The cost of your monthly internet bill may be creeping upward. And your cable modem may be to blame.
If you use the cable modem supplied by your internet provider, chances are that appears on your bill as an equipment rental fee. And one way ISPs boost revenue is by raising the amount it charges each month for that modem. You can put a stop to that by buying your own cable modem, which saves you money over the long haul. And the best choice for that right now is the Netgear CM500, which works with most internet providers and delivers speeds in line with what most people receive.
We've tested more than a dozen different devices, and the CM500 has proven to be a dependable modem that's still widely available at most retailers. That said, if you can find a new version of the Arris Surfboard SB6183, that modem matches the CM500 for dependability and compatibility, and it offers a longer warranty.
While those two modems can handle the speeds available to most internet customers, anyone who's paying for home internet speeds topping 300 Mbps should look to Netgear's CM600, which is more dependable than its high-speed rivals.
Speaking of speed, keep in mind that your cable modem can only take you so far. You'll want to make sure you're signed up for the right tier of service from your provider. So check out our guide to what internet speeds do you need.
Here's a closer look at our top picks for the best cable modems out there.
1. Netgear CM500
The best cable modem
Top Cable Providers Supported: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox | Listed Download/Upload Speeds: 686/132 Mbps | Channels: 16 down, 4 up | Size: 7.3 x 4.9 x 2.4 inches | Warranty: 1 year
We now consider the Netgear CM500 to be the best modem available, because it's easy to find at most retailers. The Netgear CM500 works with the biggest cable providers and supports speeds of up to 300 Mbps, which should be enough for the vast majority of Internet users out there. (If you've got a high-speed plan, look for a faster modem.)
The CM500 enjoys another advantage over the Arris SB6183, our other top-pick — it generally costs less, especially if you can find the modem on sale. Keep an eye peeled for the best tech deals when shopping for a cable modem. (Some sites do show a lower price for the SB6183, but that's often for a refurbished model.)
There's actually very little performance difference among the best cable modems in our testing, so it's seemingly slight distinctions that separate these devices. Opt for Netgear's CM500, and you'll get a modem that's just as capable as the SB6183. However, Netgear only offers a one-year warranty, compared with two years from some of its rivals.
Netgear's 16 x 4 modem enjoys wide compatibility with internet-service providers, and its design makes setup a breeze. At 7.3 inches, the CM500 is a little taller than the SB6183, and I found its indicator lights difficult to see, although at night, you may appreciate the lack of a light show.
Like our other best cable modem picks, the CM500 gets generally good reviews on Amazon, though the retailer seems to combine reviews of all of Netgear's modems. That makes it hard to get a good read on what customers say about this specific model. Positive reviews cite the easy installation and wide compatibility with many top ISPs. The negative reviews complain of reliability, something to keep in mind given the CM500's one-year warranty.
2. Arris Surfboard SB6183
A top cable modem if you can find it
Top Cable Providers Supported: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox | Listed Download/Upload Speeds: 686/131 Mbps | Channels: 16 down, 4 up | Size: 5.2 x 5 x 2.1 inches | Warranty: 2 years
The Arris Surfboard SB6183 has been our pick for the best cable modem overall thanks to its solid performance that will satisfy most home internet customers who don't pay for high-speed service. A two-year warranty also is a big plus in the SB6183's favor, though it's been harder to find new models of this modem lately. (We'd advise against a refurbished version.)
At 5.2 x 5 x 2.1 inches, the all-white SB6183 can be tucked unobtrusively next to a router, cable box and whatever other hardware you have on hand. The coaxial-cable connector is a little too close to the power connector for my taste, but you're likely to have to deal with that only when setting up the modem.
The SB6183 favors a simple row of vertical indicator lights that are easy enough to spot, though the yellow lighting can be a little hard to see if your modem's in direct sunlight. Still, it's pretty easy to glance at the SB6183 to see if there's any issue with your internet connectivity.
