Modems bring the outside world into your home by connecting your internet provider’s service to your home. However, once a modem is up and running, you probably won’t think about it again until there’s an issue. Internet providers offer modem rentals, but you can often save money by buying one of the best modems of your own.
If you put your internet to the test (we’re looking at you gamers), you’ll need more than the run-of-the-mill modem. Everyone needs a modem that’s compatible with their internet service provider (ISP), but it also needs to perform downloads (and uploads) at the speed you’re paying for from your provider.
A modem isn’t always a one-and-done device for getting the internet to your home. You’ll probably need a router to connect the modem to your home network unless you choose a modem/router combo. We’ve created a list with some of the best modems available for varying uses. We’ve also got tips to help you decide which model is right for you.
— Best Overall: ARRIS SURFboard SB8200
— Best for Gaming: NETGEAR Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi 6 System with DOCSIS 3.1
— Best Router Combo: Motorola MG7540
— Best Cable: Motorola MB8611 DOCSIS 3.1 Multi-gig Cable Modem
— Best Budget: NETGEAR Cable Modem CM600
How We Picked the Best Modems
DOCSIS: Most people get all the speed they need with a DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specifications) 3.0 modem, but we considered models with the latest DOCSIS 3.1 for those who need more speed for gaming, downloads, and streaming.
Compatibility: The modem should be compatible with at least one of the major ISPs and hopefully more. Compatibility also includes router compatibility — the more, the merrier.
Channels: Channels have to do with how many download and upload (24 x 8 or 32 x 8) channels the modem can access at once. The more channels it can access at once, the faster the internet will be. (Keep in mind that a modem that gets 32 x 8 channels won’t provide fast internet if your internet plan only includes 300Mbps.)
Ventilation and Heating: Modems run warm, around 104 degrees Fahrenheit. We looked for models with better-than-average ventilation to prevent any issues with overheating. Still, make sure the vents aren’t covered during use.
Related: Outfit your home office with one of the best computer monitors for work and play.
The Best Modems: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Modem Overall: ARRIS SURFboard SB8200
Why It Made The Cut: The SB8200 looks good and provides impressive speed with room to grow as faster internet packages become available.
— Compatibility: Cox, Spectrum, Xfinity (not compatible with bundled voice services)
— DOCSIS: 3.1
— Channels: 32×8
— Includes 16GB of flash memory
— Maximum speed of 850 to 2,000Mbps
— Can reach 2,500 square feet with a high-speed router
— Simple setup
— Requires a separate router
— Limited compatibility
The ARRIS SURFboard SB8200 falls in with the new generation of the best modems. Its matte white finish with ample ventilation gives a high-end feel that matches the performance. With two GigEthernet (GigE) ports, it can run to separate internet connections at top speed.
The advertised speed is 2,000Mbps, but many users find that 850Mbps is the average. That’s more than enough to keep up with current Gigabit packages.
ARRIS skips Intel and goes straight to a Broadcom processor, combining it with a 3GB RAM and a 16MB flash drive to handle updates and store network information. In reality, this modem can take more speed than most ISP packages even offer. That works in your favor because it will keep up with technology for the foreseeable future.
However, you’ll need an equally fast router to provide the best performance, and the ARRIS currently has fairly limited compatibility.
Best Modem for Gaming: NETGEAR Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi 6 System with DOCSIS 3.1
Why It Made The Cut: This modem/router combo provides the speed and capacity for heavy gaming at a high price.
— Compatibility: All major US cable service providers
— DOCSIS: 3.1
— Channels: NA
— Excellent app
— Easy setup
— Broad coverage for large homes
— Expand coverage with included mesh WiFi 6 system
The NETGEAR Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi 6 System makes quick work of pretty much everything, making it the best modem for gaming. This modem/router combo is DOCSIS 3.1 and offers Wi-Fi 6, both of which are the fastest offered on the market today. The average house might not be able to take advantage of that speed, but the heavy gamer most certainly will.
The Orbi can keep speeds up even with over 40+ connected smart devices. Because it’s a modem/router combo, it also includes NETGEAR Armor, a Bitdefender product that protects from data theft, virus, and malware (though you’ll eventually have to pay for a subscription). There are other options available like the Winston Hardware Filter for purchase separately.
As part of a mesh system, you can expand the coverage with mesh extenders. The downside is the price. It’s expensive, and most people don’t need the speed and coverage the Orbi offers. However, if you use a serious amount of internet (eh-hem, gamers), have a home filled with smart devices, or a large home where you need extra coverage and speed, this could be the perfect modem/router combo for you.
Best Modem Router Combo: Motorola MG7540
Why It Made the Cut: The Motorola MG7540 is the best modem router combo because it offers fantastic performance for the average household that streams 4k, does light gaming, and uses the internet for school or work.
— Compatibility: Comcast Xfinity, Xfinity X1, Cox, Charter Spectrum, Brighthouse, WOW, CableOne, RCN, Mediacom, and others
— DOCSIS: 3.0
— Channels: 16 x 4
— Fast speeds for the average household
— Works on DFS frequencies
— Offers 686Mbps modem speed
— Dual Wi-Fi networks
— Some units malfunction within a few months
The Motorola MG7540 is DOCSIS 3.0 modem, channels 16 x 4, and offers plenty of speed for the average household. If your internet package includes 50 to 250 Mbps, the MG7540 has you covered. It’s compatible with a wide range of providers, though not all, so check.
This model is simple to set up. The dual band lets you run two Wi-Fi networks, one on the 2.4 GHz band and the other on the 5GHz band. There are four GigE ports and a Broadcom chipset designed to defend from Denial of Service attacks.
