BEST CABLE MODEMS | FEBRUARY 2018
Cable modems have the all-important job of bringing internet service into your home or office. Although modems are fairly simple devices, it’s important to choose a good one to ensure your connection is stable and free from bottlenecks, and so to help you make the right choice we’ve performed extensive research on the best modems from the top manufacturers across multiple categories. Our buying guide lays out what to look for in a quality unit, such as speed and how each modem handles data, to help you make the right choice for your needs. We’ve also highlighted the best choices for different purposes, from basic budget-friendly home modems to high-speed models built for gaming and streaming. Read more about our methodology.
The Arris SB6183 delivers higher than average download speeds, making this cable modem a great choice for both standard and high-speed Internet services. Efficient channel bonding also ensures excellent performance during peak hours, making the SB6183 our top pick for most users.Read full review.
The Linksys CM3008 is perfect for a compact and lightweight cable setup. This pocket-sized modem can fit just about anywhere, yet still offers solid download speeds, efficient channel bonding for reduced congestion during peak hours, and support for modern internet services.Read full review.
While its features are somewhat basic, the TP-Link TC-7610 is a reliable and budget-friendly cable modem that is perfectly sufficient for most home users. Better still, its low cost means that it can easily pay for itself in a few months.Read full review.
Zoom is a lesser-known but respected manufacturer of networking equipment. Their 5370 is an excellent mid-range modem and a slightly less expensive alternative to the Arris SB6183 with the same impressive download speeds and efficient data handling for fast and stable connections.Read full review.
Best by Category
Best Cable Modem for Gaming and Streaming
The Netgear CM700 may look stealthy, but this modem is all power: super-fast speeds and boosted download and upload channels make this the recommended choice for streamers, gamers, and others who need a device that can handle high-speed gigabit internet.Read full review.
Best Cable Modem-Router Combo
The Motorola MG7550 is a combined cable modem and router that packs a punch. Above-average cable throughput and snappy Wi-Fi speeds provide plenty of juice for both basic and advanced data plans, while the two-in-one form factor reduces wires and clutter.Read full review.
Cable Modems BUYING GUIDE
“Throughput” is the amount of data, usually measured in megabits or gigabits per second (Mbps/Gbps), that your network can handle at one time. Your internet speeds are determined by the service you are paying for, but a modem with a higher throughput ensures that your equipment is not bottlenecking your network. Throughput for consumer modems typically ranges from 343 Mbps to 1.4 Gbps, with 343 to 686 Mbps being standard for common household models and 960 Mbps to 1.4 Gbps being necessary to take advantage of high-speed gigabit connections.
Bear in mind that your internet will only be as fast as the service you are paying for, so a modem with a higher throughput might be wasted on a slower connection; nonetheless, buying a faster model isn’t a bad idea in case you want to upgrade your data plan in the future.
The second primary consideration when shopping for a cable modem is channel bonding, which refers to the number of simultaneous streams a modem uses for downloading and uploading data. This is expressed as two numbers; for example, an 8x4 modem has 8 downstream (download) channels and 4 upstream channels. Most common modems feature 8x4 or 16x4 channels, although faster ones offer between 24x4 and 32x8 channels which, when combined with a larger throughput, are better for handling larger loads.
Another feature you’ll see often is DOCSIS 3.0 support. DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) enables modems to combine channels to handle data and 3.0 is the latest industry standard for modern internet speeds. Virtually all cable modems on the market today, including all of our top picks, support DOCSIS 3.0.
Finally, you want a cable modem that is compatible with whatever internet service you use (and any you may use in the future). All of the top models from brand-name makers, including our picks, are designed to work with major U.S. service providers such as Charter and Comcast. If you are subscribed to a cabled gigabit plan or intend to upgrade to one later, then you also need a modem that has a Gigabit Ethernet port.
Also remember that many modems are not compatible with subscriptions that bundle internet and home phone, and that cable modems are not used with DSL and fiber-optic services which require their own specialized equipment.
A basic but solid cable modem can be had for as little as $35-40. Don’t expect much at this price point in the way of speed and channels, however, as these simple units generally offer the standard 343 Mbps of throughput and 8x4 downstream/upstream channels. Faster modems with 686-960 Mbps of throughput and 16-24 downstream channels come in at around $60-80, while high-end models with 24-32 downstream channels and 1.4 Gbps of speed will set you back roughly $100 or more.
