We live in an age where most of our home entertainment can be provided by a small box. Whether it’s video game consoles, high-speed wireless routers, or state of the art cable modems, these (mostly) rectangular devices are, for the most part, responsible for helping us kill time, and providing us with ample pastimes at home. Cable modems are of particular note when it comes to entertainment, considering that internet access as a pastime and valuable research tool has been around for almost around half a century, and the aforementioned first cable modems rolled around in the late 70’s, alongside all the benefits they offered to the users. It goes without saying that the first iterations of these devices were very rudimentary, and wouldn’t be able to attain their full potential until internet access was available to the public in the mid 90’s.
Fast forward to today: Internet access among the world’s population has increased from around a billion users in 2005 to more than 3 billion as of 2016, and the number keeps rising. The arrival of broadband internet, as well as subscription services, is partly responsible for the widespread use of this tool, as the number of subscribers will likely keep increasing as time goes by. In the early stages of dial-up internet, most users were happy just to even have access to the service. Today, when it comes to internet access, we’re always searching for the best plans to provide us the very best speeds and stability, for the best prices.
When it comes to broadband internet, most service providers make use of a device that can modulate and demodulate a data signal from a cable TV infrastructure (CATV). A cable modem, the device in question, is used by providers of cable internet, which is a type of broadband internet, which consists of the distribution of the service via coaxial cable. The modems themselves are used to distribute internet access to all the subscribers within a neighborhood. The cable medium is used to take advantage of the unused bandwidth on the cable TV network. The infrastructure of this type of broadband internet is dependent on a sole access point located somewhere in the neighborhood, which is used to distribute the signal to every subscriber via coaxial cable, and then decoded with the cable modems installed in each residence. Due to there being a single access point, the speed of the service will rely heavily on the amount of subscribers; when there are more users, it is likely that the overall speed of the service will suffer.
This type of internet service is fairly common today, with several providers -such as Comcast- focusing on this method as a replacement for the obsolete dial-up and DSL technologies, which provided internet access via phone cable, and was limited to around 50 megabytes per second of bandwidth at best. Today’s cable internet services can provide anywhere from 50 megabytes per second, all the way upward of 1000 megabytes per second for those that can afford the monthly subscription fee of such services.
Regardless of the speed of your broadband internet, what most of these services have in common is that they rely on a cable modem to demodulate the data signal and provide internet access to the whole residence. Consequently, the quality of the service will be limited by the cable modem in question. In other words, your top of the line data plan will suffer a bottleneck if the cable modem provided by the company isn’t up to the challenge. For this reason we have created this article: to teach you the basics of cable modems and show the things you should look out for when browsing the market for one of these devices. In the sections below you will find our top picks for cable modems, but before we hop into that, let’s go over a few things you need to consider before making the purchase.
Now that we know what to look for in a good cable modem, we can go ahead and dive into our main event. Below you will find our 5 top picks for best modems. By investing in any of these devices, you will receive your money’s worth in a quality cable modem, regardless of your data plan. Admittedly, some of these products might be a little on the conservative side when it comes to speed, at least compared to the high-end cable modems available on the market. However, considering that the average American household has a data plan of 50Mbps, these products are more than enough to accommodate said demand. Keep in mind that the devices listed here are solely cable modems, meaning that the users that want to create wireless networks in their home will also need to purchase a separate wireless router.
Starting off this list is a cable modem manufactured by D-Link, one of the heavy hitters in the telecommunications industry. The DCM-301 features DOCSIS 3.0, with channel bonding technology that allows it to provide the user with download speeds of up to 343Mbps, which makes this cable modem an excellent option for streaming Ultra HD or even 4K video as well as high-quality lossless music. The DCM-301 is compatible with most major network providers in the US including Comcast and Time Warner Cable, among others.
Featuring a modern, compact design, the Motorola MB7220 is quite a bargain when it comes to a quality cable modem. With a price tag below the $100 mark, this device uses DOCSIS 3.0 technology and channel bonding, providing blazing fast internet speeds of up to 343Mbps. The stability and speed of the network created by this cable modem make it ideal for HD streaming as well as for lag-free gaming. The MB7220 also features a Full-Band Capture digital tuner, which allows it to provide consistent service and the 10/100/1000 Gigabit ethernet port ensures that you won’t lose speed due to bottlenecks in said port. Furthermore, setting up this modem is easy; with the quick installation guide, getting started is a cinch.
This cable modem by Arris is a step up from our previous entries in terms of speed. Also equipped with DOCSIS 3.0, this device has a superior number of channels available (16x4) which, with channel bonding technology, allow it to provide up to 686Mbps of internet speed to the user. The Surfboard line of cable modems have been around since 1997, and since that time they have been one of the leading brands when it comes to household networking solutions. The stable and consistent network speeds achieved by this cable modem make it ideal for applications that consume high amounts of bandwidth, such as Netflix or other streaming services. Users that require a more powerful modem might want to check the SB6190 version of the Surfboard, which can provide up to 1400Mbps of download speed.
