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It’s kind of insane that internet service providers have convinced us it’s just as good to rent a cable modem instead of buying our own. Often, the modem we rent is inferior to what we could buy. It may seem convenient to pay an extra $5 or $10 a month to have hardware supplied. But after a year, you’re paying more in rental fees than what the best cable modems cost.
Cable modems are the devices that help you connect to the internet. It takes the signal from your ISP, which is run over the cable lines, and turns it into a signal that your WiFi router can pass to your computer. Right now, the best cable modems come from three leading companies: Motorola, Netgear and Arris.
In quantitative terms, your internet provider typically charges $5–$15 a month to rent a cable modem and a WiFi router (or a single device that combines the two). You can easily buy a solid mid-range cable modem and WiFi router for less than $200. If you’re looking to save money, you can get both for less than $100.
Some will say the benefit of renting a cable modem and router is that they will upgrade your equipment if it breaks, becomes obsolete, or you upgrade your plan. But there’s a genuine possibility that you won’t need to upgrade your internet plan or gear for years.
Unlike the best iPhones (or any of the best smartphones), purchasing the best cable modem isn’t quite as simple as buying the fastest, most advanced piece of hardware. Instead, the best cable modem is the one with specs that most closely match your internet plan (or intend to have).
This is why we’ve grouped the best cable modems into groups based on whether they’re designed for premium gigabit internet, your more typical internet plans, which are around 300-to-400 Mbps, or basic internet plans, which are less than 300 Mbps. With this guide, you should find the best cable modem for your needs.
The Best Cable Modems For Most
If we had to guess, most people in 2022 likely have an internet plan that offers speeds between 200 Mbps and 600 Mbps. With that in mind, the best cable modem will be a 24×8 DOCSIS 3.0 modem. Typically found for less than $100, these modems are fast enough to handle your internet now and, should you choose to upgrade later, might even support faster speeds.
1. Netgear CM700 Cable Modem
For the average household, gigabit internet is still not a necessity. This is why the best cable modem most people can buy right now is the Netgear CM700, which is compatible with most ISPs and can be found for under $100. The CM700 is the faster upgrade from our previous top pick, the CM600. Depending on your service provider, this cable modem will efficiently deliver internet speeds between 400 and 800 Mbps. In fact, for any internet plan faster than 300 Mbps and slower than 1 Gbps, this modem should guarantee you’re getting the fastest possible speeds.
A curious note for Xfinity subscribers: The Xfinity website, while vague, seems to imply that you can even use this modem with their service to get close to gigabit speeds in select areas. The Amazon listing, on the other hand, has the CM700 capping out at 800 Mbps with Xfinity.
2. Motorola MB7621 Cable Modem
An equally good choice for the best cable modems is the Motorola MB7621. Like the Netgear CM600, this is a 24×8 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem that should be able to deliver the same 400-600 max speeds depending on your service provider. There’s little separating the two modems in terms of technical performance, but the MB7621 comes with the added benefit of a two-year rather than a one-year warranty.
A quick note for Optimum subscribers: If Optimum is your internet service provider, you may have already noticed that they’re a bit cagey regarding third-party equipment. They will only officially recommend three modems — the Arris TM 1602, the Arris TG 1672G, and the Arris TM 3202A — if you want to buy your own. However, these are extremely hard to find new, and they’re also not as good as the best cable modems from Netgear and Motorola. But speaking from first-hand experience, we can say that the Motorola MB7621 works great with optimum, delivering max speeds for a 300 Mbps plan (and then some).
The Best Cable Modems for Gigabit Internet
Despite claims that the best 24×8 and 32×8 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems are capable of gigabit speeds, that isn’t the case in most scenarios. If you want guaranteed gigabit speeds, you will need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem to ensure blazing speeds for years.
1. Motorola MB8600 Cable Modem
If you have taken the plunge into the world of gigabit internet, you won’t find a better all-around gigabit cable modem than the Motorola MB8600. As a result, you’ll have to spend roughly double on the MB8600 than a 24×8 cable modem, but you’ll also be rewarded with speeds that are two or three times as fast, which can be essential if you have a household full of internet power users. This modem is also built to support internet speeds up to 6 Gbps, which means that you’ll be able to upgrade your internet in the future and not have to buy a new router.
3. Arris Surfboard S33 Multi-Gigabit Cable Modem
The appeal of the more-expensive Arris Surfboard S33 Multi-Gigabit Cable Modem is its universal coverage: Cox, Xfinity, Spectrum, Mediacomm customers and subscribers to other ISPs can all jump on the net with blazing speed. It’s DOCSIS 3.1 capable with two downstream and two upstream channels devoted to the faster channels, while the rest of the 32×8 configuration works with the still more common DOCSIS 3.0.
The Best Cable Modems for Basic Internet
These modems are best for people with plans between 100 Mbps and 300 Mbps and who have no plans to upgrade to faster speeds in the next two or three years. While you may lose out on some future proofing, you will benefit from the money you save.
1. Motorola MB7420 Cable Modem
If you’re happy with your basic internet service and know you’re going to stick with it for the next couple of years, there’s no need to spend more than $60 to get one of the best cable modems, which happens to be the Motorola MB7421. This is a 16×4 DOCSIS 3.0 modem, which means you can easily pull down speeds of 300 Mbps from most ISPs, possibly even faster, depending on your provider. This modem won’t get you anywhere near Gigabit speeds, so don’t skimp on the cable modem while splurging on your monthly internet plan.
2. Netgear CM500 Cable Modem
If the Motorola MB7420 is sold out or you want something different, you can pick up the Netgear CM500, which is also an 8×4 cable modem, works with most ISPs and costs roughly the same price. In return, you’ll get the same specs and theoretical speeds as the Motorola MB7420, which are great if you live alone or with people who are not internet power users.
The Best Cable Modem/WiFi Router Combo
Otherwise known as a wireless gateway, these devices combine a cable modem and WiFi router into one device, which offers convenience and helps save space. That said, we don’t recommend combo devices for a few reasons: They often make compromises when it comes to performance and features; they cost as much as a separate modem and router would cost; it’s unlikely that you’ll outgrow your modem and router at the same time. This likely means you’ll get rid of a device before you need to.
Arris Surfboard SBG10 Cable Modem
If you are set on a minimal approach, don’t spend more on a wireless gateway than you have to. The Arris Surfboard is a solid 16×4 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem paired with an AC1600 WiFi router that should be good enough for any internet plan up to 300 or 400 Mbps, depending on your service provider, but isn’t so expensive that you’ll be regretting the purchase if you decide to upgrade in a year or two.
The Cheapest Cable Modem
OK, we get it. You have the cheapest internet plan possible (probably 100 Mbps or less), it works great for you, and you have no intention of upgrading your service until you have to. We’re not saying this is the best modem you can buy, but it is cost-effective and does what it promises.
1. ARRIS CM820A Cable Modem
If the cheapest cable modem is what you’re after, then the best cable modem is the Arris CM820A Cable Modem. There are probably ISPs still handing these out and having the gall to charge you a monthly rent for them. It’s an 8×4 DOCSIS 3.0 modem, so for internet plan minimalists, it will do the trick, and at $51, there is no reason to pay those greedy ISP rental fees.
Update: This was last updated on July 20, 2022, at which time pricing was updated throughout the article. We replaced the Netgear CM600 Cable Modem with the updated Netgear CM700 Cable Modem, replaced the Netgear CM1100 Cable Modem (no longer available) with the ARRIS Surfboard S33 Multi-Gigabit Cable Modem, and the Netgear CM400 Cable Modem (no longer available) with the ARRIS CM820A Cable Modem.
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