The SB6183 gets a largely positive response on Amazon, with 70 percent of 3,100-plus user reviews awarding a 5-star rating, thanks to its performance. The negative reviews largely cite reliability issues that develop over time.
3. Netgear CM600
Best cable modem for high-speed service
Top Cable Providers Supported: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox | Listed Download/Upload Speeds: 960/240 Mbps | Channels: 24 down, 8 up | Size: 8.7 x 5.3 x 2.4 inches | Warranty: 1 year
While most homes opt for internet plans that promise speeds of around 100 to 300 Mbps, some people prefer higher-speed service. If your plan promises download speeds that top 300 Mbps, you'll want a cable modem that can take advantage of that greater performance. Netgear's CM600 is the best cable modem for those higher speeds.
Netgear's modem doesn't use the same Intel Puma 6 chipset that's been blamed for latency issues with some other high-speed modems. (There's a firmware update that resolves this issue, though ISPs roll out such updates on their own schedule.) Because of that, you can expect reliable performance without the lags reported by users with Puma-6-powered modems.
The CM600 is a little on the tall side, but it's got a funky futuristic look. Like other Netgear modems, it has a one-year warranty.
4. TP-Link TC-7610
Good modem for lower speed caps
Top Cable Providers Supported: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox | Listed Download/Upload Speeds: 343/143 Mbps | Channels: 8 down, 4 up | Size: 8.5 x 7.7 x 2.6 inches | Warranty: 2 years
Not every home internet user needs to pay for a more expensive modem. If your service plan caps its speeds at 100 Mbps, TP-Link's TC-7610 modem can serve you ably without denting your budget. (A newer version — the TP-Link TC-7650 — can handle higher-speed homes, but we haven't tested that model.)
The 8 x 4 cable modem has a pleasing oval shape and a two-year warranty. We did find its indicator lights hard to spot, though.
Arris Surfboard SB6141
5. Still a decent modem
Top Cable Providers Supported: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox | Listed Download/Upload Speeds: 343/141 Mbps | Channels: 8 down, 4 up | Size: 5.2 x 5.2 x 1.7 inches | Warranty: 2 years
A while back, the Arris Surfboard SB6141 was our pick for best cable modem as it features the great compact design of other Arris modems as well as dependable performance. It's since been supplanted by other, faster modems — such as the SB6183, also from Arris — as home internet demands have increased.
Still, if you don't pay for a higher speed plan, the SB6141 is a way to enjoy the fine performance of an Arris modem without paying for a faster model. And the two-year warranty doesn't hurt, either.
6. Linksys CM3008
Functional, but plain
Top Cable Providers Supported: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox | Listed Download/Upload Speeds: 343/120 Mbps | Channels: 8 down, 4 up | Size: 3.9 x 2.8 x 1 inches | Warranty: 1 year
Another modem that works best in homes where internet service never tops download speeds of 100 Mbps, the Linksys CM3008 gets the job done without winning any beauty contests. The best we can say about its plain look is that the CM3008 doesn't take that much space. The compact design doesn't make it any easier to detect its status lights.
The CM3008 was one of the more expensive options out there when we first reviewed it, though these days, its price is more in line with what you'd pay for an 8 x 4 cable modem.
7. Arris Surfboard SB6910
Proceed with caution
Top Cable Providers Supported: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox | Listed Download/Upload Speeds: 1,400/262 Mbps | Channels: 32 down, 8 up | Size: 5 x 5 x 2.1 | Warranty: 2 years
When we tested the Arris Surfboard SB6190 on our network, we didn't run into any performance issues. But our experience didn't match some other users with high-speed service who complained of latency issues. The problem apparently stems from Intel's Puma 6 chipset inside the SB6190 (as well as some other high-speed models like the Linksys CM3024, which we've also tested).
Reportedly, there's a firmware fix, but we'd advise checking with your ISP to see if it's been deployed before you commit to the SB6190. (In fact, the most negative Amazon user ratings for the SB6190 site latency issues with the modem.) It might be easier just to opt for Netgear's CM600, which doesn't use that chipset.
