The 9 Best Cable Modems of 2019

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

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If you don’t consider yourself tech-savvy, networking hardware might be a bit intimidating—but cable modems are actually relatively straightforward because they only connect to one device: the Wi-Fi router, which routes your signal to your various devices, including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. To help you pick the perfect cable modem for you, we’ve compiled a list of the best available models. We also sent a few home with our thorough testers, who navigated the setup process and measured speeds.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Motorola MG7700

4.8

What We Like

  • Easy setup

  • Strong upload and download speeds

  • Simple security management features

What We Don't Like

  • 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 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet ports, it can also provide 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.

Best Splurge: NETGEAR Nighthawk AC1900

4.5

What We Like

  • Attractive, modern design

  • Good performance and range

  • Saves money over time

  • DOCSIS 3.0 connectivity

What We Don't Like

  • Expensive initial purchase

  • Not a ton of extra features

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. "We tested this modem in a 2500-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."

Runner-Up, Best Overall: TP-Link AC1750 DOCSIS 3.0

4

What We Like

  • Slim footprint

  • DOCSIS 3.0 connectivity

  • Easy setup

What We Don't Like

  • 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 1750 Mbps Wi-Fi speeds with simultaneous 2.4 GHz (up to 450 Mbps) and 5 GHz (up to 1300 Mbps) bands. It supports 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.

Best Budget: NETGEAR DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem (CM400-1AZNAS)

NETGEAR DOCSIS 3.0 High Speed Cable Modem (CM400-100NAS)
Courtesy of Amazon.com
4.1

What We Like

  • Small footprint

  • Simple setup

  • DOCSIS 3.0 connectivity

What We Don't Like

  • Maxed out at 340 Mbps

Simple, affordable modems are not very difficult to find, and chances are they’ll all work about the same. This one from NETGEAR offers 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. 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.”

Best Versatility: ARRIS SURFboard SB6141 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem

ARRIS SURFboard SB6141 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem
Courtesy of Amazon.com

What We Like

  • Simple setup

  • Affordable

  • Reliable connection

What We Don't Like

  • Lights are super bright

  • Not compatible with some higher-speed plans

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 will allow you to easily switch between Internet service providers. Of course, you also want something that’s fast and reliable. The ARRIS SURFboard SB6141 strikes a good balance between speed and reliability across most major service providers. It has 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. For the most part, reviewers find this modem reliable and plenty fast, but many note that the LED lights are very bright.

Runner-Up, Best Budget: D-Link DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem (DCM-301)

D-Link DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem

Newegg

What We Like

  • Slim design

  • Great speed for the price

  • Can be positioned horizontally or vertically

What We Don't Like

  • Heats up

As you’ll start to see from this list, there’s a fair amount of redundancy when it comes to cable modems. They are for the most part built the same, only varying in design and speed, depending on your individual networking setup. With that said, if you’re on the hunt for something that’s not only simple but also affordable, you’ll do just fine with a sub-$50 modem. In that range, we highly recommend the D-Link DCM-301. Also enlisting DOCSIS 3.0, it’s up to eight times faster than a DOCSIS 2.0 system, with download speeds of up to 343 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 150 Mbps. If you combine it with a cloud router or network attached storage device (NAS), you’ve got a full-fledged home networking solution. It also has a small footprint. Just be sure to make sure it's on your ISP's list of compatible modems before purchasing.

Best Features: Motorola MG7750

What We Like

  • Fast, reliable speed

  • Good range

  • Security and parental control features

What We Don't Like

  • A little bulky

  • Pricey

The MG7750 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 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, 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.

Interested in reading more reviews? Take a look at our selection of the best cable modem/router combos.

Best for High-Speed Internet: ARRIS SURFboard SB6183 DOCSIS 3.0

ARRIS SURFboard SB6183 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem
Courtesy of Amazon.com

What We Like

  • Impressive speeds

  • Perfect for HD movies and gaming

  • Convenient LED indicator lights

What We Don't Like

  • Not compatible with ATT&T, Verizon, and Centurylink

  • Coaxil connection placement isn't ideal

If you’re connected to 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 users 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.

Best Value: NETGEAR DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem (CM500-1AZNAS)

What We Like

  • Easy setup

  • Good compatibility

  • Great speed for price

What We Don't Like

  • Gets hot

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 an affordable price that will save you money on a monthly rental.

FAQs

What’s the difference between a modem and a router?

A modem connects you to the internet. It’s a connection from the source of your internet (from your individual ISP) to your home network, whether you are using wireless internet or plugging the modem directly into a computer via an Ethernet cable. A router is what connects your devices to Wi-Fi. Routers connect to the modem and create a private network in your home or office. There are also combination modem/router units available if you want a cleaner, simpler setup.

Should I rent a modem from my internet service provider (ISP)?

While you can always rent a modem from your ISP, there are several advantages to buying one on your own. First, modems rented out are often older models and have fewer settings than ones on the market. Plus, you’ll pay between somewhere in the $5 to $10 a range per month for the rental—meaning, if you buy your own you will often recover the cost in one to two years if you plan on sticking with the same model. Unfortunately, not all ISPs are compatible with all modems, so you’ll need to check this out before purchasing one on your own.

How does a modem affect my internet speed?

Most modems will list the maximum upload and download speed they can handle, but the actual speed you can get depends on a few factors. First, there is something known as DOCSIS (Date Over Cable Service Interface Specification) protocol, which is the standard by which modems provide internet access over cable. Your modem’s standard will affect the max speeds you are able to achieve, with the most recent standard being DOCSIS 3.1—capable of speeds up to 10Gbps. Another factor is the number of download and upload channels your modem has. DOCSIS 3.0 and later allows for up to 43 Mbps download on each channel, so the more channels you have the better. Lastly, the data plan you subscribe to from your ISP will ultimately affect how fast your internet is. For example, if you only pay for a plan that offers up to 100Mbps, that’s the max you’ll get regardless of what your modem supports.

The Ultimate Cable Modem Buying Guide

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.

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When Should You Rent Your Cable 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.

Types of Cable Modem

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.

Standard Modem

A standalone modem is the way that we recommend most people go. For starters, 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.

Modem/Router Combination

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.

Other Features and Considerations

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.

DOCSIS Protocols

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 “Date 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 10 Gbps.

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 1 Gbps, which is more than fast enough for the vast majority of users.

Unfortunately, ISPs have confused things a little, too. Some ISPs offer 1 Gbps data plans over DOCSIS 3.0, while others offer 1 Gbps data plans over DOCSIS 3.1. Thankfully, however, DOCSIS 3.1 is backwards 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.

Channels

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 43 Mbps download on each channel—so a modem with four download channels will get up to 172 Mbps, a modem with eight download channels will get 344 Mbps, and a modem with 16 download channels will get 688 Mbps. DOCSIS 3.0 will get you 31 Mbps 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 688 Mbps (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 100 Mbps—in which case that’s the maximum that you’ll get from your modem, if you even reach that.

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Upload and Download Speeds

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 64.17 Mbps, 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 1 Gbps 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 50 Mbps download speed, and 2 minutes on a 100 Mbps download speed. With a 1 Gbps download speed, it’ll take 12 seconds.

Compatibility with Your ISP

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.

Ethernet Ports

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.

Design

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.

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Brands To Consider

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.

Conclusion

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 may 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.