The router works on DFS frequencies, which avoids interference from other Wi-Fi devices. The overall combination provides great speeds and performance as long as you’re on a gigabit plan. However, watch out. Every now and then there’s a unit that fails after a few months.
Best Cable Modem: Motorola MB8611 DOCSIS 3.1 Multi-Gig Cable Modem
Why It Made The Cut: Powerful Multi-gigabit Ethernet speeds and vast router compatibility create a cable modem that significantly ups your internet performance.
— Compatibility: Comcast Xfinity, Cox Communications, Charter Spectrum
— DOCSIS: 3.1
— Channels: 32×8
— Compatible with a wide range of routers
— 2.5Gbps Ethernet port
— Built-in protection from power surges
— 4 ports to grow as faster internet packages are available
— Limited ISP compatibility
The Motorola MB8611 provides the best cable modem with impressive download/upload speeds and the ports to expand internet speeds as faster packages become available. As of this writing, the MB8611 has the speed and ports for speeds not currently offered by the major ISPs. Right now, that means top-of-the-line internet. In the long run, you won’t have to upgrade your modem when larger, faster ISP packages become available.
The MB8611 is compatible with most routers, making it easy to pair it with a router that fits your usage, home size, and smart-home needs. It comes at a slightly higher price than the average modem, but you’re paying for future speeds that are right around the corner (aka terabit internet speeds). Plus, it has built-in surge protection (but don’t skip plugging it into a surge protector as a backup).
However, it has limited ISP compatibility.
Best Budget Modem: NETGEAR Cable Modem CM600
Why It Made The Cut: For plans under 400Mbps, the CM600 provides excellent performance and is compatible with a wide range of ISPs.
— Compatibility: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox, and many others
— DOCSIS: 3.0
— Channels: 24×8
— Compatible with most major internet providers
— Performs beautifully at up to speeds of 400Mbps
— 8MB NOR and 128MB RAM
— Left-facing display
The NETGEAR Cable Modem CM600 comes at an affordable price but offers great speed and performance for packages up to 400 Mbps. It’s also compatible with all of the major ISPs.
The CM600 has a Gigabit Ethernet port and an on/off button, which is a pleasant surprise. The on/off button might not seem like a benefit, but it’s not a common feature and one that’s nice in actual use. With the button, you don’t have to unplug the entire unit for a reset.
The CM600 also offers 8MB NOR and 128MB RAM to save settings and prevent slowdowns. It also has good ventilation. However, the display faces left, which can be inconvenient, depending on your setup.
Things to Consider Before Buying the Best Modems
Megabit vs. Gigabit
Check your internet package to see what kind of service you have. High-speed internet generally means megabit internet. These services offer up to 400 megabits per second (Mbps). At those speeds, you can download streaming 4K video to one device while using a few other devices at the same time.
Newer services now offer gigabit internet, which can handle high data requirements, such as downloading several 4K videos, online gaming, and downloading expansive files all at the same time. Standard, high-speed internet services require a DOCSIS 3.0 modem. If you’ve entered the gigabit category, you’ll need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem to keep up.
Cable modems will require an additional router to connect the internet to your wireless home network. Since most homes have at least one device that uses or requires Wi-Fi, you might want to consider a modem/router to cut down on the number of devices in your home.
However, there are benefits to having a separate modem. Router tech tends to change faster than modem tech, and you could potentially need to upgrade your router long before your modem has gotten outdated. A combo unit would require replacing the entire device. A separate modem lets you upgrade your router as needed without buying a new modem too.
ISPs (internet service providers) only work with certain devices. The best modem in the world won’t work if it’s not compatible with your provider. Most ISPs only work with certain modem makes and models, so check and double check before making the purchase.
Modems support a specific internet speed and nothing more. However, finding one that works with your ISP package isn’t as hard as you might think. High-speed internet (megabit) or standard internet modems are labeled DOCSIS 3.0, while gigabit modems are DOCSIS 3.1. Check your ISP account, so you know what service you have, and then look for a modem that can take full advantage of that speed.
Q: Are cable modems difficult to install?
Modems are usually fairly easy to install, but different ISPs may have different installation processes. For some models, you download the ISP’s app, follow the download instructions, and plug in a router. For others, it’s as easy as swapping over the cables. Make sure that the modem is compatible with your ISP before buying or installation will go nowhere.
Q: How can I make my Wi-Fi stronger?
Start by checking your ISP package. What kind of speeds are you paying for? Your demands might be more than what you’re paying for. Your internet package may have been enough before you added five smart devices. Increasing your internet package could help tremendously. If your package is fast enough but you’re not getting adequate internet, check your router. Like an old modem, an old router can prevent you from getting the speed you’re paying for. Finally, if after all of that, you’re still not getting as much speed as you should, a new modem can make all the difference.
Q: How long do cable modems last before they need to be replaced?
Modem quality, how well it’s cared for, and technology changes all affect how long the modem will last. They typically last two to five years. If you start to notice your internet speed disappearing and your modem is several years old, the modem is probably the problem.
Related: Make the most of your modem by pairing it with one of the best gaming routers.
Final Thoughts on the Best Modems
The ARRIS SURFboard SB8200 blows much of the competition out of the water with speed and future capabilities. As always, make sure it’s compatible with your ISP, so your investment doesn’t go to waste. However, if you don’t need the fastest speed, NETGEAR Cable Modem CM600 performs well and costs a fraction of the price.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.
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