Even though you don’t think about it all that much, it should be on your mind the next time you see your internet bill. Purchasing your own cable modem rather than using whatever device your internet service provider leaves behind will probably save you money on your internet service by eliminating a needless equipment rental charge.
It may seem ridiculous, but equipment rental fees are no laughing matter. Some ISPs charge as much as $14 a month for modems, and that cost can add up over time.
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Because cable modems often cost under $70, you will pay off the cost of a new modem in half a year with a lower internet bill. As a result, you no longer have to shell out cash to your internet provider to rent an aging modem.
ARRIS SURFboard SB6190 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem
The SB6190 continues Arris’ tradition of creating some of the most reliable cable modems with its predecessor, the SB6183. The Arris Surfboard SB6190 will meet your needs even if you have an internet connection of less than 1Gbps (which is what most of us have). It’s very likely you’ll take this out of the box, swap it with your cable modem, and never think about the modem again.
As it’s small enough to fit just about anywhere, it’s also certified by all major cable providers, so you shouldn’t have any problem getting it working with your internet service provider.
- Impressive speeds
- Great for HD movies and gaming
- Convenient LED indicator lights
- Coaxial connection placement isn’t ideal
NETGEAR Nighthawk Multi-Gig Cable Modem CM2000
In terms of performance, the Netgear Nighthawk CM2000 is the fastest cable modem on the market. Remember, you will need a high-speed connection from your ISP and a router capable of sending information to your other devices as quickly as possible if you want to take advantage of this performance.
- 2.5Gbps Ethernet Port
- Fast DOCSIS 3.1 Speeds
- Sleek design
- Requires compatible router for the best speed
- No voice capabilities
Motorola MB8611 DOCSIS 3.1 Multi-Gig Cable Modem
If you want the best performance but every penny counts, the Motorola MB8611 is a good choice. As with the Netgear Nighthawk CM2000, you’ll see the same blazing speeds but save a few bucks.
It also requires a really fast connection and a router that can send that connection to your devices.
- 2.5Gbps Ethernet Port
- Fast DOCSIS 3.1 Speeds
- Low Latency
- No voice capabilities
- Requires compatible router for best speeds
ARRIS Surfboard S33 DOCSIS 3.1 Multi-Gigabit Cable Modem
A lot of brains have gone into this modem: Not only is it fast, not only is it a modem you don’t have to hide in a closet (although we would still do that), this modem also allows you to have two separate networks.
That’s pretty cool, although we aren’t aware of anyone who might require such a tool. As far as price is concerned, the Arris Surfboard S33 offers quite a few features at a reasonable price.
- Stylish design
- 2.5Gbps Ethernet Port
- Extra Gigabit Ethernet Port
- No voice capabilities
- Use of second port isn’t supported by all ISPs
ARRIS SURFboard SB8200 DOCSIS 3.1 Gigabit Cable Modem
Our best bang-for-your-buck winner in the high-speed category is the Arris Surfboard SB8200. This board is fast as hell at an extremely affordable price. A faster internet connection is the one you need if you are about to upgrade.
This one is just as fast as the fast ones on this list, but for a lot less money. Spend it however you wish, but we know we wouldn’t spend more for something that isn’t demonstrably better.
- High-speed support (known as DOCSIS 3.1 Support)
- Compact design
- Two Gigabit Ethernet ports with link aggregation
- Awkward coaxial connection placement
NETGEAR Nighthawk Cable Modem with Voice
This is the modem to use if you also have landline telephone service through your ISP. It is an expensive modem, but you are likely already paying a lot for a lot of services, so you cannot use any regular modem.
The good news is that this modem offers voice, high-speed connections, and two independent networks. The value here is excellent. However, it is only needed if you are providing telephone service.
- High-speed support
- Up to 2Gbps Download Speeds
- Supports Xfinity Voice service
- Not compatible with other cable voice services
Motorola MB7420 DOCSIS 3.0 16×4 Cable Modem
Modems like this should be purchased only if you don’t expect higher-speed connections and your needs are fairly modest. This modem should pay for itself within a year if that describes you.
However, before the word “modest” scares you away, you can still stream in 4K, use the internet normally, and make plenty of video calls. Ideally, it should meet all your needs without costing a lot.
- Very affordable
- Not especially future-proof
NETGEAR Cable Modem CM500 Compatible
It’s easy to find the Netgear CM500 at most retailers, and it’s usually a little less expensive than the Motorola MB7420, making it a good value. Any time you find a new CM500 for $50 or less, that’s a good buy. (Modem prices can fluctuate, so keep an eye out for the best deals.)
