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If you’re ready to save some money by ditching your monthly rental modem, or simply want to up your game to get the best performance possible, then it’s time to look for the best cable modem. While cable ISPs are happy to try and keep you hooked on their rental units, these are usually much more basic in terms of features, and in the long run you can save quite a bit of money simply by purchasing your own.
In fact, you’ll probably find that you can purchase a much better cable modem than what your ISP gives you even at a budget price, and with evolving technologies like DOCSIS 3.1, sometimes it’s exactly what you’ll need to do if you want to get top speeds out of your home internet connection, or if you’re looking for something that can provide the kind of low latency and fast ping times required for serious gaming.
You also generally don’t need to worry about compatibility, as you’ll find that most of the cable modems you can buy are made by the same companies that ISPs use for their rental modems, and in many cases they’re certified by the major cable providers so that you can usually get your new cable modem up and running with little more than a phone call or even simply a visit to register it on your ISPs website. Of course, if you get a standalone cable modem, you’ll also need to pick up a wireless router, or look at getting a cable modem/router combo.
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. Our testing found that it offers some of the best speeds available, with solid performance and coverage for a 2,000 square foot home.
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're 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 throughput 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 supports DOCSIS 3.0 technology, with eight downstream channels and four upstream channels, offering download speeds of up to 340Mbps, plus a Gigabit Ethernet port to make sure your router can take advantage of the fastest possible speeds.
It also includes a stand, which allows you to store the modem in an upright position in case you’re short on space. While it's not the fastest cable modem out there, it's more than adequate if you don't plan on subscribing to higher speed services, and it's easy to set up and offers solid and reliable performance.
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.
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 SB6190 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 SB6183, the SB6190 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 32x8 channel bonding can deliver download speeds of up to 1.4Gbps and upload speeds reaching 260Mbps. 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 SB6190 makes it 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 of reliable 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 boasts 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 also 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.
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.
The Motorola MG7700 is a reliable workhorse that provides top-notch cable internet speeds along with a built-in router that can deliver high-speed Wi-Fi to your home, but if you’re willing to spend a bit more to invest for the future, Arris’ Surfboard SB8200 offers cutting-edge DOCSIS 3.1 technology that will guarantee you can access 1Gbps speeds from more providers.
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.
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 going with a rental saves you from doing the legwork of finding one on your own.
Generally, though, we recommend against renting a modem and router from your ISP. Since the rental often comes out to between $5 and $10 per month, you can save more money by purchasing your own. For example, if you bought a modem/router combo for just $75, you can easily recoup your costs in less than two years.
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. Only a few ISPs offer 1Gbps speeds over DOCSIS 3.0; for most you'll need to go with a DOCSIS 3.1 modem to get anything beyond around 630Mbps. 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'll still be fine, plus you'll already have a modem that's ready to go when your ISP eventually does roll out DOCSIS 3.1 support.
If your ISP does support DOCSIS 3.1, we definitely 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'll 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 as they're not only slower, but less secure.
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 (sometimes describes as "8x4") as a bare minimum, although if you can afford one with more of each, it certainly can’t hurt, since you'll need enough channels to match your internet plan. If you've got a 600Mbps or faster plan, or think you may upgrade to one someday, you'll want at least a 16x8 DOCSIS 3.0 configuration, for example.
Note that DOCSIS 3.1 channels are much faster, with each downstream channel offering 1.89Gbps download speeds, and each upstream channel coming in at 0.94Gbps, so don't let the lower number of channels on a DOCSIS 3.1 modem concern you—even a 1x1 DOCSIS 3.1 modem is significantly faster than a 32x8 DOCSIS 3.0 modem.
It’s important to note, however, that just because you have a modem that theoretically supports up to 688Mbps (on a modem with 16 downstream channels), 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.
If you surprise to voice services from your ISP, such as Xfinity from Comcast Internet with Voice, you'll also need to make sure that the cable modem you purchase supports your provider's voice services. While it's theoretically possible to run your old voice-capable cable modem in parallel with a newer, high-performance modem, this can get messy and it's not supported in every case. Besides, the main point of buying a cable modem is so you don't have to keep paying rental fees for the old one.
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 ports, but, on the contrary, for the most part a standalone modem only needs one Ethernet port.
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 usually also have its own 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.
The only exception to this is some of the newer DOCSIS 3.1 modems, which provide two Ethernet ports to support a feature called 802.3ad link aggregation. Since most Ethernet ports still only support Gigabit speeds, link aggregation lets you connect two Ethernet cables between your modem and your router in order to get a total of 2Gbps of combined throughput. Of course, this is only important if you have an internet plan that's faster than 1Gbps, and it's important to keep in mind that your router also has to support the same 802.3ad standard.
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, since you'll be stuck putting it wherever your coaxial cable comes into your home.
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, TP-Link, and Arris. If you're purchasing a cable modem/router combo, you may also want to lean toward a company that has a stronger background in producing Wi-Fi routers rather than just cable modems.
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 over DOCSIS 3.0. 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.