The 8 Best Cable Modems to Buy in 2017

Setting up your home network is a cinch with these cable modems

Cable modems seem like very complicated pieces of networking hardware, but they’re actually relatively straightforward, at least when compared to the variety and versatility of routers. That said, you may still need a certain type of modem if you have an unusual (read: unusually fast) Internet connection. So if you're still unsure about which cable modem might be best for you, follow this guide to buy the best one around.

If you plan on building out your own network, chances are you either already know a good deal about networking, or you’re in the process of learning. Either way, you probably want to get something that’s versatile — as in, it will allow you to easily switch between Internet service providers. Of course, you also want something that’s fast and reliable. Routers are one of those products categories that include pretty complex technology, but for which there are only a few key specs you need to focus on — namely, speed.

Most available cable modems meet all these demands, but the ARRIS SURFboard SB6141 probably strikes the best balance of all of them. It has something called DOCSIS 3.0 technology, which unites up to eight downstream channels and four upstream channels, allowing for data speeds of up to 343 Mbps (down) and 131 Mbps (up), depending on your ISP, connection and other factors. It also comes in a variety of package speeds, colors, and options, including a modem/router combo.

As mentioned above, modems are relatively simple devices that only change depending on throughput speeds and ISP-specific standards. If simplicity (and affordability) is what you’re after, you’re probably fine going with a sub-$50 device. For that price range, your best bet is likely the TP-Link DOCSIS 3.0. This thing offers download speeds of up to 343 Mbps and is compatible with most subscription plans up to 150 Mbps. It supports the latest networking standards and offers up to eight downstream channels and four upstream channels — all pretty basic stuff if you know your networking. Just be mindful of its limitations. This thing will not work with fiber-optic gigabit Internet (well, it will — you just won’t get the speeds you’re paying for), but it will meet the basic requirements of the vast majority of Internet subscription plans.

Let’s say you’re an Internet pro. When it comes to the Web, you want the fastest Internet plan and the fastest modem to handle all those HD video steams or 4K gaming you do. If this describes you, you need to look at the NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 cable modem and router.

The NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900 is a speed demon with support for the fastest Internet offerings (up to 960 Mbps) and it can handle dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) Wi-Fi speeds. On the back, you’ll 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. It’s also designed to broadcast Wi-Fi widely, so if you have a large house or apartment, you’ll be covered.

This model is compatible with Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox and more cable providers, and we’d recommend this if you have the highest Internet tier from these providers, such as the Comcast Xfinity Blast Pro, Extreme 250 or Gigabit Pro plans. However, keep in mind that this model does not support bundled voice, but if you don't need that you'll be more than impressed with this option.

If you’re connected a fiber-optic network, chances are you have access to gigabit speeds. For most people, 1 Gbps is more than they’ll ever require and probably not worth their money. But for hardcore online gamers or households with many clients all sucking up huge data streams — or if you simply need to have the latest tech — gigabit Internet is like an oasis in a desert of sluggish connectivity. Of course, you have to be willing to pay more to get it, both for the modem and the ISP subscription — and that’s also provided your local provider has fiber optic lines running to your home. If you meet all these criteria, the  ARRIS SURFboard SB6183 is probably the best modem you’ll find. It offers download speeds of up to 1.4 Gbps, with a less powerful option for cable speeds up to 686 Mbps. The gigabit modem will cost you a pretty penny, but if you’re making the switch to fiber it’s just something you’ll have to accept.

The CM500-1AZNAS is a simple, but smart modem that can handle speeds up to 680 Mbps, which means it can handle almost any connection you throw at it. Compatible with Microsoft Windows 7, 8, 10, Vista, XP, 2000 and Mac OS, this modem can work with just about any OS. 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 CM500-1AZNAS can support 16 downloads and four uploads simultaneously. It can support HD and 4K video streaming, too. And all of this comes in at a price tag of less than $70. 

It’s completely understandable if you’d prefer to not have a cable modem and a router sitting next to each other in your house or apartment, especially if you don’t have a lot of room. So why not invest in a combo modem and router so you can do it all in one? The Motorola AC1900 is a tad pricy, but it’s worth it because it’s reliable, it offers speeds up to 686 Mbps and it has four Gigabit Ethernet, ports so you can plug into crazy-fast Internet. On top of fast WiFi speeds, the AC1900 can broadcast at 2.5 GHz and 5.0 GHz bands, and it has Wireless Power Boost to make sure you get wireless signal no matter where you are in your abode. The Motorola AC1900 is certified to work by most major Internet service providers, including Comcast XFINITY, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Charter Spectrum, but you should certainly double check before you finalize a purchase.

When it comes to cable modems, there is a lot of redundancy between models. These things are more or less all built the same, with a few differences in speed depending on your specific networking situation. The Zoom 8x4 Cable Modem is a perfectly acceptable runner-up to the ARRIS SURFboard SB6141, as it offers the same speed capabilities, downstream channels, and upstream channels, and it is similarly compatible with most ISPs, including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox. That said, at just under $50, it is a bit cheaper. For those savings, you get the same advertised speeds of up to 343 Mbps down and 143 Mbps up. Just keep in mind that those speeds depend on a host of factors and are unlikely to reach that high. If you’ve subscribed to a gigabit Internet package (1 Gbps or faster), you’ll need a faster, more capable modem. 

Simple, affordable modems are not very difficult to find, and chances are they’ll all work more or less the same. Whether you go with the $45 TP-Link TC-7610-E or the NETGEAR CM400-1AZNAS, you’re very likely to have the same networking experience. The specs are more or less identical: the latest DOCSIS 3.0 standard, which allows for up to eight downstream channels and four upstream channels; up to 340 Mbps 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. In either case, this is a perfectly decent 340 Mbps cable modem that is unlikely to cause many problems.


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