What’s the Best Cable Modem?

When you sign up for a cable internet plan, your internet service provider (ISP) may give you a cable modem and this usually comes along with an equipment rental fee. No matter how long you stay with that ISP, the equipment will never belong to you and it might not be the most up-to-date equipment you can get. So that means you can end up paying for outdated equipment you don’t own.

If your ISP allows you to provide your own cable modem, this can be a good move. Not only will you own the equipment outright, but you’ll also never have to worry about a monthly equipment fee. Plus, you’ll get to choose a modem with all the features that are the most important to you.

Are you in the market for a cable modem and not sure where to start? We’ve gathered the key features you should consider when making your purchase, along with a list of popular cable modems and answers to some frequently asked questions.

Key considerations for cable modems

When shopping for a cable modem, there are several features to consider before making a purchase.

DOCSIS compatibility

DOCSIS stands for “Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification.” Although we could get into all the technical terminology regarding what that means, the most important thing to know about DOCSIS when you’re shopping for a modem is that DOCSIS 3.0 modems support download speeds up to 1Gbps (depending on the model), while DOCSIS 3.1 can support speeds as fast as 10Gbps.

Today, average internet speeds in the US are still under 300Mbps, but the desire for ever-faster speeds is growing. People are growing increasingly dependent on the internet and using more connected devices. For that reason, some people might benefit from spending the extra money on a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. Although purchasing a DOCSIS 3.1 modem might mean some extra spending upfront, it could save you the expense and hassle of buying a new modem in the future.

Speed

If you have a high-speed internet plan but a modem that can’t support the speed, this will impact your internet experience. Not all modems can support all speeds, so you will need to confirm the top speed the modem can support when you’re shopping. It’s important to check customer reviews as well because some modems don’t live up to their advertised speeds.

Downstream and upstream channels

Upstream and downstream channels refer to the channels that make up both your internet speed and total bandwidth, or in other words, upload and download capabilities.

Channels are represented by numbers like 16 x 4 or 32 x 8, which can be a bit perplexing at first but makes much more sense once it’s broken down. The number before the ‘x’ represents download channels. The number after the ‘x’ represents upload channels. All in all, the larger the numbers you see for channels, the faster speeds the modem can support.

ISP compatibility

When it comes to ISP compatibility, not all modems are created equal since each ISP has its own hardware and service requirements. For this reason, it’s essential to ask your ISP which models will work with their service. Most modem manufacturers also advertise which ISPs are compatible with their modem products.

However, if your ISP is a smaller, regional provider, it’s unlikely the modem will list them as a compatible ISP. In that case, contact your provider directly for compatibility confirmation before making a purchase. Another thing to keep in mind: Even if the modem is compatible with your ISP, you need to make sure it is compatible with the speed of your internet plan.

Security

A modem has the potential to give unwanted people direct access to your personal information. For this reason, buying a modem that supports the most up-to-date security measures is essential. You’ll see modems identified as having WPA2 or WPA3 security certifications. The “WPA” stands for “Wi-Fi Protected Access,” and higher numbers represent the most up-to-date security levels.

WPA2 is the most common security level for most modems in the marketplace today. Some modems now feature WPA3 security, but not all connected devices might be compatible with WPA3 yet, which could cause connectivity issues. If you decide to purchase a modem with WPA3 security, you should make sure it still supports WPA2, just to be safe.

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Best cable modems

Now without further ado, the following represents some of the best cable modems that suit a variety of applications. 

Best cable modem for speeds over 1Gbps

NETGEAR Nighthawk CM1200

With cable ISPs launching premium plans featuring download speeds of 1Gbps or more, some homes need a modem that can accommodate super-fast internet. According to Netgear, the Nighthawk CM1200 uses next-generation DOCSIS 3.1 technology and can deliver “the world’s fastest cable internet,” which means it’s ready for the future of the internet as speeds continue to increase.

Key features include:

  • DOCSIS 3.1
  • Top supported speed: 10Gbps
  • Channels: 32 x 8
  • Advertised compatible ISPs: Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, and others
  • Warranty: 1-year
  • Average cost: $239.99

Best cable modem for speeds up to 1Gbps

NETGEAR Cable Modem CM1000

Featuring a top supported speed of 1Gbps, a 2-year warranty, and compatibility with a variety of cable ISPs, the Netgear CM1000 will work for most households. Though this modem is on the pricier side, it’s a good fit for large homes or multi-family units that need a reliable modem to help support fast Wi-Fi speeds.