Zoom Telephonics is also a popular brand when it comes to home network solutions, working in conjunction with major service providers in the nation. The model 5345 features a standard black box design and features 8x4 simultaneous channels which, thanks to channel bonding, allow it to deliver up to 343Mbps of throughput to the user. This modem is fairly small so it can fit neatly into any space, or it can also be attached to a wall or desk thanks to the rail system incorporated into the box. Similar to the Motorola cable modem we mentioned above, this device has a 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet port, which allows you to enjoy a stable and uninterrupted service 24/7 without any type of bottleneck.
The CM700 by Netgear is, by far, the fastest cable modem on this list; with 32x8 channels, this device provides a whopping 1.4Gbps of speed, thanks to its DOCSIS 3.0 and channel bonding technologies. This type of throughput is the absolute best choice for those that constantly enjoy indulging in network-intensive activities such as 4K video streaming or lag-free gaming. One of the best features about this modem besides the awesome download speeds is the price, which is not a far cry from the other devices mentioned above, for what is essentially double the performance.
Comcast is one the biggest internet providers in America. Their Xfinity service allows their users to enjoy wireless internet anywhere they go in over 500,000 locations in the United States. This is achieved by including a separate “Xfinity wifi” channel in every Xfinity cable modem, which is used to host a separate network which can be accessed by other Comcast subscribers. In other words, the Comcast router you use at home can also be accessed by other subscribers of the Xfinity service without actually affecting your internet speed, and vice versa. This service is totally optional, and any user can opt out of it via their website, but the fact that Comcast allows you to stay connected from anywhere is a huge plus in our books.
If you’re a Comcast subscriber, you might benefit from investing in one of the devices listed below. By purchasing a Comcast Xfinity certified cable modem, you’re not only acquiring a quality device, you’re also investing in peace of mind, as these devices are designed to work with Comcast’s services, and are very easy to set up as a result. The following cable modems are taken straight out of Comcast’s Xfinity store and are, in our opinion, the best devices on said list.
We’re starting off with a cable modem by Zoom Telephonics. The model 5370 is somewhat of an older brother to the 5345 mentioned above. Featuring a 16x4 channel setup, this cable modem can provide a very decent speed of 686Mbps and, at less than $100, you won’t even have to break the bank in order to enjoy it. Similar to the other devices mentioned above, the 5370 is equipped with Full-Band Capture Digital Tuner and a 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet port, which allows it to provide a fast and stable internet service at all times. The 5370 uses DOCSIS 3.0 and is backward compatible with DOCSIS 2.0 devices, and also comes with a 2-year warranty which is backed by Zoom Telephonics.
In terms of design aesthetics, the Model MB7420 looks just like the MB7220 mentioned above, which allows it to minimize shelf space and look appealing just about any place you decide to place it. The design also accounts for overheating issues present in previous models and allows this product to dissipate heat more effectively than its counterparts, prolonging product life and protecting your investment in the long run. Like the 5370 by Zoom listed above, this cable modem is equipped with a similar setup of 16x4 channels which, thanks to DOCSIS 3.0 and channel bonding technology, creates networks of up to 686Mbps, all of which are complemented by a high-speed ethernet port, as well as Full-Band Capture digital tuner.
This version of the Surfboard by Arris is the solution for the users that require both a cable modem, as well as a wireless router in order to provide internet access to the whole household. The SBG6900AC features DOCSIS 3.0 and a 16x4 channel setup which allows it to provide up to 686Mbps of download speed on the modem side. Meanwhile, the wireless router component features 802.11AC wireless standard, which allows it to operate simultaneously on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz band, with a bandwidth of 1900Mbps across both frequencies. The vastly superior download speed on the wireless router ensures that every connected user can take full advantage of the modem’s throughput without any sort of hiccup or lag. This product is better suited for big households, as it is ideal for hosting downloads and streaming media without affecting the network’s performance for other users.
The CM500 is Netgear’s proposal to the category of 16x4 channel cable modems. This mid-range device allows the subscriber to enjoy of up to 680Mbps of internet speed thanks to its Channel Bonding technology. Its ultra-thin design also allows it to fit just about anywhere and also permits it to easily shed heat, which can help in prolonging the life of the device. The users that purchase this device can enjoy some of the fastest data plans offered by Comcast (around 500Mbps) without a hitch and, if paired with an equally powerful router, they can also create stable and reliable wireless networks across the area of coverage.
