Why buy a modem when your service provider is happy to supply one at the time of installation? The answer is simple. Internet service providers (ISP) charge monthly rental fees for their modems. Those fees, over the course of one year, will cost you more than what you will pay to buy a modem that could last you many years.
Although it is easy to trust the ISP to supply you with a modem that fits your needs, in most cases, buying your own modem will offer better performance and pay for itself before the manufacturer’s warranty expires. Most modem manufacturers offer a one-year warranty, but there are some companies, like Arris, Motorola and Zoom, who offer a two-year warranty. We suggest purchasing modems that offer a two-year warranty to maximize your investment.
Make sure to identify the type of internet service you use before purchasing a modem. Cable providers and DSL providers use different delivery methods to send internet service, so you will have to purchase a modem that is compatible with your provider.
Best Cable Modem
Renting a modem from your cable ISP will set you back around $120 per year. If you’ve made the wise decision to purchase a basic cable modem, it will pay for itself within the first six months of ownership. Cable modes at this price range generally have maximum download speeds of 343 Mbps, which is sufficient for downloading music and general internet navigation. They also have 8 x 4 channel bonding, so you will have 8 downstream channels and 4 upstream channels to maximize your ISP plan. If your cable internet plan promises download speeds of 50 Mbps or less, this is the perfect price range and category for you.
The best cable modems offer a combination of compatibility, performance and reliability. Arris does a good job of bundling those important features together, along with a modest price.
The Arris SB6141 is compatible with nine of the 10 largest cable internet providers in the United States. That is an excellent range of compatibility that few other cable modems share. You can use the SB6141 on all four of the biggest cable companies: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter and Cox – so you can continue to use it if you change internet providers in the future. The SB6141 offers a great balance between ISP compatibility, performance and design.
Best High-Speed Cable Modem
If you subscribe to a cable internet plan that promise download speed of 50 Mbps or more, we suggest buying a high-speed cable modem. High-speed internet plans and modems are necessary if you plan on streaming HD video or playing online games, or if you need to download large files quickly.
The best high-speed modems have download speeds of 686 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 123 Mbps or more. They offer 16 x 4 channel bonding to ensure you have a fast pathway to download and upload, particularly if you are in a geographical area where many people use the same ISP.
The Motorola MB7420 is best suited for use with internet plans that offer speeds faster than 50 Mbps. Its 16 upstream channels can download data at a speed of 686 Mbps. One of the modem’s unique features is its full-band tuner, which can identify the channels with the least amount of traffic and focus the work through them. This feature is particularly helpful in a home or office with multiple open connections – you don’t want your modem to cut out because there are too many people online simultaneously.
Best Future-Proof Cable Modem: DOCSIS 3.1: Arris SB8200
The current DOCSIS 3.0 standard is capable of download speeds of 1.2 Gbps and upload speeds of 220 Mbps. Cable ISPs are currently widening the data pipe to offer speeds 10 times faster than the current standard. This DOCSIS 3.1 standard will offer PC gamers and people who want to stream Ultra HD video content more bandwidth and lower latencies. If you are looking for the best modem for gaming, consider a modem designed for speed.
Currently there aren’t any ISPs that offer 10 Gbps service, but if you are looking to upgrade your current modem, you might as well be ready for the future platform with a modem that can deliver the new DOCSIS 3.1 standard of internet service. Providers are working on updating their cable infrastructure to deliver this ultra-fast service. These modems are also compatible with the current DOCSIS 3.0 standard.
Best Cable Modem & Router Combo
If you have been recently supplied with a new rental modem from the major ISPs, most likely it is a modem-router combination. The router is the device that make wireless connections possible. These combination devices are also available to purchase, and they are generally more compact and cost less than two separate units. However, if either the router or modem stop working, you will have to replace both. The initial setup is also more involved than with a simple modem. If you plan on buying a combo unit, the Motorola MG7550 is one of the best.
If you are renting a modem from an internet service provider, it is most likely a modem and router combo. Buying a combo unit is the most cost-effective way to replace a rental, especially if you stream content to wireless devices in your home network like phones, tablets or laptops. The Motorola MG7550 is a high-speed modem and gigabit router packaged together in one well-designed housing.
Best for DSL
Unlike cable ISPs that all speak the same language, DSL providers offer two different connection types, ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) and VDSL (Very-high-bitrate Digital Subscriber Line). The best DSL modems are compatible with both of these connection types. If you subscribe to internet through a telephone provider, then you will need a DSL modem. You won’t have the same high-speed options that a cable ISP offers, but because DSL providers use existing telephone lines to transfer data, DSL is available in smaller rural markets where cable ISPs don’t offer access.
DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) modems are similar in both form and function to cable modems – the biggest difference is how data is delivered to the device. DSL providers use landline telephone infrastructure. The advantage of using telephone lines is that DSL providers can offer internet service in less populous areas where cable infrastructure is not available.
The Netgear AC1600 DSL modem and router is compatible with ADSL and VDSL internet providers. DSL providers have the benefit of using existing landline phone infrastructure to deliver service to a large percentage of the population in the U.S. The easiest way to tell if your current service is DSL is to examine the connection your modem uses: If your rental modem has a coaxial connection, you have cable internet. If the modem has a telephone connection, you have DSL service.
What Else is Important?
What is DOCSIS?
Internet service providers have made purchasing a modem tricky because of compatibility differences. The largest cable internet providers, like Comcast and Time Warner, use the DOCSIS (data over cable service interface specification) standard to send information to your modem. Think of DOCSIS as a language spoken between your modem and your ISP. If you are looking for the best replacement modem for Comcast service, all modems that use the DOCSIS standard will be compatible.
The current DOCSIS 3.0 standard allows for a maximum of 24 channels downstream and 8 channels upstream, usually denoted on a modem specification page as 24 x 8. This is called channel bonding. Generally, the more channels you have for both uploading and downloading, the better. Even on low-speed internet plans, more channels can help you achieve your plan’s full speed. Having a larger number of channels also helps you avoid network congestion that may be present in heavily-populated areas.
Cable or DSL?
The other type of internet service provider that requires a modem for operation is a DSL (digital subscriber line) provider. Cable modems and DSL modems are similar in form and function. They both serve to connect your home or business with your provider’s network. The biggest difference is how they do it and the infrastructure they use. DSL providers use the same infrastructure as landline phones, so if you get internet through your landline phone provider, chances are you’ll need a DSL modem.
Should I Buy a Modem & Router Combo?
We recommend purchasing a modem and a router as separate devices because of potential durability and router placement concerns. However, a purchasing a modem and router combo is still a smarter investment than leasing one from your provider. The biggest advantage to combining these two components is that you will save money compared to buying a router and a modem separately.
Buying your own modem is generally a good investment compared to leasing a modem from an ISP. Make sure to identify what type of service (cable or DSL) you currently use, or plan on using, before you purchase a modem. If you plan on streaming content to wireless devices, pair your modem with a router or buy a modem and router combo that can handle the download and upload speeds provided by your service plan.
Contributing Reviewer: Billy Bommer