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How We Decided
  • 59 Models Considered
  • 44 Hours Spent
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 228 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Best Modems

    Buying a cable modem is a wise idea. Any model on our shortlist would almost certainly pay for itself over a period of one or two years. But the cable modem market can be confusing; which product should you choose? We've selected five models that, while similar in many ways, have some important differences. We're confident that most people could find a modem on our shortlist that would suit them just about perfectly. The top contenders are:

    Products we Considered

    • Motorola
      16x4 High-Speed Cable Gateway
    • Linksys
      High Speed DOCSIS 3.0
    • Cisco
      DOCSIS 3.0 8x4 Cable
      Wi-Fi 3.0 Cable
    • ARRIS
      SURFboard 3.0 Cable Modem



    All cable modems should conform to certain standards for both hardware and software, but that doesn't mean that they all deliver the same upload and download speeds. In this part of our ratings, we look at each product's requirements and real-world impact.

    Features & Compatibility

    Although a cable modem's primary focus is providing a broadband interface between you and your service provider, some devices offer useful extras. As for compatibility, you might think that all modems should work with every supplier, but that's not actually the case. We delve into these issues here.

    Set Up & Use

    Every manufacturer claims that their cable modem is easy to set up and use, but are they really? We examine technical aspects and owner feedback to get a true view of what each product is like to live with.


    None of our cable modems are particularly expensive, and you're going to get payback in 12 months or less anyway. Still, it's nice to know you're spending your money wisely. We discuss price in this section of our ratings.

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    The ARRIS/Motorola meets the latest DOCSIS 3.0 and IPv4 standards. It's "backwards compatible" with DOCSIS 1.0, 2.0, and IPv4. It also includes a Gigabit Ethernet port. In short, it has all the ingredients you need in a top cable modem!


    Zoom 5341 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem 5341J

    The standard for all cable modems is called DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications). At the time of this writing, version 3.0 is the most up-to-date. If you're using an older modem -- version 1.0 or 2.0 -- you'll be missing out on speed for both downloads and uploads (also called downstream and upstream). Version 3.0 of DOCSIS is actually quite a major upgrade because, for the first time, multiple "channels" can be included in the same stream.

    Each of the cable modems in our final five complies with DOCSIS 3.0. If your provider has not yet made the upgrade, it's not a problem, as each of these devices is also "backwards-compatible" to DOCSIS 2.0. (In other words, you'll be ready for the boost when it arrives.) When it comes to Internet Protocol standards, the most advanced version today is IPv6. Each of our finalists is compatible with IPv6 and IPv4, its predecessor.

    So where are the differences? All manufacturers quote maximum speeds for their devices. The speed delivered by your service provider may be lower and may vary with the time of day, but it's a useful figure for comparison. The Zoom 5341 Cable Modem has a maximum download of 340Mbps and upload (always slower) of 143Mbps. This figure is similar for the Linksys and Cisco, although their up upload speeds a bit slower at 120Mbps. The Netgear is slightly unclear; it quotes the same 340Mbps download as the others, but we're unable to find an upload speed. However, given that the rest of the technology is similar, we would expect the same sort of figure. The stand-out performer is the ARRIS/Motorola, with a download figure of up to 686Mbps -- although its upload isn't exceptional at 131Mbps.

    The explanation for these similarities -- and the difference with the ARRIS/Motorola -- has to do with channels. Some cable modems allow four channels upstream and four downstream (so called 4x4). The Zoom, Linksys, Cisco, and Netgear raise the number of downstream channels to eight (called 8x4), and the ARRIS/Motorola pumps this figure up to 16 (16x4). You'll notice that all upstream channels are the same, and there's little change in speed. However, considering the fact that downloading and down-streaming are predominant activities for most people, this is an important figure that is indicative of real-world performance.

    Each of our finalists is compatible with Windows and Mac, so no matter which modem you buy, you should encounter no compatibility issues with your home computer.


    Features & Compatibility

    Zoom 5341 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem 5341J

    Most cable modems do not create a wireless signal. To access Wi-Fi, you must plug the device in at your home. You could connect your modem to a single computer or many smart TVs, but you'll get the most flexibility by adding a Wi-Fi router to the mix. (The router allows you to run multiple devices from the same cable modem installation.) We don't cover the subject in great depth here, but if you're interested in learning more about how cable modems work, more information is readily available from online service providers and cable modem manufacturers.