Modem/router combos are naturally the most expensive as they pack more hardware into a single device: Expect to pay anywhere from $80 to $200 for these hybrid models depending on power, with the better ones costing roughly $150 and up.
FULL product reviews
We research hundreds of products in order to bring you a final, unbiased list of the very best. We also use a proprietary algorithm to score each product in terms of quality, value, and brand reputation. These subscores are then weighted to calculate our overall scores. Read more about how we calculate our scores.
Buyers who need a solid cable modem that can handle most modern internet data plans, including today’s high-speed services, should look no further than the ARRIS SURFBoard SB6183. With 686 Mbps of throughput, 16x4 channel bonding, and a Gigabit Ethernet port, the SB6183 is our top pick for most users and for those who may upgrade their internet service later and need a future-proof DOCSIS 3.0 modem that can handle higher speeds without being expensive overkill.
Why We Recommend It
- Max download speeds of 686 Mbps. The Arris SURFBoard offers a maximum throughput of 686 megabits per second, making this modem more than sufficient for both standard and high-speed cable internet services. Users note that the SB6183 easily meets or even exceeds the speeds allowed by their data plan.
- Smooth operation during peak hours. The modem’s 16x4 downstream/upstream channels are an upgrade over most ISP-supplied units which generally only offer 8x4 channel bonding. Even if you’re not using a high-speed service, having more channels is almost always better as it prevents local network congestion during peak hours.
- Well-ventilated. The modem has holes all over the sides and top of the housing as well as efficient heat-sinking, ensuring that the device stays reasonably cool during extended operation so it does not suffer from performance issues or get damaged due to overheating.
- Excellent customer support. The few users who had issues with the SB6183 report excellent experiences with the U.S.-based customer support team. Reviewers stated that Arris staff was knowledgeable and helpful, going out of their way to resolve any problems.
- Not ideal for gigabit internet. Although it sports a Gigabit Ethernet connection, the SB6183 is not the best choice for taking advantage of high-speed gigabit internet services owing to its throughput of 686 Mbps which will bottleneck the connection.
- Excessively bright LED lighting. Some users find the Arris SURFBoard’s bright LED lights to be an annoyance. The ventilation holes in the housing also cause the modem to give off a blue glow to the surrounding area, which can become a distraction depending upon where it’s placed.
If you need a cable modem that’s beefier than standard units in order to get the most out of your service but a high-end gigabit modem is overkill for your needs, then the Zoom 5370 is a solid and affordable pick. This mid-range modem provides up to 686 Mbps of download speed – more than enough throughput for modern high-speed plans – while 16x4 channel bonding and a Full-Band Capture Digital Tuner maximize efficiency during peak hours.
Why We Recommend It
- Excellent value compared to similar modems. The Zoom 5370 compares favorably to our top pick, the Arris SB6183, but comes a little cheaper at around $65. It out-competes many other routers in this price range and, if you are paying rental fees, will likely pay for itself within a year.
- Great mid-range features. The modem’s throughput of 686 megabits per second and 16x4 channel bonding place the Zoom 5370 well above the standard modems supplied by most internet service providers. This higher throughput is ideal for high-speed internet plans, while the increased number of downstream channels mitigates network congestion.
- Full-band capture digital tuner improves speed. The 5370 utilizes a unique full-band capture digital tuner. This technology actively keeps the modem using the fastest available channels in order to make sure your connection isn’t getting bogged down in traffic (either your own or your neighbors’).
- Solid build quality and heat management. The modem is sturdily built and doesn’t get too hot. The housing features ventilation slits on both sides and the internal CPU uses a large heat sink that keeps the unit running cool.
- Under-powered for gigabit plans. The 5370 does have a Gigabit Ethernet port, but users with gigabit internet services will be limited by the 686 Mbps throughput. Buyers with these data plans and those who intend to upgrade would do well to pay more for a modem with 960 Mbps to 1.4 Gbps of speed.
BEST BY CATEGORY
Best Cable Modem for Gaming and Streaming
Users who are subscribed to high-speed internet services need a beefier cable modem to ensure that their equipment is not creating a bottleneck and that they are getting the data speeds they are paying for. These modems offer a larger number of downstream/upstream channels, usually 24x4 to 32x8, as well as throughput speeds of between 960 Mbps to 1.4 Gbps, in order to handle bigger data loads. This higher throughput is also necessary to get the most out of modern high-speed gigabit internet services.
