Best Cable Modems

Updated July 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

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

37 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
365 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

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

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Buying guide for best cable modems

Last Updated July 2019

The secret is out: renting your cable modem from your internet service provider (ISP) is a huge waste of money. Each month, thousands of subscribers pay anywhere between $8 and $12 for these devices that brings the web into their homes, spending enough to buy two cable modems each year.

Whether you’re ready to break free of the tyranny of cable modem rental fees or just in the market for an upgrade, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s everything you need to know about cable modems: the specs that matter, the features not to miss, the right price to pay, and our top recommendations.

If your modem includes a wireless router, you can disable the wireless functionality and use your own separate router, many of which include advanced features like port forwarding or quality of service (QoS) controls not found on combo units.

Key considerations

Most cable modems look the same: little black boxes that accept a coaxial connection and make the internet available as a standard network connection. But under the hood there are some pretty important details. Pay close attention to these factors as you shop:

Compatibility: The single most important thing about any cable modem you buy is that it has to be compatible with your internet service provider’s network. Luckily, most ISPs support a wide variety of modems, so it isn’t typically a huge concern, but you should still consult your ISP’s documentation for a list of officially supported modems and stick to that list as you compare different models.

DOCSIS 3.0 vs. DOCSIS 3.1: Cable modem standards are pretty complicated, but at the end of the day you really only need to know three things:

  1. Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) standards reflect data transfer speeds, that is, how fast a given modem can bring you the internet.

  2. The vast majority of users get high-speed internet from modems using the older DOCSIS 3.0 standard, and that’s plenty fast.

  3. Most ISPs offering premium gigabit speeds require the use of a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. If you subscribe to an internet plan that supports gigabit speeds, get a DOCSIS 3.1 modem; otherwise, buying a DOCSIS 3.0 modem will do just fine (and save you a decent amount of money).
     

Integrated WiFi: A lot of cable modems have begun to blur the line between modems and routers, offering “all-in-one” devices that do the work of both the cable modem (making the internet available to wired devices) and a wireless router (setting up a WiFi network). If you don’t already have a wireless router, this can be a perfect way to establish WiFi for the first time — just make sure that it’s situated in a place where it can provide wireless coverage to as much of your home as possible.

Durability and longevity: Most modems can last for years without needing to be replaced – in fact, you’re more likely to upgrade your modem than you are to repair it – but low-quality models can fail within a year. Stability is worth investing in, especially when it comes to getting internet coverage, so make sure to read user reviews of different modems to find one that will last you for years.

DID YOU KNOW?

Although cable modems don’t get very warm, it’s still a good idea to place yours in a well-ventilated area . A stable temperature helps prevent any risk of your cable modem overheating or otherwise impacting your internet speeds.

DID YOU KNOW?

To connect a device or network switch to your cable modem, you need a network cable (aka ethernet cable). Most homes will be fine with the slower Cat5e network cable, but if your home is especially large or you have many devices that use a lot of data, you might want to consider buying a Cat6 or Cat6E cable.

DID YOU KNOW?

The term “gigabit” can be deceptive. As you’re comparing models, watch the word “gigabit” closely to see if it’s describing the internet speeds it can receive or the local traffic speeds it can support.

Cable modem prices

In the cable modem market, there are two main price ranges to consider.

Between $50 and $100

Most standard, DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems fall in this price range. These models are fairly straightforward and support the same internet speeds. The big differentiator at this price point is brand. If you just need a basic cable modem that’s fast enough to support multiple users and a home full of devices, you don’t need to spend more than $100.

Between $150 and $300

If you need a faster, gigabit-friendly DOCSIS 3.1 modem or a cable modem that includes a built-in wireless router, you’ll need to spend more. Modems in this price range come with a lot more features, and gigabit speeds are unquestionably faster, so if you’re looking to upgrade your connectivity speed or your wireless network, the investment may be worth it.

Affordable, no-compromises connectivity

Motorola’s MG7700 is a best-in-class device. It’s dead simple to use, it delivers DOCSIS 3.0 speeds, and it includes a powerful WiFi router strong enough to get coverage practically anywhere. It works with most major ISPs, and it makes setting up and securing your wireless network a snap. Hands down, this is the best option for most internet subscribers.