    In order to work well, a cable modem needs a fast Ethernet port. Consumers can attach whatever they choose to that port and benefit from the speed their service provider delivers. All of our finalists offer the fast 10/100/1000 Mbps specification, otherwise known as a Gigabit Ethernet Port. However, the Netgear N600 goes one better by including a dual-band 2.4 and built-in 5 Ghz Wi-Fi router. We like this feature because it frees the port for other devices. The Netgear also has a USB port which enables the addition of a hard drive to the network. USB ports are useful, but on our shortlist, only the Netgear and Cisco DPC3010 include one. In addition to the USB port, Netgear also comes with an in-house Genie app for network management and a range of Wi-Fi-related access and security controls.

    While you don't get Wi-Fi from the ARRIS/Motorola cable modem, the manufacturer is keen to point out that the modem's superior downstream speed makes it ideal for office as well as home. High-quality voice and video conferencing are two of the ARRIS/Motorola's main benefits. However, the speed of your service provider does impact how much you can benefit from these features.

    Each of our finalists is compatible with Windows and Mac, so no matter which modem you buy, you should encounter no compatibility issues with your home computer. Plugging a cable modem into a router (or opting for the Netgear) makes the question of compatibility irrelevant anyway. The real question, in terms of compatibility, relates to service providers. Caution is needed with wording here, because if you say a device works with "all US cable modem services," that simply means that the device complies with DOCSIS and IPv6 standards. That a device works with all cable modem services is quite different from saying that a device works with all service providers. Several manufacturers skirt this question by using phrases like "nearly all . . ." or "most major . . ."

    At the time of this writing, the Linksys Advanced, Zoom 5341 and Netgear N600 worked with all known service providers. Potential buyers should note that the Cisco DPC3010 is not compatible with Comcast. Similarly, buyers should realize that the ARRIS/Motorola SurfBoard has issues with Cox Cable "out of the box." (However, there are ways to configure it.) Because of regional variations, it's always a wise idea to check compatibility with your service provider before making a purchase.

    Expert Consultant

    Rafe Needleman has been testing and writing about technology products for over 20 years. He has evaluated hundreds of products as editor of CNET and reviews/editorial director of Yahoo Tech.

    Rafe  |  Technologist, Product Review Professional

    Set Up & Use

    Zoom 5341 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem 5341J

    Up to this point in our top cable modem ratings, we've pointed out the important features that you need to look for (and that all our finalists share). In addition, we've highlighted any specific differences. In this section, we provide more model-specific information about each modem's technical details and owner feedback.

    The Zoom 5341 is something of an entry-level cable modem, but it's a perfectly adequate solution for many. It's certainly popular, and it has a reputation among owners for being reliable and easy to set up. Historical problems with Cox Cable now seem to have been sorted out, and while a few have had trouble with Comcast, any problems can usually be resolved by calling support. One or two people have received faulty units , and there have been a few reports of modems that reboot too often. The Zoom 5341's warranty is one year, so products that are faulty "out of the box" should be no problem.

    Linksys Advanced DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem

    Although the manufacturer claims that the Linksys Advanced Cable Modem is easy to set up, you will still need to call your cable provider to complete the process. (This isn't true of all devices, but it is true of the Linksys.) A few owners in the past have reported "firmware" issues, but recent reports suggest that they have been resolved. Others have complained of frequent reboots. While this is definitely a concern, the problem doesn't seem to be widespread.

    Cisco DPC3010 DOCSIS 3.0 8x4 Cable Modem

    At a glance, the Linksys Advance and Cisco DPC3010 look quite similar. Both are made by the same company, and their cases are identical. The Cisco is slightly more advanced, and under the right conditions, it's capable of producing faster speeds than the Linksys. The differences between the two products are rather negligible in real-world terms, save the fact that the Cisco won't work with Comcast. (We find this a bit strange, as the Cisco's previous version -- the DPC3008 -- did work with Comcast.) Although many consumers are satisfied, the Cisco has had a larger-than-expected number of failures, and its reliability rating is not as high as some of its competitors.

