Best Cable Modem - Basic, High-Speed, DOCSIS 3.1 Reviews
We spent over 20 hours testing ten cable modems, each less expensive than the annual rental fees from your internet service provider. The Motorola MB7621 is our pick as the best overall cable modem for its practical balance of price, performance and ease of use. Its 24 downstream and eight upstream channels handle the fastest internet speeds available. If you're subscribed to internet speeds lower than 300 Mbps, we also liked the budget-friendly Netgear CM500 and the compact and convenient Motorola MB7420.
The Motorola MB7621 is a great modem for any home network. With 24 downstream and eight upstream channels, it has the capacity to handle the fastest internet speeds.
The Netgear CM500 modem has great network performance, a great price and can handle demanding activities like streaming and gaming without costing a fortune.
The Motorola MB7420 is a tiny modem that takes up less space but still keeps you connected to the internet.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Performance||Design||Help & Support||Passed Network Stress Test||Downstream and Upstream Channels||Max Theoretical Download Speed (Mbps)||Online Interface Usability||Power Button||Dimensions (inches)||Network Compatibility||Warranty|
|Motorola MB7621||View Deal||4.5/5||4.9||4.9||4.8||✓||24 x 8||1000||A||✓||7.9 x 7.3 x 2.3||A-||2 Years|
|Netgear CM600||View Deal||4.5/5||4.8||5||4.6||✓||24 x 8||960||A||✓||8.7 x 5.3 x 2.4||A||1 Year|
|TP-Link TC7650||View Deal||4.5/5||5||1.3||4.7||✓||24 x 8||1029||A||✖||8.2 x 5.5 x 2.9||B+||2 Years|
|Motorola MB7420||View Deal||4.5/5||4||4.5||4.8||✓||16 x 4||686||A||✓||6 x 4.9 x 6||A-||2 Years|
|Netgear CM500||View Deal||4/5||4||1.5||3.8||✓||16 x 4||680||A||✖||7.3 x 4.9 x 2.4||A||1 Year|
|Asus CM-16||View Deal||4/5||3.9||1.9||4.7||✓||16 x 4||686||B||✖||7.1 x 4.3 x 1.3||B+||2 Years|
|TP-Link TC7620||View Deal||4/5||4||1.8||4.8||✓||16 x 4||680||A||✖||5.6 x 4.5 x 2.3||A||2 Years|
|Arris Surfboard 6183||View Deal||3.5/5||4||1.8||4.8||✓||16 x 4||686||A||✖||5.3 x 5 x 2.1||A-||2 Years|
|Linksys CM3016||View Deal||3/5||3||1||3.5||✓||16 x 4||686||-||✖||6.9 x 6.7 x 3.7||A-||1 Year|
|Linksys CM3024||View Deal||3/5||3.8||1||3.5||✓||24 x 8||960||-||✖||6.9 x 6.7 x 3.7||A-||1 Year|
In our tests, the Motorola MB7621 managed to keep five devices running four simultaneous bandwidth-heavy applications with ease.
We found most of the modems we evaluated are very similar, but the Motorola MB7621 stood out. Its great performance, sleek yet practical design, labeled ports, powerful user interface, power button, helpful instructions and included accessories make it an extremely easy-to-use and effective device. Its 24 downstream channels can easily handle HD streaming, and its eight upstream channels give you access to the necessary speeds for gaming and cloud computing. The MB7621 has max speeds of up to 1000 Mbps, but it’s rated for internet packages advertising speeds up to 650 Mbps. We tested it on Xfinity's 400 Mbps package, and it worked perfectly. It also has a power button, a feature missing on many modems we tested, and some useful accessories like a coaxial connection wrench, Ethernet cable and a hook-and-loop cord strap.
Aside from its robust specs and ease of use, the MB7621 is a good investment because it can cost less than renting a modem from your ISP after just nine months, and its warranty protects it against manufacturer defect for two years. It also has lightning and power surge protection and a well-ventilated exterior to protect against overheating.
The Netgear CM500 is a DOCSIS 3.0 standard modem with 16 downstream channels and four upstream channels for max speeds up to 680 Mbps.
It performed well in our tests running four simultaneous bandwidth-hogging applications, including 4K Netflix streaming and three large video game file downloads. Though we tested it using Xfinity's 400 Mbps speed tier, we recommend the CM500 for packages advertising speeds up to 300 Mbps, just to give yourself a little room since modems rarely perform up to theoretical max speeds.
