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Published Oct. 5, 2021

If you’ve ever taken a look at your monthly Internet bill, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the rental fee most Internet service providers charge for using a company-provided modem. Most charge between 9 and 15 dollars each month in equipment rental fees, so by purchasing your own modem, you can lower your monthly bill and save at least 100 dollars a year.

Figuring out the modem that’s right for you may seem intimidating at first. Manufacturers don’t typically break down what their wall of spec-filled text means for you, the consumer. But don’t worry, you can get an idea of the best modem to suit your needs just by looking at what speeds your current Internet plan offers and figuring out how much faster you need it to be. To help with your search, here’s our guide to finding the best modems to meet the demands of even the most “always online” households.

How We Picked the Best Modems

Methodology

We relied on a range of metrics to choose our top contenders for the best modems. Each model’s price, warranty length, and setup processes were taken into consideration. We compared each modem’s maximum upload and down speeds, the number of upstream and downstream channels, its compatibility with leading Internet service and cable providers, and its performance when used by multiple devices at once. 

More than the individual specifications though, we looked at the average Internet speed plans offered by providers across the US as well as what kind of speeds the average cable Internet customer has access to, because your modem is only as fast as the plans available in your area. With that in mind, our top picks reflect which modems would be the best choice for most households as well as those with access to gigabit-speed plans. 

Our selection process also involved extensive research of the industry’s leading manufacturers as well as aggregated critical consensus from cable Internet customers both within the US and worldwide.

The Best Modems: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Motorola MB7621

Suits Every Household

The MB7621 is an affordable option that can handle the fastest Internet speeds currently available to most households. Motorola

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Why It Made the Cut: The MB7621 supports the fastest speeds currently available to most cable Internet users for less than $80. 

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 7.25 x 2.25 x 7.88 inches
  • 24×8 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem
  • 1GBps Ethernet port

Pros:

  • Supports download speeds up to 1Gbps
  • 24 downstream channels
  • Two-year warranty
  • Advanced surge and lightning protection

Cons:

  • Limited future-proofing

While many manufacturers offer modems capable of supporting multi-Gigabit Internet speeds, that’s overkill for the majority of cable Internet customers, few of whom have access to those kinds of lightning-fast plans in their area. Motorola’s MB7621 modem isn’t the company’s most powerful model, but most people will find it’s more than enough to get the job done. And with a price of 78 dollars, it pays for itself in about eight months. 

Motorola advertises that the MB7621 works best with cable Internet speeds of up to 650Mbps, more than four times the national average speed available to most Internet cable customers. Its 24 downstream channels max out at speeds of up to 1GBps and can easily handle multi-device households. Now, if your provider up and starts offering gigabit plans, the MB7621 isn’t the most future-proof option out there since it doesn’t support the latest telecom standard, DOCSIS 3.1. But with a two-year warranty and price of less than $80, it’s still a solid investment with reliable performance that’ll save you money on your monthly Internet bill. 

Best Value: NETGEAR CM500 Cable Modem

Easy Install

NETGEAR’s CM500 Cable Modem can handle speeds supported by most home Internet plans and pays for itself in just 6months. NETGEAR

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Why It Made the Cut: NETGEAR’s CM500 Cable Modem can handle speeds offered on the majority of home Internet plans at a price that quickly pays for itself through savings on your monthly Internet bill. 

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 4.88 x 7.28 x 2.36 inches
  • 16 downstream channels
  • 1GBps Ethernet port

Pros:

  • Low price
  • Supports plans with speeds up to 400Mbps
  • Easy setup
  • Gigabit Ethernet port

Cons:

  • Too slow for some households
  • Limited support for multiple devices

If you’re just looking to get something to avoid those monthly rental fees from your cable company, NETGEAR’s CM500 Cable Modem can handle speeds available to the bulk of home Internet plans. At that price, it’ll only take half a year before the savings on your monthly Internet bills make up for the cost of the modem. 

According to the Federal Communications Commission, the average advertised speed plan of the ISPs it polled for its most recent annual “Measuring Broadband America” report was around 146Mbps. The CM500 can handle plans with speeds up to 400Mbps, comes with a 1Gbps Ethernet port for a hardwired gigabit connection, and is compatible with all major cable providers, including Comcast, Spectrum, and COX. In short, it ticks all the boxes that your average household could want. 

