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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
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.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best cable modem-Router combos

Subscribing to internet service through a cable provider can entail a whole new set of fees in addition to your base subscription price. Most notably, there are rental fees for the cable modem and router that can add $100 or more per year to your cable bill. Over the service life of this equipment, a cable subscriber could shell out hundreds of dollars. What’s more, the modem and router often aren’t the latest models, so not only are they prone to breaking down sooner than expected, they may not be able to properly handle a high-speed internet connection.

There’s a solution to this dilemma. Getting a cable-modem router combo, gives you control over the quality of your internet and cable connections and eliminates one or more rental fees from your cable bill. What’s not to like?

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Register your cable modem’s MAC address with your cable provider so the system will be properly set up to work with the provider’s signal. Often, the provider has software available to handle this part of the setup.

Key considerations

A cable modem-router combo is a highly efficient setup. It receives a data signal from the cable provider via a coaxial cable running from a nearby network node to the device. That data signal is processed by the cable modem and delivered wirelessly throughout the house via its onboard WiFi transmitter. It’s important, before making a purchase, to make sure a particular cable-modem router would deliver optimum performance for your particular internet setup.

Compatibility

That screamingly fast cable modem-router combo at the top of the price range may not be the right device for your needs. It must be compatible with the service and internet speed your cable company delivers. For example, if you have a 50Mbps (megabits per second) internet connection, a cable-modem router designed to handle 1Gbps (gigabits per second) is overkill. And if the cable company doesn’t support the cable-modem router, it won’t work at all.

Expert tip
Consider getting an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for your cable modem-router combo, which is basically a giant battery that keeps devices powered temporarily in the event of a power outage. If the power goes out, you’ll still have WiFi access for a few hours.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Future-proofing

Internet speeds continue to rise, and the WiFi spectrum is evolving, too. A cable modem-router combo must be compatible with new technologies for at least a few years after its purchase.

Upload vs. download speeds

Most cable-modem routers advertise fast download speeds (the speed at which you receive data, such as streaming video) but downplay upload speeds (the speed at which you send data, like uploading photos to Facebook). Upload speeds are typically much slower than download speeds.

Expert Tip
Most cable modem-routers have a sticker on the bottom with key information like the device’s MAC address. When you first unbox your unit, take a picture of this information, to make it easier to refer to later.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Inflexibility

One downside to the cable modem-router combo is that putting both a modem and a router into a single device limits some of your options. For example, if the router becomes obsolete or can’t be upgraded through a software update, you may need to replace the entire combo. Also, combo routers tend to have fewer features than standalone routers.

Simplicity

The tradeoff for fewer features and options is a single device that takes up less space, is easy to set up, and will run reliably for quite some time.

DOCSIS 3.0 or DOCSIS 3.1?

Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) is an international telecommunications standard. You want to pay attention to which version the router adheres to because gigabit connections require DOCSIS 3.1. Check your service provider bill to see what speeds you’re paying for.

Type of WiFi

Before you choose a cable modem-router combo, consider the kind of WiFi it supports. Does it support WiFi 6 speeds, or only up to WiFi 5? The more users and devices that will use a WiFi network, the faster you'll want the network to be.

Also, consider if you need a mesh networking system. Mesh WiFi systems use a series of modules placed around your house to create a strong WiFi signal everywhere. If you have a large house, a mesh networking system may work best.

What works with your ISP?

Most models will work with major Internet Service Providers (ISP), but you'll want to double-check before you buy. Most ISPs publish a list of cable modem-router combos that they work with.

Expert Tip
Once you’ve installed your cable modem-router combo unit, double-check your ISP bill to make sure they’re no longer charging you any monthly modem rental fees.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Features

On the surface, a cable modem-router combo seems to have just a few features: randomly blinking lights, a smooth outer shell, and perhaps a couple of Ethernet ports. Of course, much more is going on inside the unit.

Modem

This part of the combo receives the signal from the internet service provider and can connect that signal to just one device.

Router

Connecting to multiple devices, both wirelessly and through an Ethernet port connection, is accomplished by the router.

Multiple ports

Cable modem-router combos typically have at least four Ethernet ports, giving users the option of a direct-wired Ethernet connection to the internet.

Expert Tip
If you need to connect more devices than your cable modem-router has ethernet ports for, get an unmanaged switch, which will make your internet signal available across multiple wired connections.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Multiple WiFi connection

 Users with a WiFi-enabled device and the cable-modem router password can access the internet from anywhere in the home.

Guest WiFi network

Cable-modem routers increasingly include a guest WiFi network option. It’s a separate WiFi network with a separate password that provides internet access, but doesn’t allow access to any other devices or information on your local network.

Downstream channels

Look for a combo with at least 16 downstream channels to handle faster internet speeds.

Upstream channels

There will always be fewer upstream than downstream channels. For example, there may be 24 x 8 — 24 downstream and 8 upstream channels.

Cable modem-router combo prices

Inexpensive

Low-end cable modem-router combos start as low as $63 and range up to about $105, though they may not have the performance you need.

Mid-range

For just a bit more, starting around $120 and moving up to $190, you can get a reliable device with a range of features that are compatible with most cable companies’ DOCSIS standards.

Expensive

For peak performance in the gigabit-plus speed range and compatibility with fiber-optic internet providers, cable-modem router combos start around $250 and go as high as $350.

Tips

  • Double-check your internet subscription and the speed that you’re paying for (25Mbps, 50Mbps, 100Mbps, or the like). The cable-modem router combo should match at least that speed.
  • Check for firmware updates frequently, and update the device as soon as one is available.
  • Place your cable modem-router combo in a location that is free of clutter and where the signal is unlikely to be blocked.
  • Dust your device frequently, and keep it away from locations with wide temperature variations. For example, a spot next to an open window or a hot kitchen would not be ideal.
  • You’ll need to go through a setup process to get a new cable modem-router combo properly hooked up. The device likely has onboard software to help walk you through the configuration process. Alternatively, you could go to the manufacturer’s website for instructions and assistance.
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Not everyone enables the guest account feature on their cable-modem router, but if you do, make sure it has a separate password. This way, visitors can access your internet without gaining access to your home network.

FAQ

Q. How do I find out if the cable modem-router combo I want to buy would work with my current internet service?

A. Check your cable company or internet service provider’s website for a list of compatible devices, or call or chat with their customer service department directly. Some independent websites can also provide information on which cable-modem routers are supported by your internet provider.

Q. If I buy a super-fast cable modem-router combo, will my internet speed be faster?

A. The speed of your internet service is determined by two big factors: the internet plan you subscribe to and the limits of the cable company’s network. Traditional cable companies overwhelmingly use the DOCSIS delivery protocol. While this delivery method is pretty close to miraculous, it’s still much slower than fiber optic cable-based networks. If your internet service is capped at 50Mbps, for example, buying a cable-modem router that delivers gigabit speeds wouldn’t make your service any faster than 50Mbps.

The main reason to buy a faster cable-modem router is to future-proof it against major speed upgrades from your provider in the next few years. Call your provider (or check the news) to find out if a speed upgrade is planned. If so, buy a cable-modem router that matches that planned speed. If no speed upgrades are planned, save your money.

Q. I see a number figure, 8 x 4, in the description of the cable-modem router combo I’m considering. What does that mean?

A. That number figure, or similar figures like 32 x 8, describe the number of downstream channels vs. upstream channels the modem has. Almost all modems have more downstream than upstream channels. This is a good thing, especially if you’re planning to stream video or play online games. A cable modem-router combo today needs at least 16 downstream channels to handle high-speed internet.

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