Finally, we saved the best for last. The Nighthawk AC1900 by Netgear features a 24x8 channel setup which, thanks to the almighty Channel bonding technology, allows it to provide 960Mbps of throughput on the cable modem side. Meanwhile, the router component uses, similar to the Surfboard listed above, an 802.11AC standard, which allows it to operate simultaneously on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies with a bandwidth of 1900Mbps across both bands. On the rear panel of this device there are 4 high-speed ethernet ports which allow compatible devices to hook up directly to the router via ethernet cable. Furthermore, the AC1900 also features a USB port which, with the use of a media storage device, can be used to stream HD media to all the connected users. Due to its compatibility with Xfinity, this cable modem is very easy to set up, with an installation that will only take a couple of minutes.
If you’re looking for the very best cable modem for your home, then look no further than the Nighthawk AC1900.
Like we mentioned before, investing in any of the brands listed above will most likely net you a quality product. However, there’s always the risk of getting the one-off product from any of these companies that just might not be the right fit for your home or business. So, because brand loyalty alone can’t always get the job done, here is a list of things you need to keep in mind when browsing the market for a good cable modem:
When we talk about modem standard, we’re referring to the technologies used by the cable modem in order to perform its function. When it comes to modem standards, this parameter is usually referred to as DOCSIS, which stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification. In practical terms, the modem standard of any given router is used to shed light on several aspects of its functioning, specifically, the maximum connectivity speed offered by the device (in the form of the number of simultaneous channels for download and upload), but more on that in a second. The very first specification of DOCSIS 1.0, was created in 1997, followed by version 1.1 in 1999. The latest version of DOCSIS is 3.1, released in 2014, and offers the best speed in the market of cable modems.
Nowadays most cable modems offer the functionality of a wireless router built into their system, essentially making them a 2-in-1 bargain. Although we won’t be focusing specifically on modem router combos in this article, the best cable modems are usually equipped with a wireless router component. Consequently, these devices will also have a wireless standard. Like the modem standard, the wireless standard is used to refer to the technologies used by the device in order to perform its functions. This time around the standard comes in 802.11x format, where the “x” can be replaced by either b, g, n, or AC. The letter at the end of the wireless standard can help to identify the router’s generation as well as the maximum bandwidth of the wireless network it creates. The first wireless routers used 802.11b standard, and offered the weakest performance compared to today’s routers. On the other hand, the AC routers are the fastest and most powerful devices on the market.
The term “band” is used to refer to the frequencies in which wireless routers operate. Older routers (i.e b and g devices) were limited to operating exclusively on the 2.4GHz frequency, which is shared by virtually every other wireless device in your home. In particularly crowded areas the 2.4GHz band can get cluttered, which may cause interference and even interruption of the service. Newer routers, however, are able to operate simultaneously on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, which means that they are not weighed down by the multitude of devices that are present in the area at any time, given that the latter frequency can be dedicated exclusively to the wireless network.
Those that are looking for the best performance at all times should invest in a modem router with dual band capabilities.
Another important aspect to consider when choosing an appropriate cable modem is the connectivity speed it offers. The modem and wireless standards can shed valuable light on the speed of the device in question, considering that each standard has differing bandwidth caps. For instances, DOCSIS 1.0 is the oldest modem standard and, appropriately, the slowest. On the other hand, DOCSIS 3.1 is the newest and fastest modem standards. The same happens with the wireless component of the device: the “b” generation of routers are usually the slowest, with the AC generation being the fastest.
Below you will find a table where you may visualize the generations of devices currently available, as well as their speed caps:
# of Channels
Speed per Channel
43Mbps Download /
43Mbps Download /
43Mbps Download /
43Mbps Download /
4 to 8 download/4 upload
43Mbps Download /
172Mbps or 344Mbps Download /
The above table applies to cable modems, while wireless routers have similar limitations in each of their generations. Routers that use the 802.11b standard are limited to 11Mbps, while the next generation, the “g” routers, can provide maximum bandwidth of 54Mbps. The fastest routers of the previous “n” generation could provide a whopping 300Mbps which, even by today’s standards, is still more than enough for the average user. The fastest routers of today belong to the AC generation and can crank up speeds to the thousands of megabytes per second, usually from 1300Mbps to 1900Mbps across both bands.
Regardless of your data plan, you will want to invest in a cable modem that uses DOCSIS 3.x. If it has a wireless router component, you will benefit most either from an “n” or an “AC” router, depending on the speed of your data plan.
If you’re planning on purchasing a modem router combo, you will need to pay attention to the connectivity options offered by the device. While most standalone cable modems offer a single ethernet port (which can be connected to a computer or a wireless router), most modem router combos will offer a number of ethernet ports, so that the devices which can benefit more from a physical internet connection may do so via ethernet cable. Furthermore, some modem routers may also offer a number of USB ports, which allow the users to share and stream data from a storage device, or even share a printer with any other user connected to the network.