Playing online games and streaming HD video both require high-speed internet, and a modem that can handle it, for optimal performance. The Netgear CM700 is one such modem. This device provides up to 1.4 gigabits per second of download speeds, a very impressive 32 downstream channels, and 8 upstream channels. Paired with its excellent price/performance ratio, these features make the CM700 our favorite for power users who want to take full advantage of gigabit internet.
Why We Recommend It
- High-end speed and channel management. With a whopping 1.4 Gbps throughput and 32x8 channel bonding, it’s easy to see why the Netgear CM700 is popular with demanding users. Whether you’re an avid online gamer, streamer, or are just setting up a network that will experience a lot of simultaneous traffic, this unit can handle it.
- Ready for gigabit internet. The CM700 features a Gigabit Ethernet port which, when paired with its large throughput and channel bonding, makes this modem ideal for buyers who are subscribed or plan to subscribe to a high-speed gigabit internet service.
- Good price/performance ratio. While the $100 price tag may initially cause sticker shock to some buyers, the price is reasonable given the modem’s excellent features and high-speed performance. Also, just as with other models, the CM700’s cost is offset by the money you’ll save on renting a modem from your service provider.
- Runs cool despite its power. For its power, the CM700 does not run too hot due to its quality construction and well-ventilated housing. Nonetheless, always be sure to place the modem in an open area where it can remain cool and will not receive much heat from (or transfer heat to) other appliances.
- No fiber-optic compatibility. Bear in mind that while the CM700 can work with gigabit cable, it is not compatible with fiber-optic gigabit plans. These services do not use traditional cable modems, but instead require their own specialized equipment which generally has to be supplied by the ISP.
Best Cable Modem-Router Combo
You need two pieces of equipment to set up a wireless network: a modem for your cabled internet and a router which connects to the modem and transmits data over Wi-Fi. Modem/router combos pack the capabilities of both into a single device. Whether you need this depends on your preferences and what equipment you have; if you already own a good router, then a hybrid modem is redundant. However, as the advantage of a modem/router combo is that it’s a simpler all-in-one cabled/Wi-Fi hub, it may be worthwhile to invest in one if you’re installing a new network.
If you want to cut down on boxes and wires then a cable modem/Wi-Fi router hybrid is the way to go, and Motorola’s MG7550 delivers a lot of performance as well as convenience. This device boasts impressive 686 Mbps cable throughput and snappy AC1900 wireless capabilities suitable for modern high-speed internet plans, as well as a powerful and reliable Wi-Fi signal thanks to some proprietary tech under the hood.
Why We Recommend It
- Great combined modem and router capabilities. The Motorola MG7500’s modem component features a 686 Mbps throughput and 16x4 channel bonding, while the router utilizes dual-band AC1900 for a combined 1,900 Mbps of wireless speed. This makes this modem/router combo ready for use with modern high-speed plans and heavy data loads.
- Built-in firewall. Modems generally do not feature any sort of firewall or other security setup, as this is typically handled by the wireless router which broadcasts your connection into the open. The MG7500 thankfully has a built-in firewall as part of its router component, further highlighting the convenience of having such an all-in-one device.
- Four Gigabit Ethernet ports. The MG7500 has four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the back, which is typical for many wireless routers. This lets this combo device serve as a central hub for both your Wi-Fi network and an extended LAN with wired connections to multiple devices such as printers or gaming consoles.
- Powerful and reliable Wi-Fi signal. The router’s wireless signal is strong and reliable thanks to two unique features: Wireless Power Boost and AnyBeam beamforming. These technologies amplify the Wi-Fi range to the legal limit allowed by the FCC so you can enjoy fast and stable wireless connectivity.
- Large footprint. As the MG7550 combines a modem and router into a single device, it’s understandably larger than your typical cable modem. At 11 inches tall, 10 inches long, and 3 inches wide, this combo unit has a larger footprint than some users might want or have room for.
- Expensive. The advantage of a modem/router combo is convenience and simplicity, not cost, and the MG7550 is pretty pricey at around $180. This is not cheap – even given the unit’s specs – and buying a separate modem and router with similar features might even be a bit cheaper.
- Cannot replace or upgrade single components. The main disadvantage of modem/router combos like the MG7550 is that if one half stops functioning, or if you want to upgrade one of the components (either cable or Wi-Fi), then the entire thing must be replaced – it is not possible to only replace or upgrade one half of the unit.