    NETGEAR N600 Wi-Fi DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem Router

    The fact that the competitively priced Netgear N600 cable modem includes a Wi-Fi router appeals to many consumers. This product shows plenty of promise, with all sorts of features bundled in to make life easier. A primary virtue is its simple, straightforward set-up. However, the included Wi-Fi does appear to have some weaknesses. There have been numerous complaints that the Wi-Fi's range is not what people expected. Users were also unhappy that phone support services last only 90 days, after which time you have to pay for phone support. (Note: email support is always free.)

    ARRIS SURFboard SB6183 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem

    ARRIS/Motorola proudly boasts that their SurfBoard SB618 cable modem is the best choice for a range of fast Internet services. The company also states that the product is primed and ready for the next round of speed increases, whatever they may be. Whether that's true or not remains to be seen, but owners in general certainly seem pleased with their ARRIS/Motorola SurfBoard's performance. Set-up is relatively easy; combining with Apple's Airport is a tad tedious, but it's certainly not impossible. There have been isolated breakdowns, but overall, the SurfBoard is reliable. While a handful of owners complained that they don't get the raw speed they were hoping for, others say that the modem's speed is higher than they expected.

    The low-cost Linksys Advanced DOCSIS 3.0 has what many top cable modems offer today: DOCSIS 3.0, IPv6, Gigabit Ethernet, and compatibility with all cable service providers.


    Zoom 5341 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem 5341J

    If you're looking for a cheap cable modem, the $79 Zoom 5341 could suit you perfectly. Like all of our finalists, it's ready for DOCSIS 3.0 and IPv6, and it's got eight channels downstream and four channels upstream. These channels allow download speeds of 340 Mbps and uploads at 143Mbps -- the highest in these ratings. (Note: final results do depend on the capacity of your service provider!) The Zoom's Gigabit Ethernet port allows you to create a multiple-device network for your home. Currently, it's compatible with all cable suppliers. The Zoom's popularity is inspired, in large part, by its straightforward set-up and ongoing reliability. Faults are few. Satisfaction ratings are consistently high.

    Linksys Advanced DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem

    Choosing the right cable modem can be tricky because, as we've already shown, the differences between products are slight. At $29, the Linksys is quite similar to the Zoom. The specs are nearly identical: eight upstream channels (340 Mbps) and four downstream channels (120 Mbps). The Linksys might be fractionally slower, but is that enough to make a difference? The Linksys has what many top cable modems offer today: DOCSIS 3.0, IPv6, Gigabit Ethernet, compatibility with all cable service providers. Not everyone likes the set-up routine, but for most folks, this is hardly a deal-breaker. In fact, the Linksys' low fault rate actually encourages consumers to buy this popular item.

    Cisco DPC3010 DOCSIS 3.0 8x4 Cable Modem

    Technically speaking, the $57 Cisco is a slightly more advanced version of the Linksys. If you compare details, the two are quite similar. The Cisco has the same upstream and downstream channels as the Linksys; theoretically, these ought to produce the same speed. However, the Cisco does have a more recent processor, giving it a faster performance. It also has the benefit of a USB port so you can add a hard drive to your home network. We find it odd that this particular model isn't compatible with Comcast. (Its predecessor was.) Nevertheless, the Cisco remains a popular choice -- in spite of sporadic consumer concerns about long-term reliability.

    NETGEAR N600 Wi-Fi DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem Router

    $98 might make the Netgear N600 relatively expensive as a cable router, but considering the fact that the device also incorporates a Wi-Fi router, we find it an interesting proposition. After all, none of our other finalists include this! As a cable modem, the Netgear N600 is a match for anything here in terms of channels, speeds, compatibilities, and so on. And, unlike the Cisco, it has that useful USB port. Logic tells us that if the Netgear is going to be worth the extra money, the Wi-Fi needs to be strong. Unfortunately, quite a few owners tell us that it's not. The Wi-Fi works, they say, but it doesn't work well enough. It doesn't give the range people expect. However, as a cable modem, the Netgear draws few complaints. In fact, it's a top model. In short, potential buyers should be aware that this product delivers quite nicely in the cable modem department but not so well in the Wi-Fi department.