The Netgear CM500 is compatible with the biggest cable providers and can deliver speeds up to 300 Mbps, which should be enough for the vast majority of Internet users. (If you have a high-speed plan, get a faster modem.)
During our testing, there was actually very little difference in performance between the best cable modems, so the differences are actually very slight.
Choose Netgear’s CM500, and you’ll get a modem that’s as capable as the Motorola MB7420 or the Arris SB6183. Netgear offers a one-year warranty, compared with two years for those rival modems.
Netgear’s 16 x 4 modem is compatible with a wide range of internet service providers and easy to install. With a height of 7.3 inches, the CM500 is a little taller than the SB6183, and its indicator lights are hard to see, although at night you may appreciate the lack of illumination.
- Solid performance
- Good compatibility
- Often cheaper than comparable modems
- One-year warrant shorter than rivals
- Indicator lights are hard to see
NETGEAR Cable Modem CM600 Providers
Most homes choose internet plans that promise speeds of between 100 and 300 Mbps, but some people prefer higher-speed options. When you sign up for a plan with download speeds that top 300 Mbps, you’ll want a cable modem that can handle that high performance. Netgear’s CM600 is the best cable modem for those higher speeds, even if it is a bit more expensive than the CM500.
Netgear’s modem does not use the Intel Puma 6 chipset that has been blamed for latency issues with other high-speed modems, such as the Arris Surfboard SB6190. As a result, you can expect reliable performance from the Netgear CM600 without the lags experienced by users with Puma-6-powered modems.
CM600 is a little on the tall side, but it has a funky futuristic appearance. The Netgear modem has a one-year warranty, like other Netgear products.
- Reliable performance
- Lower price than other high-speed modems
- Compatible with many ISPs
- One-year warranty
- Tall footprint
ARRIS SURFboard SB6183 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem
The Arris Surfboard SB6183 was once our pick for the best cable modem thanks to its solid performance that should satisfy most home internet customers without requiring high-speed service, though this older version is harder to find these days. (Best Buy sells the SB6183 as of this writing.) Its two-year warranty is also a big plus if you can find the SB6183 at a competitive price.
Despite its small size, the SB6183 can be tucked unobtrusively next to a router, cable box and whatever else you may have on hand. The coaxial cable connector is a little too close to the power connector for my taste, but you’ll probably only have to deal with it when setting up the modem.
SB6183 has a row of vertical indicator lights that are easy to see, though the yellow lighting can be hard to see if your modem is in direct sunlight. Still, you can glance at the SB6183 to see if there are any issues with your internet connection.
- Two-year warranty
- Compatible with most internet providers
- Visible status lights
- Awkward placement of coaxial cable
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What to Consider When Choosing Cable Modem
DOCSIS 3.1 modems are also released, with speeds that can top 1Gbps; if you receive DOCSIS 3.1 service, look for a modem that can take advantage of the faster speeds. DOCSIS 3.0 devices are still an option even if your internet service provides speeds lower than 1 Gbps.
To choose a modem that is compatible with DOCSIS 3.0, here are some things to look for:
Check with your ISP that the modem you are considering will work with the service you are paying for. DOCSIS 3.0 certified modems should work with DOCSIS-based internet service, but it’s always a good idea to check. Top ISPs such as Comcast, Cox, and Spectrum all offer sites for checking cable compatibility.
Price and Warranty
If you are looking for a modem that pays for itself within a year with the savings you make on rental fees, you do not have to get the cheapest one. A one-year warranty is a bare minimum you should accept; two years of protection is even better. Before you purchase, do some comparison shopping. Modems are often on sale at retailers, so you might find the model you want – or a reasonable alternative – at a lower price than you’d expect.
There’s not much that differentiates cable modems, which generally have the same set of indicators. In addition, if they’re too bright, they can really light up a room at night. Consider the size of a modem, since a compact design blends in more easily with your other network gear.
For homes with service capped at 300 Mbps, a modem with 16 x 4 channels (that’s 16 download and four upload channels) should do the trick. Any faster, and you should consider a 24×8 or 32×8 modem, or a DOCSIS 3.1-compatible modem if your ISP has upgraded to the new standard.