Key features include:

  • DOCSIS 3.1
  • Top supported speed: up to 1Gbps
  • Channels: 32 x 8
  • Advertised compatible ISPs: Xfinity, Cox, Mediacom and Spectrum
  • Warranty: 2-year
  • Average cost: $139.99 – $199.99

Best cable modem for speeds up to 500Mbps

Motorola MB7621

The Motorola MB7621 doesn’t support the fastest internet speeds, but it still supports more speed than most homes in the US currently use or need. With a 2-year warranty, a reasonable price point, and compatibility with a wide variety of ISPs, this modem will be a solid choice for many households.

Key features include:

  • DOCSIS 3.0
  • Top supported speed: up to 650Mbps
  • Channels: 24 x 8
  • Advertised compatible ISPs: Xfinity, Cox, Spectrum, SuddenLink, RCN, and others
  • Warranty: 2-year
  • Average cost: $89.99 – $149.99

Best cable modem for speeds up to 300Mbps

Motorola MB7420

Though the Motorola MB7420 modem has been tested and performed well at speeds up to 400Mbps, it’s optimal for plans that max out at 300Mbps. Not only is this modem affordable, but it is also compact in size compared to other modems, which is a plus for households trying to save space.

Key features include:

  • DOCSIS 3.0
  • Top supported speed: up to 686Mbps
  • Channels: 24 x 8
  • Advertised compatible ISPs: Xfinity, Cox, Spectrum, and others
  • Warranty: 2-year
  • Average cost: $58.99 – $99.99

Best budget cable modem

Netgear CM500

At a price that will pay for itself in only a few months versus renting from your ISP, the budget-friendly Netgear CM500 can be a worthwhile investment. This cable modem works with several major ISPs, comes with a one-year warranty, and is compatible with most speed plans.

Key features include:

  • DOCSIS 3.0
  • Top supported speed: up to 680Mbps
  • Channels: 16 x 4
  • Advertised compatible ISPs: Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox, Cablevision, and others
  • Warranty: 1-year
  • Average cost: $45.99 – $59.99

Best user-friendly cable modem

NETGEAR Cable Modem CM400

The Netgear CM400 cable modem is compatible with all major ISPs, which helps take the guesswork out of choosing a modem to work with your provider. Another plus is the CM400 is very affordable and will pay for itself in two to four months compared to renting from your ISP. However, this model is best for speeds of 100Mbps or less, so it’s not a good option for homes with higher-speed plans.

Key features include:

  • DOCSIS 3.0
  • Top supported speed: up to 340Mbps
  • Channels: 8 x 4
  • Advertised compatible ISPs: Compatible with all major ISPs
  • Warranty: 1-year
  • Average cost: $24.99 – $44.95

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between a modem and a router?

In the simplest terms, a modem connects you to the internet signal from your ISP, while a router is a networking device that connects your devices to the internet via Wi-Fi. While a router establishes your network and manages your Wi-Fi, you cannot connect directly to the internet without a modem.

What is the difference between a modem and a gateway?

A modem is a freestanding device that connects you to the internet signal from your ISP but cannot establish your network or connect to your Wi-Fi devices without a router. A gateway, on the other hand, is one device that combines both modem and router capabilities.

Should I get a router/modem combo or two separate devices?

Unless your ISP provides you with a newer model router/modem (gateway) at no charge, you’re probably better off if you purchase your modem and router separately. There are a few reasons why this is the case. First, if you decide to upgrade your internet plan to a speed that isn’t supported by your modem, you only need to upgrade your modem versus a more expensive gateway or both your modem and router. Second, standalone modems tend to have more features compared to gateways.

How do I know if a modem is compatible with my ISP?

Finding a modem that will work with your ISP is very important. Your ISP may have a list of compatible modems on their website, or you may call them directly to ask. Most manufacturers also advertise which ISPs and speeds are compatible with their devices. It’s important to triple-check for compatibility with your ISP before making a purchase.

How do I know if a modem is compatible with my speed plan?

All modems advertise their fastest download and upload speeds, but keep in mind that these are peak speeds and not necessarily the speeds at which the modem can consistently perform. For this reason, be sure to check online reviews to verify what other users and industry experts say about the speeds each modem delivers and how modems work with various internet plans.

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*Pricing varies by location and availability. Speeds may vary. All prices subject to change; for current pricing and availability visit our internet service page. Prices as of 3/30/22.

Disclosure | Updater articles are based on our own data and research, independent from partner relationships. We are not compensated by partners for information and opinions presented here. Our Editorial Terms of Service can be found here.