Its easy setup also makes it a great option for less tech-savvy users. Many users said they had it online within 15 minutes of taking it out of the box. Though with only 16 downstream channels, the bare minimum you should be looking for in a brand-new modem these days, some multi-device households may find that it can’t handle everyone accessing the Internet at once without running into performance issues. And it almost goes without saying that, if your local providers are offering gigabit plans, the CM500 will still get the job done but isn’t powerful enough to let you take advantage of those lightning-fast Internet speeds you’re paying for. 

Best Modem and Wi-Fi Router Combo: ARRIS SURFboard SBG7400AC2 Cable Modem and Wi-Fi Router

Two In One

The ARRIS SURFboard SBG7400AC2 is a combination cable modem and Wi-Fi router that can easily handle multi-device households. ARRIS

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Why It Made the Cut:  ARRIS’ SURFboard SBG7400AC2 is a solid choice for your average household, combining the support for fast Internet speeds of a modem with Wi-Fi coverage. 

Specs:

  • Dimensions: ‎7.69 x 2.25 x 9.5 inches
  • DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem and Wi-Fi router
  • Four gigabit Ethernet ports

Pros:

  • Doubles as both a modem and Wi-Fi router
  • Handles download speeds up to 1.4GB per second (ps) 
  • Works with many leading carriers 
  • Two-year warranty

Cons:

  • Limited Wi-Fi range
  • Bright LED lights

With a lot of cable modems that double as Wi-Fi routers on the market, you end up getting the worst of both worlds: a modem that can’t support fast Internet plans and a Wi-Fi router that can’t connect to devices barely 10 feet away. ARRIS has been a major player in the telecommunications industry for almost 30 years, and they offer a range of combo modem-routers that buck that trend. For your average household’s needs, the SURFboard SBG7400AC2 is capable of supporting speeds available to a majority of home Internet plans. And with 32 downstream and 8 upstream channels and four Ethernet ports, it can easily handle multiple devices at once. 

The SURFboard SBG7400AC2 can technically handle gigabit Internet speeds, though ARRIS advertises that it works best with cable Internet speed plans closer to 600Mbps, which granted is still about four times the national average available to most cable Internet customers. As a router, it supports AC Wi-FI speeds up to 2,350Mbps. It also comes with a two-year warranty, twice as long as many rival modems. 

It should be noted that the SURFboard SBG7400AC2 isn’t going to be able to match the range of a standalone Wi-Fi router, and some users have brought up issues in which their connection starts dropping the further they get from the device. So those with larger homes may want to skip this one and invest in a dedicated router instead for more reliable coverage. 

Best for Gigabit Internet: Motorola MB8611 Cable Modem

Ridiculously Fast

Motorola’s MB8611 modem is a top-of-the-line option that can handle multi-gigabit speeds. Motorola

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Why It Made the Cut: This modem from Motorola can handle some of the fastest Internet speed plans currently available on the market, making it our top choice for Gigabit Internet. 

Specs:

  • Dimensions: 7.25 x 2.25 x 7.88 inches
  • Compatible with both DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 3.0
  • 2.5Gbps Ethernet port

Pros:

  • Blazing fast, multi-gigabit speeds
  • Future-proof with DOCSIS 3.1 support
  • Two-year warranty
  • Compatible with plans from many carriers 

Cons:

  • Pricey

Priced at around $170, Motorola’s MB8611 Cable Modem is one of the more expensive options on the market. But if you’re one of the lucky few with access to Internet speed plans that can use it at its full potential, it’s worth the investment. The MB8611 can handle ridiculously fast, multi-gigabit downstream speeds (up to 2.5GBps) as well as upstream speeds of up to 800Mbps. And it comes with a 2.5GBps Ethernet port to boot. 

It works with DOCSIS 3.1, the latest and greatest standard for providing blazing fast Internet speeds via coaxial cable (the type of cable connection most providers use), which means you get a fair bit of future-proofing for the price. That also comes with built-in backward compatibility with DOCSIS 3.0, a protocol supported by most cable providers.  

Of course, a modem is only as fast as the Internet speeds that your area’s cable providers can handle. If available plans top out at speeds of 1 GBps or less, then this modem isn’t for you. It’d be like putting a top-of-the-line engine capable of revving up to 200 mph in a car that can barely handle 75 mph on the highway. 

Most Future-Proof: ARRIS Surfboard G36 Multi-Gigabit Cable Modem & AX3000 Wi-Fi Router 

Peak Performance

ARRIS went all out with its Surfboard G36 model, a combination multi-gigabit cable modem and AX3000 Wi-Fi router. ARRIS

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Why It Made the Cut: The Surfboard G36 Cable Modem and Wi-Fi Router from ARRIS is a top-of-the-line option for cable Internet customers who want to get the most mileage out of their investment. 