    ARRIS SURFboard SB6183 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem

    Bearing the Netgear's price in mind, you'd expect the $79 ARRIS/Motorola SurfBoard SB6183 cable modem to deliver something really special to justify its cost. It does: speed! In most areas, the ARRIS/Motorola is as good as any other on our shortlist, but when it comes to download speed, the ARRIS/Motorola is not only ahead of the competition, it has the capacity to stay ahead. (If you intend to stream HD movies, this speed is quite important.) The device isn't 100 percent reliable, but negative incidents have been few and far between. The majority of owners are simply delighted with their choice.

    Best of the Best

    Throughout this review, we've commented on how difficult it is to separate these devices. After all, the five products share some important similarities. And yet, the task of determining which product is the Best of the Best is actually quite easy. In the end, our pick is the Motorola 16x4 High-Speed Cable Gateway.

    The title could have gone to the Linksys because of its high satisfaction ratings. It could also have gone to the Cisco. The specs on these two are so similar, it's tough to tell them apart. Compliant with DOCSIS 3.0, IPv6 and their forerunners? Check. Eight downstream and four upstream channels? Check. 340Mbps download speed and 120Mbps upload? Check. (OK, the Zoom offers 143 Mbps, but the difference in actual day-to-day use is slight.) All three have a Gigabit Ethernet port as well.

    So why choose the Motorola Gateway? The answer lies in the fact that the other competitors have some minor flaws, and the Motorola provides some distinct advantages. The Zoom is a cheap cable modem that's known for its reliability, but being an older model, it doesn't quite deliver the real-world speed of the Linksys. The Cisco is frustrating because it isn't compatible with Comcast, even though its earlier versions were.

    The Motorola Cable Gateway cable modem is simple and fuss-free. The requirement to call your service provider during set-up annoyed some owners, but to be fair, that's a requirement with a lot of modems. And, as far as we know, the Linksys currently works with all suppliers. At $177, the price is within the grasp of many consumers, and it will pay for itself in a matter of months. After that, you can spend the money you save on pizza to go with all those HD movies you'll be streaming so effortlessly!

    In terms of overall performance, the Motorola Gateway wins hands down.

    Best Bang for your Buck

    Selecting the Best of the Best winner was a bit of a no-brainer, but choosing the Best Bang for Your Buck modem router was more difficult. All of the cable modems on our shortlist are excellent products, and they all represent a good financial value. In the end, it's the ARRIS/Motorola SurfBoard SB6183.

    The ARRIS/Motorola has all the ingredients you need in a top cable modem. It meets the latest DOCSIS 3.0 and IPv6 standards, so it can handle the best internet speeds available. It's also "backwards compatible" with DOCSIS 1.0, 2.0, and IPv4, so if your current service provider hasn't yet upgraded, you'll be ready for the fastest available service when they do. The modem's Gigabit Ethernet port allows you to link numerous devices, so any performance drop across them will usually be negligible.

    If all of our finalists offer similar specifications, what sets the ARRIS/Motorola SurfBoard apart? Download speed. It's the single most important element for home cable users. In terms of downstream rates, this model is at the high end of the spectrum. Downstream is what you use for downloads and watching HD movies. Upstream is also better than most at 131 Mbps. Thanks to 16 channels (the competitors on our shortlist have eight), you get up to 686 Mbps. That's double the nearest rival.

    Weighing against the ARRIS/Motorola are questions about incompatibility, but we know these issues can be overcome in the majority of cases. (As we've said, it's always best to check with your service provider before buying.) There have been a few reports of excessive resets and occasional failures, but you'll find these with every cable modem on the market. The SurfBoard will cost you $79, but if you're currently renting a cable modem for $10 a month, you'll get your money back very quickly. Choosing the ARRIS/Motorola SurfBoard cable modem gets you the best device, and it will save you money in the long run. That's quite a deal.

    The ARRIS SurfBoard is on the high end of the speed spectrum, but its price is within the grasp of many consumers.

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      Product Analyst
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      Data Scientist
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      Senior Editor

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