Cable internet service providers are still the go-to for people who don’t have access to fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) or LTE. And while you can just rent modems from cable companies, there are certain benefits to buying one instead.
Since cable ISPs operate differently to other ISPs, the things you have to take into account when choosing a cable modem are not the same as for other types of modems.
Here are the top things you should consider when buying a new cable modem.
1. Is It Better to Buy or Rent a Cable Modem?
Your first consideration is whether buying a cable modem is the best decision for your own situation. If you think you’ll switch from cable internet to FTTH relatively soon, renting may be your best bet. But if you’re planning to stick with the account for over a year, buying a modem will end up saving you money.
You can buy decent modems for the same price as the cost of several months of rental payments. After two years, it’s likely you would have saved a significant chunk of cash.
There’s also the benefit that if you change your internet connection type, you can sell off your old cable modem and make some money back. If you just change your ISP, you don’t have to deal with the hassle of returning and getting a new rented modem.
It’s also important to check whether your cable provider allows customers to use their own modems in the first place. Depending on where you live, certain cable companies may not allow you to use a third-party modem for their services. In this case, you would have no option but to rent a modem from your ISP.
2. Is the Cable Modem Compatible With Your ISP?
Most cable modems work with most cable ISPs, but there are a few exceptions. Before committing to a specific product, you should check whether it is compatible with your specific provider.
You can find this information on most cable ISP websites. If you’re struggling to find the right page, just do a quick search on Google for modems for your specific cable ISP. You’ll not only find the compatible device list on your ISP’s website more easily, but you’ll also find specific recommendations from retailers.
Product descriptions for cable modems will also usually identify any incompatible ISPs.
3. Does the Cable Modem Support Your Plan’s Speeds?
You should make sure that your modem has the right speed capabilities for your internet plan. If your modem is too slow, it will essentially cap the speed of your plan and cause slow speeds in your home network.
At the same time, there’s no point in getting a lightning-fast modem if you only use a 100Mbps plan, since your modem speed cannot increase the speed of your plan past its maximum allowance.
DOCSIS is the standard that’s used by cable companies to send information over the wires, and there are three different tiers: 1.x, 2.x, and 3.x. Generally, the higher the tier, the higher the performance and speed of the cable modem.
For example, a mid-range DOCSIS 3.0 modem will offer download speeds of up to 340Mbps and upload speeds of 130Mbps. High-end modems offer higher download speeds.
The number of channels on the modem will also give you an idea of how fast the modem is. Channel numbers are often listed as a number showing how many channels are dedicated to downloading versus uploading.
For example, “8×4” means that the modem has eight downstream channels and four upstream channels.
The more channels there are, the faster the speed of the modem in each category.
Compare the DOCSIS tier and channel numbers with the download and upload speeds of your plan. You’ll want to make sure your modem is fast enough to get the most out of your internet plan. But there’s no point is overcompensating dramatically, since high-speed modems come with higher costs.
4. Do You Need a Combined Modem + Router?
Nowadays, many modems come with a built-in router. This removes the need for two standalone devices and means fewer cables. But a router/modem combination comes with both benefits and drawbacks, so you’ll need to decide whether you prefer two separate devices or one combined device.
A combination device limits your flexibility in some cases. You can’t just upgrade one part of the device if you want a faster router, for example. You’ll need to buy an entirely new combination device. At the same time, it is often cheaper and easier to just buy a single combined device.
Consider your budget, whether you’re likely to need a new router anytime soon, and other factors unique to your situation to decide whether to buy a combined cable modem and router.
5. Is Your Router’s Ethernet Port Speed Fast Enough?
If you have a standalone router, you’ll need to make sure your modem’s Ethernet port speed is fast enough or risk creating a chokepoint in your network.
The Ethernet port and the Ethernet cable is how your internet connection gets from your modem to your router. If this port doesn’t accommodate the speeds of your internet plan, the connection will essentially be throttled.
No matter how fast your router is, if you have a slow Ethernet port, you’ll slow down the rest of your connection significantly. So make sure the port is fast enough for your connection.
Which Cable Modems Are the Most Recommended?
A number of factors will affect which modem suits you the best. But there are a few standout brands and devices that are recommended by cable internet users.
Here are the best modems according to Amazon’s Verified Expert recommendations for each category.
The Best Cable Modem Overall: Netgear CM600
Dubbed “the best modem for most people”, the Netgear CM600 balances performance with affordability. It also has the benefit of being compatible with most cable companies, making it a good choice for cable internet users in general. However, it is not compatible with Verizon, AT&T, or CenturyLink.
With DOCSIS 3.0 and download speeds of up to 960Mbps, the modem also accommodates most internet plan speeds.
The Best Budget Cable Modem: Netgear CM500
The Netgear CM500 is the more budget-friendly cousin to the CM600. While it sacrifices speed in favor of affordability, its maximum download speed of 686Mbps is great for customers on cheaper cable plans.
However, it’s recommended for people who have cable internet plans of 300Mbps or lower. With DOCSIS 3.0 functionality and 16 downstream channels, it also won’t lose ISP support, which is a risk for certain lower-end devices.
The Best High-Performance Cable Modem: Motorola MB8600
If you want a cable modem with high speed and performance, the Motorola MB8600 comes highly recommended.
Considering that it accommodates speeds of up to 1000Mbps, you don’t have to worry about it slowing your connection down. The modem is compatible with gigabit internet plans such as Comcast Gigabit and Cox Gigablast.
High performance comes at a higher price, but this modem will be future-proof for at least a few years.
Should You Upgrade Your Wireless Router?
Now that you know what to consider when buying a cable modem, you should consider whether a router upgrade is a good option too.
While the modem is the main facilitator of your internet connection, your router is where most of your network’s coordination takes place.
If you still need to be convinced of the benefits of a new router, check out our guide on why you should consider upgrading your Wi-Fi router.