Specs:

  • 32×8 DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem
  • Built-in AX3000 Wi-Fi
  • Five Ethernet ports

Pros:

  • Can handle plans with speeds up to 1.2GBps
  • 2.5GBps Ethernet port
  • Doubles as a Wi-Fi router
  • Supports DOCSIS 3.1 and DOCSIS 3.0

Cons:

  • Pricey

If you’re looking to replace your rented modem with one of the fastest machines the market has to offer, look no further. ARRIS made an absolute beast with its Surfboard G36 model, a combination multi-gigabit cable modem and AX3000 Wi-Fi router. If you’ve been blessed with access to a multi-gigabit home network, this can handle cable Internet plans with speeds up to 1.2GBps. 

As a router, it supports speeds up to 3GBps to maintain blazing fast Internet speeds whether you’re gaming, streaming, or just browsing the Web. And with 32 downstream channels and a whopping five Ethernet ports, including one 2.5GBps port, it has no problem handling a ton of different devices at once. 

Does a top-tier modem like this make sense for everyone? Absolutely not. If your local cable Internet providers don’t offer Gigabit Internet plans, you’re practically throwing money away by getting such a powerful machine. But if you’re in a position to take advantage of its full potential, then its 299-dollar price tag may be worth it if you want a modem that’s not going to become obsolete anytime soon.  

Things to Consider Before Buying a Modem

Choosing a modem can seem intimidating at first glance with all the different specs and techy lingo. But you can quickly narrow down your search by keeping these things in mind:

What providers are available?

If you are already renting a modem from a cable Internet service provider, do you plan on continuing to use them with your new modem, or do you have the option of switching to another available carrier? You may be able to find a faster Internet plan if you shop around, and that opens up your options for which modems can provide your best return on investment.

Internet speeds near you

How fast are the Internet plans available in your area? Are gigabit speeds an option? You just need a modem powerful enough to support speeds that the providers in your area can handle. You’ll waste money shelling out hundreds of dollars for a premium modem if there’s no infrastructure near you to let you take advantage of those faster download and upload speeds.

Multiple devices

If you know a lot of different devices are going to be using your new modem at once, you’ll want to look into models with at least 16 downstream channels. How can you tell? When you look at a modem’s specifications, you’ll see a series of numbers with an “x” in the middle, usually ranging from around 8×4 or 16×4 up to 32×8. The number before the “x” is how many downstream channels the modem has, which roughly translates to how much download data your provider can process through the device at any given time. The higher the number, the more processing power you’re working with.

FAQs

Q: What does a modem do?

A modem is essentially the bridge between your home and the Internet. It receives signals from your service provider through a coax cable, telephone line, or other inbound connection and translates them so that your Wi-Fi router and all the devices connected to it can access the Internet. Simply put, a modem brings the Internet to your house while a Wi-Fi router brings the Internet to your devices.

Q: Do you need a router if you have a modem?

That depends. Some manufacturers offer modems that also have Wi-Fi routers built-in, though typically neither one works as well as its standalone counterparts. If your modem also doubles as a Wi-Fi router, which should be advertised in its description and specs, then congrats, you don’t need a dedicated router. If it’s a standalone modem though, then you’ll need to get a router to connect your network devices to the Internet.

Q: What’s better, a 3.0 or 3.1 modem?

DOCSIS protocols are some of the most confusing specifications of modems, made worse by the fact that manufacturers rarely explain what they mean. DOCSIS stands for “Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification,” and it’s a globally recognized telecommunications standard that reflects the addition of high-bandwidth data transfer to an existing coaxial cable TV system. What does that mean? Each new DOCSIS standard translates to faster Internet service for you, the customer. DOCSIS 3.1 is the latest version, capable of supporting a whopping 10 GBps download speeds and 1GBps upload speeds. But unless your local providers offer Gigabit Internet plans, you’ll be fine sticking with a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, which can handle the fastest speeds available to your average cable Internet customer and is significantly cheaper than a  DOCSIS 3.1 model.

Final Thoughts

With such a wide array of cable Internet plans and providers, it’s hard to recommend any single modem that will check off all the boxes on everyone’s wish list. Motorola’s MB7621 cable modem is powerful enough to handle the fastest Internet speeds currently available to most cable Internet customers. But if you have access to Gigabit Internet plans, consider premium options like the ARRIS Surfboard G36 Combination Cable Modem and Wi-Fi Router or Motorola’s MB8611 cable modem to get the most out of your investment.

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