The CM500 isn't necessarily a top-of-the-line product, but it’s still a great value. Not only is it less expensive than renting a modem from your ISP, it's less expensive than many of the similar modems we tested, yet it works just as well. It's also supported by more ISPs than several of the products we researched. Besides value, the main difference between the CM500 and our favorite modems is the lack of a physical power button, which necessitates plugging and unplugging the modem when you want to turn it on or off. It's an inelegant solution, but it works.
The CM500 is a sleek device with a slim, shiny black exterior which gets a little dirty from smudges and dust. It also is not as well ventilated as other models, so it tends to run a few degrees warmer. Still, it’s a good modem that serves your internet access needs.
Best Compact Modem
The Motorola MB 7420’s compact form, performance and easy-to-use functionality make it a great modem for households that don't need the absolute fastest speeds.
In our tests, it performed well on a network using up to 400 Mbps cable internet connection. If your internet plan advertises speeds up to 300Mbps or higher, a modem with more upstream and downstream channels gives you more room to maneuver.
Though most cable modems are very similar, the MB 7420 offers a few distinct features that make it easier to use than other models we tested. For one, it has a physical power button. It's a small, useful element that many modems omit, but plugging and unplugging a modem to turn it on and off again is an unwieldy process. A power button is convenient, especially since this modem is so small and light, as messing with the cords can cause it to fall off balance. The Motorola's web interface, where you reset the device or access its information, is one of the easiest to navigate and the most powerful of the user interfaces, and it includes a nice selection of advanced options as well as the basics. Additionally, the modem comes with two small but useful accessories, a wrench for tightening the coaxial connection and a hook-and-loop cord strap.
Best Color Options
Unlike most cable modems, the Arris Surfboard 6183 comes in two colors, so you can choose an option that best fits your style.
Other than the black or white color options, the SB6183 is a standard DOCSIS 3.0 modem. It has 16 downstream and four upstream channels and is up to the task of keeping your busy network connected to the internet. It performed as well as expected in our hands-on tests. One feature we found particularly useful is its color-coded status LEDs. Its uplink and downlink icons glow different colors based on the connection quality instead of simply showing that it’s connected. Every other modem we tested included a LAN indicator on its forward-facing status panel. An Ethernet port status light replaced the LAN indicator on the SB6183, which isn’t as easily accessible for diagnostics.
As far as networking equipment goes, the Asus CM-16 is a good-looking device. Its compact form and subtly patterned side panels make it sleek enough to fit in with your décor but subdued enough to not stand out.
It’s a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem with 16 upstream and four downstream channels, making it capable of handling download speeds up to 686 Mbps and upstream up to 131 Mbps. In our tests, it easily handled multiple simultaneous connections on our testing facility’s 400 Mbps internet service. The only hiccup in the CM-16’s evaluation was the outdated web user interface. Though it works, it looks like it was created decades ago and isn’t quite as user-friendly as other interfaces we encountered. Even so, the ASUS CM-16 is a good modem that can save you money compared to renting from your ISP.
Why Trust Us
We put in over 20 hours of testing and research to ensure our cable modem recommendations are both useful and well-informed. Top Ten Reviews has evaluated modems and other home networking equipment for eight years, and our team of tech geeks is well versed in home networking. We combined our expertise, hours of research and hands-on testing to form our judgments, weighing performance, relative value and ease of use to find the best modems that strike the perfect balance between the most important aspects.
How We Tested
We assessed all the modems on the market and narrowed the selection down to the top ten products that cost less than renting a modem from your ISP for a year. We set up these products into our lab, hooked them up to our network and ran some hands-on tests. Our internet service is through Comcast Xfinity and has advertised speeds up to 400 Mbps, though in our testing process, we never saw speeds that slow. Once connected to our Nighthawk Pro Gaming XR500, we hooked up an Xbox One, PlayStation 4, a gaming PC, a Dell XPS 13 laptop and a Microsoft Surface. On the gaming devices, we downloaded three large game files (Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Bioshock Infinite). We streamed Netflix in 4K from the Dell and used the Surface to monitor the network. Through testing, we found that every modem we tested performed exactly as it should, so you’re safe buying any of them.
Since all the modems passed our tests, most of our ranking evaluations relied on price and features. We preferred modems with physical power buttons as opposed to modems that you have to unplug to turn off. We scored modems higher if the online interface was easy to find and use. We also preferred smaller, well-ventilated devices.