When shopping for a cable modem, make sure the model you’re considering isn’t vulnerable to the Cable Hunt software flaw found in many Broadcom chipsets. Be sure your ISP has a software patch available for your modem if it is vulnerable.
How We Test The Best Cable Modems
Every Comcast cable modem is tested using Comcast’s Performance Pro service. We run speed tests to ensure the modems deliver the promised download speeds, and we use the modems in regular networking setups to gauge modem reliability.
As part of our networking setup, we hook up each modem we review at the home of our reviewers. This allows us to verify the compatibility of a modem as well as determine how reliable it is. Since price is also an important factor when shopping for a modem, we also monitor retail sites for the best deals on the modems we’ve tested.
In addition to using the modems with multiple connected laptops, smartphones, and tablets, we also check the indicator lights on each modem to make sure they are visible. The modems are also evaluated according to how easy they are to set up. As the primary reason for getting your own cable modem is to save money on monthly rental fees for ISP-supplied modems, we heavily consider the length of the warranty.
Cable Modems FAQs
What’s the difference between DOCSIS 3.0 and DOCSIS 3.1?
All cable modems are based on DOCSIS technology, which is short for “Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification.”. While DOCSIS 3.0 is used by nearly all U.S. cable providers, most ISPs aren’t able to offer speeds more than 600Mbps over the standard.
A cable modem that supports DOCSIS 3.1 is required in order to get true multi-gigabit plans. In the meantime, if your internet provider doesn’t support DOCSIS 3.1 yet, don’t worry. All DOCSIS 3.1 modems are fully backward compatible with DOCSIS 3.0, so you can buy one now to be ready for when faster speeds become available.
What happens if your cable modem breaks down?
Purchasing a cable modem is undoubtedly more expensive than renting one from your ISP, but modern cable modems are very reliable as long as you purchase a reputable brand, and almost all of them come with 1–2 year warranties.
What about cable modem/router combos?
Consider one of the best cable modem/router combos instead if you’re looking for a new wireless router anyway since you’ll get the best of both worlds at a much more reasonable price.
When you’re perfectly happy with the Wi-Fi router you already have, though, there’s rarely any reason to switch, as any cable modem should work just fine with a reasonably modern router.
What are download channels?
The DOCSIS standard isn’t the only thing that determines how fast your modem can run. The number of download and upload channels is another important factor.
A download channel is expressed as one number separated by an “x,” while an upload channel is expressed as two numbers. A 16×4 modem, for example, has 16 download channels and four upload channels.
However, it’s important to note that just because you have a modem that supports up to 688Mbps (on a modem with 16 downstream channels), that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get that speed.
There is a possibility that you’re only subscribed to a data plan from your ISP that offers 100Mbps, which means that that’s the maximum speed you’ll get with your modem.
Other factors to consider include communication overhead and shared bandwidth with other users in your neighborhood. In general, you will find that most ISPs provide significantly slower speeds for any given channel configuration. To determine what speed you can expect, check to see what a modem is “certified for” by a given provider.
What’s a good download speed?
What is a good download speed? The answer depends on your usage, but more is better. Currently, the average download speed in the United States is 64.17Mbps, but that number is expected to rise in the near future as ISPs deploy Gigabit internet connections.
As a result, it is recommended that you get a modem with at least 1Gbps download speed. This will enable you to take advantage of faster internet as soon as it becomes available.
What do those speeds mean for you? With a 50Mbps download speed, a Full HD movie with a file size of 4.5 GB will take 4 minutes to download. With a 100Mbps download speed, it will take 2 minutes. With a 1Gbps download speed, it will take 12 seconds.
What internet speed should you buy?
Netflix and Disney+ allow users to stream movies one at a time, which means fast download speeds aren’t as important as they once were—in other words, it doesn’t matter if a movie takes an hour to download if it will take you two hours to watch it. Accordingly, streaming speeds are measured using the same numbers as your internet speed, and even a full 4K UHD stream on Netflix requires only a 25Mbps connection to function.
In addition, if you have multiple users streaming in 4K in different rooms, each of them will use 25Mbps of your bandwidth, not to mention activities like surfing, gaming, downloading, and video conferencing that use different amounts of bandwidth. If you have a large family or many roommates sharing your internet connection, this can easily add up.
Most cable internet subscribers will be happy with the Arris Surfboard SB6190 (view at Best Buy), but to break past the high-speed (1Gbps) barrier, you’ll need a high-performance modem like the ARRIS SURFboard SB8200. Both are very reasonably priced and perform very well.