For the tech savvy among us, the difference between these two devices might be obvious. However, for the inexperienced and newcomers, these instruments can actually seem quite similar to one another. The fact that the more modern devices can actually perform the roles of both cable modems and wireless routers just adds to the confusion. That being said, let’s clear up a few things before moving on.
As we mentioned above, cable modems are devices used to demodulate the data signal that is transferred via coaxial cable. Its practical function is to provide internet access to any given household. They usually consist of a small box with a coaxial port on the rear panel, alongside an ethernet port, which is used to either connect to the PC that requires internet access, or to a wireless router, to create a home network. While the function of these devices is fairly straightforward, some of them actually feature an all-in-one setup, and can also act as a wireless router, so that the user can save both money and space by not having to purchase a separate router, and by not having additional cables running all over the floor.
Wireless routers, on the other hand, are devices which are used in conjunction with a modem (cable, or DSL) and are utilized in the creation of wireless networks to which any user inside the coverage area may connect to, and benefit from wireless internet access. While cable modems can sometimes forgo the use of a wireless router, the contrary is not possible, as all wireless routers depend on the modem in order to perform their functions, given that these devices don’t possess the demodulation capabilities needed in order to interpret the data signal and grant internet access by themselves.
In short, the quality of your internet is almost always limited by the hardware you use. And, while you may forgo the need for a wireless router by purchasing a good cable modem, a wireless router will always depend on a cable modem in order to perform its function.
The market of cable modems is littered with tons of great models, much too many to list here. So, because we can’t address every single great product out there, let’s go over a few of the best companies in the market, which produce some of the best hardware in this category. If you purchase a device from one of these brands, odds are that you are investing in quality, and will most likely get your money’s worth.
Founded in 1995, this American-based telecommunications company has been at the forefront of all major advances in the industry. They were there when digital television became widespread as well as when broadband internet came into existence, and they have constantly been developing products that allow the average citizen to enjoy said services. Arris works in tandem with most cable providers by manufacturing the cable modems and decoders that will be used by the client in order to enjoy quality TV and high-speed internet. If your service provider is renting you a cable modem or decoder, odds are that it’s manufactured by Arris.
Like the previously mentioned company, Netgear is also American based and was founded in 1996. Since its inception, this organization has been focused on the production and sales of network systems for use in households, as well as small to medium sized industries. The catalog of products from this company includes, but is not limited to: network cards, switches, routers, DSL modems, firewalls, printer servers, and voice over IP (VOIP) products, among others. When it comes to routers and cable modems, Netgear makes some of the best products on the market.
Before being separated into two independent firms, Motorola was an American company focused solely on the manufacture and sales of electronics and telecommunications equipment. In 2011, the company was divided into Motorola Mobility (cell phones) and Motorola Solutions (servers and telecommunications equipment). Mobility was acquired by Google in 2011, while Motorola Solutions is still fiercely determined to provide competent solutions in the field of telecommunications for both companies and domestic households.
This American company was acquired by Cisco in 2003, but their products are still circulating around the market (you can tell them apart by their classic black & blue rectangular design). In their heyday, Linksys produced powerful telecommunications equipment in the vein of broadband routers, wireless routers, VOIP services, switches, and web storage services, among others. When it comes to routers and modems, Linksys is renowned for their open-source firmware, which allows tech-savvy users to take full advantage of the hardware they’re purchasing.
While not known exclusively for their routers and telecommunications equipment, ASUS produces some of the best computer components in the market and is an important OEM manufacturer for important companies such as Sony (Playstation 3), Apple (iPod and MacBook), Alienware, HP, and Compaq. When it comes to network equipment, Asus is focused on producing hardware for competitive and high-level gaming, so their products often provide the very best performance to user, albeit at a higher price than most other options on the market.
Founded in 1977 and based in Massachusetts, Zoom Telephonics is also in the business of telecommunications equipment, with an important emphasis on cable modems, which are sold primarily at major retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart. Among other products manufactured by this company there are wireless routers and dial-up modems, and while they’re certainly not as renowned as the other companies mentioned above, their products are definitely competent, especially for buyers on a budget.
Choosing a cable modem for your home network needs can prove somewhat of a challenge, especially for the newcomers who don’t actually know what to look for just yet. Fortunately, with the tidbits of information contained in this guide, you should now able to make the very best decision according to your data plan, while saving valuable money that could be invested in other areas. Keep in mind that when purchasing a cable modem, you’re not only investing in a quality product, you’re also saving around $100 a year in rental fees. So, if anything, it’s an investment that definitely pays off in the long run.
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