Replacing your rented equipment seems daunting if you’re unfamiliar with home networking setups. We consulted with Philip Michas, owner of Tech Authority in Salt Lake City, UT, who recommends making the investment, explaining, “Modems are relatively inexpensive to purchase. Most manufacturers are vendor compliant, meaning that they are ‘endorsed by big-box ISP’s. Over the course of time with a rental, you rent it for more than you can purchase it for.”
Comcast Xfinity charges an $11 monthly rental fee, but all the modems we recommend here pay for themselves in less than a year. It’s worth the investment not only to save you money, but to protect your network against ISP shenanigans like Xfinity’s public Wi-Fi program or even data leaks, like the one that Comcast addressed in May 2018. We put together this simple buying guide to help you find the best option for your network.
All the modems we tested are specifically for cable internet, like that provided by Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum and Cox. There are also DSL, fiber and satellite internet services, which won’t work with these products. Beyond finding the right type of modem for your type of internet, you need to make sure you purchase a modem that is supported by your ISP. All the products on our review are supported by most of the major cable internet companies, including the three mentioned previously, but it’s always safe to double check. Most companies have an easily accessible list of supported equipment.
Consider your current internet plan and whether you may want to upgrade in the next year or so, then choose your modem accordingly. Along with the list of modem compatibility, your ISP probably includes which modems it recommends for each plan tier. If you subscribe to speeds less than 300 Mbps, any of these work great.
Cable modems are classified according to DOCSIS standards and the number of upstream and downstream channels available for data traffic. DOCSIS stands for "data over cable service interface specification." It is the protocol that allows you to get internet via coaxial cable. Current DOCSIS standards are 3.0 and 3.1. The latter is slightly newer and a better investment for a high-tech, high-speed household, but 3.0 works for most users.
Downstream and upstream channels are represented like 16 x 4 or 24 x 8. The first number represents the downstream channels, which correlates to the amount of information the modem can receive from the ISP. The second number, upstream channels, correlates to the amount of data you can send to your ISP at any given time. More channels means more data modulating/demodulating capabilities, though network speeds are more reliant on your internet subscription.
While our tests showed each of the modems performing admirably on speeds up to 400 Mbps, we recommend going with a 24 x 8 modem such as the Motorola MB7621 if you have an internet plan advertising speeds of 300 Mbps or higher. Faster modems give you more room to expand as new services roll out, since modems can seldom perform at their advertised max speeds.
We recommend purchasing a modem that costs less than the rental fees for its warranty term. If you buy a modem with a 1-year warranty, it should cost less than a year’s worth of rental fees. All the modems we tested cost less than a year’s rent on an Xfinity modem, and many have two-year warranties. Generally, a modem should cost less than $120 at most.
If a 16 x 4 modem serves you perfectly now, but you may want to upgrade your internet package to the next level within a few years, it's worth the extra money to future-proof your purchase. Having extra speed capabilities won't negatively affect your network in any way and may even make it more efficient.
Home networking equipment is designed to look more functional than elegant, but some design features help you optimally use your cable modem. For one, a physical power button is a nice feature. Only a few of the modems we tested have a power button, and without one, you must unplug the device to power it off. Plugging and unplugging works, of course, but it can add frustration to the already bothersome network troubleshooting process, especially if your setup area has unorganized wires.
If you’re short on space, a smaller modem or a modem and router combination device is a good option, though they still require breathing room to prevent overheating. Ventilation is always an important design feature to consider. Devices that are well ventilated on the sides, top and bottom run cooler than ones that aren’t, which can affect your modem's longevity and the operation of other equipment in the same area. Most of the modems we tested have a large foot, which prevents you from placing anything right up against them. This also helps stabilize the modems, as their vertical positions and power, Ethernet and coaxial connections make some of the devices easy to knock over.
Modems vs. Routers
The devices most ISPs supply to renting customers are modem and router combination devices, so replacing your rented equipment does necessitate replacing both devices. The modem is the first point of contact between your home network and the internet. It takes the cable input signal and modulates/demodulates it into a standard Ethernet connection that your router or computer plugs into.
If you want Wi-Fi or to connect multiple devices to the internet, you also need a router, which handles all the communications between your home network and the internet. You need both to create an effective and secure home network. You can buy combo devices, but we recommend each device unless you’re really pressed for space. Separate devices have the advantage of being more flexible when it comes to upgrades, and if one piece breaks, you don’t have to replace the whole system.