabit internet speeds. Because of that, we recommend getting a modem that has at least a 1Gbps download speed. It means you’ll be ready for faster internet once it rolls out.
So what do those speeds mean? Well, to download a Full HD movie with a file size of 4.5 GB, it’ll take 4 minutes to download a movie with a 50Mbps download speed, and 2 minutes on a 100Mbps download speed. With a 1Gbps download speed, it’ll take 12 seconds.
Before buying a modem, it’s worth double-checking that the modem you’re interested in is compatible with your ISP. Unfortunately, not all modems are supported by every ISP. Most ISPs will have a list of compatible modems on their website, or, at the very least, you should be able to contact customer service to find out.
The Ethernet port is how your cable modem will communicate with other devices in your home. Because of that, you might think you need a modem with multiple routers, but, on the contrary, your modem should only have one Ethernet port. One port means your ISP will assign you one account with one IP address.
The single Ethernet port on your modem is where you’ll connect the router, which will then beam out a Wi-Fi signal. The router itself will also have Ethernet ports, so if you need a wired connection for things like smart home hubs, or you simply want to connect your computer via an Ethernet port, the router is where you’ll do that.
Ultimately, the design of your modem probably takes a backseat to performance and speed, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore design altogether. After all, the device will be in your home, and it may very well be out in the open.
There’s not too much to say about what makes a great design when it comes to a modem. Design is really subjective, so a good-looking modem will vary from person to person.
We recommend that you look for a modem that has all the features you want, but if there are a few, and they’re all within your price range, it can’t hurt to get the one that looks the best.
There are a number of companies that make cable modems, and they’re not all created equal. We generally recommend getting a modem from a brand that has a proven track record when it comes to networking equipment. For example, you might want to consider brands like Netgear, Motorola, Linksys, and TP-Link.
When buying a modem, different brands might offer different warranties. Some companies offer a warranty of up to two years, while others stick with one year. We recommend going with a company that offers a two-year warranty—like TP-Link or Motorola—even though it’s unlikely that anything will happen to your modem. One company that notably only offers a one-year warranty is Netgear, despite the fact that the company does make excellent equipment.
As you can see, there are a number of things to keep in mind when buying a cable modem. Hopefully, however, it’s now a little easier to find the right modem for your needs.
In case it’s not, we have a few recommendations. We think it’s worth buying a dedicated modem and router separately. It’s a good idea to buy a modem that supports DOCSIS 3.1, even if you don’t think you need the improved speeds yet, and we think most should go for a modem that offers at least eight download channels and four upload channels. For those who can afford it, and those who want to ensure they get better speeds, buying a device with 16, 24, or even 32 download channels might be even better.
Thankfully, there are plenty of modem options out there, so no matter what your budget or the features that you want, it's possible to find something that’s perfect for your needs.
Jesse Hollington is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing about technology and three decades of experience in information technology and networking. He's installed, tested, and configured just about every type and brand of router, firewall, wireless access point, and network extender in places ranging from single-family dwellings to office buildings.
Don Reisinger is a full-time freelance writer based in New York City. He has been covering technology, video games, sports, and entertainment for more than 12 years. His worked has appeared in Fortune, PCMag, CNET, eWEEK, Slashgear, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Computerworld, InformationWeek, and more.
Bill Thomas is a Denver-based freelance writer who covers technology, music, film, and gaming. They began writing for Lifewire in January 2018, but you can also find their work on TechRadar. Bill has also worked as an editor at Future.