Tips

  • Use an independent internet speed-testing tool to get a sense of the speed of your internet connection. Most ISPs will direct you to their own proprietary internet speed-testing tools, but we recommend not taking their word for it and getting unbiased results. Run internet speed tests at a time when no one else on your network is using the internet, and compare results from different speed-testing websites; this will give you a sense of how fast your internet connection is so you can make sure to buy the appropriate cable modem.

  • Remember that your ISP ultimately sets the limit for how fast your internet connection is based on your subscription. Your internet speeds are affected by a variety of factors, but the two most important ones are what internet speeds you pay for and what internet speeds your cable modem can support. If you’re paying for speeds that your current modem doesn’t support, that’s the best time to upgrade your cable modem. (Conversely, if your ISP speeds are on the low side, buying a new cable modem won’t solve that problem; you’ll need to upgrade your account.) For more information about what speeds you’re paying for, check your ISP billing statements.

  • Buy a separate network switch if you want to use multiple wired connections with your cable modem. Most cable modems have one standard RJ45 network port, meaning they can only provide wired internet access to a single device at a time unless you get a network switch, essentially a “splitter” for your internet signal so you can wire multiple devices for connectivity. Wired connections are much faster than wireless, so it can really pay off to hard-wire as many of your devices as you can.

  • Watch the word “gigabit” closely as you’re comparing models. The term can be deceptive. When a connection is described as “gigabit,” it means that data can travel at speeds of up to 125 megabytes per second. Gigabit connectivity to the internet is typically the fastest service you can get, and it usually requires a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. However, some slower DOCSIS 3.0 modems also include WiFi routers, which can transfer local traffic at gigabit speeds, but their internet connectivity is still limited to sub-gigabit speeds.

The perfect no-frills cable modem

The TP-LINK TC-7610 isn’t much to look at, but it’s a powerful modem that’s perfect for anyone who only needs data. It’s as plug-n-play as they get. This is the modem that defines the term “set it and forget it.” But if you run into any issues, don’t sweat it: TP-LINK’s customer service is among the best in the business.

Other products we considered

While they’re definitely not cheap, we love combination modem/wireless router units like the NETGEAR Nighthawk X4S. It supports gigabit internet speeds and can easily blanket an entire home in WiFi.

If you’ve avoided all-in-one modem/routers because they lacked any features, it’s time to look again. The X4S builds on the stability and usability of the Nighthawk brand while delivering cutting-edge data speeds.

If you need a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem, but you’ve already got your own WiFi setup, consider the Motorola MB8600. It’s a lightning-fast gigabit modem and that’s it. Motorola has been making stable cable modems for decades, and the MB8600 updates its tradition of making small, unassuming modems that last forever and deliver data quickly.

Try to avoid used or refurbished cable modems. While it’s tempting to score a deal on slightly used gear, cable modems last a long time, so you never know how close a used one is to failing. A new cable modem will pay for itself in less than a year compared to your ISP’s modem rental fees.

FAQ

Q. Can I install a cable modem myself or do I need to schedule an appointment with an installer from my ISP?

A. Most cable modems are easy to install, so long as the building is properly wired for cable internet, but you’ll still need to register it with your ISP in order to get internet service. If you plan on installing it yourself, call your ISP’s technical support team beforehand and ask them to walk you through the process and complete the necessary hardware registration. If you’re not comfortable setting up technical gear, you can make an appointment with an installer from your ISP, although fees may apply.

Q. Do I need to buy a special cable modem if I also subscribe to phone service through my ISP?

A. Yes. Many ISPs offer bundles of internet, TV, and digital phone service, all of which are delivered to your home through your cable modem. If you get phone service through your ISP and you want to buy a new modem, you’ll need to get one that explicitly supports telephony.

Q. My existing cable modem seems okay. Why would I upgrade?

A. If you already own your cable modem, it might still be worth it to upgrade. For example, some users are still connecting to the web with DOCSIS 2.0 modems, which can feel incredibly slow by today’s standards. To put it in perspective: if your current device is a DOCSIS 2.0 modem, by replacing it with a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, you could potentially be getting internet speeds that are 32 times faster.

The team that worked on this review
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    Post Production Editor

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