How we test cable modems
We test each cable modem on Comcast's Performance Pro home internet service. After running speed tests to make sure the modems are delivering their promised download speeds, we use the modems as part of regular networking setup to gauge dependability.
We hook up each modem we review in our reviewer's home, using it as part of our networking setup. That allows us to verify a modem's compatibility as well as to get a sense of its dependability. Since price is also an important consideration when modem shopping, we also monitor retail sites for the best deals on the modems we've tested.
In addition to using the modems in a home with multiple connected laptops, smartphones and tablets, we also evaluate the indicator lights on each modem to see that they're visible. We look at how easy the modems are to set up. And because the primary reason to get your own cable modem is to save on monthly rental fees for ISP-supplied modems, we heavily weight the length of a modem's warranty.
Here's a summary of what to look at when you choose a modem:
• Compatibility: Confirm with your ISP that the modem you're looking at will work with the service your paying for. Most DOCSIS 3.0-certified modems should work with DOCSIS-based internet service, but it always helps to confirm. Comcast lets you check online to see if a modem is compatible with its service, as do Cox and Spectrum.
• Price and Warranty: You don't necessarily need to get the cheapest modem, but you should consider devices that pay for themselves within a year with what you save in rental fees. A year-long warranty is the bare minimum you should accept; two years of coverage is even better. As for price, make sure to do some comparison shopping before you buy. Retailers often offer deals on modems, so you could find the model you want — or a reasonable alternative — at a lower price than you'd normally expect.
• Design: Since most cable modems have the same set of indicator lights, you'll want one with easy-to-spot lights. Also, consider the size of a modem, since a compact design blends in more easily with your other networking equipment.
• Speed: A 16 x 4 modem (that's 16 download channels and four upload ones) should do the trick for homes receiving service capped at 300 Mbps. Any faster, and you should go with a 24 x 8 or 32 x 8 modem, or a DOCSIS 3.1-compatible model if your ISP has upgraded to the new standard.
• Security: When shopping for a cable modem, check to make sure that the model you're considering isn't vulnerable to the Cable Hunt software flaw found in the Broadcom chipsets that power many popular modems. If your modem is vulnerable, make sure a software patch is available from your ISP.
• Modem vs. Router: A modem brings internet connectivity into your home while the best wireless routers distribute that internet connection wirelessly, so that all your devices — laptops, phones, and smart-home gadgets — can hop on the internet.
You may be tempted to buy a device that combines a modem and a router, but we think it's better to keep those two networking devices separate. If any part of a hybrid device fails, you're out both a modem and a router. It's also easier to upgrade individual networking devices, as routers add support for new networking features at a more rapid pace. (For example, while Wi-Fi 6 routers are arriving to take advantage of the faster, more efficient networking standard, that's not something a modem needs to support. We've got a closer look at the most anticipated routers coming out this year.)
DOCSIS 3.0 vs. DOCSIS 3.1
All the modems listed up above are DOCSIS 3.0 modems. DOCSIS, or Data Over Cable Services Interface Specification, is a telecommunications standard that cable TV operators use to provide internet service over the same wiring that's serving up your favorite TV shows. Released nearly a decade ago, the DOCSIS 3.0 specification added support for multiple channels to boost speeds, and major internet providers have upgraded to that standard.
We're starting to see DOCSIS 3.1 modems rolling out that are capable of delivering speeds that top 1Gbps. We haven't reviewed these modems yet, as ISPs are still rolling out high-speed service to all their markets, and even then, some providers don't yet allow you to bring your own DOCSIS 3.1 modems.
Check with your cable provider to see if DOCSIS 3.1 has been deployed in your area or if it's about to be. If so, consider some of the DOCSIS 3.1 options that modem makers have already announced. If DOCSIS 3.1 isn't in your immediate future, though, a DOCSIS 3.0 modem will serve your needs just fine.
Netgear's CM1000 is backward-compatible with DOCSIS 3.0 for internet users who want to upgrade early. The modem has been certified by Comcast for use with its internet service.
Arris bills the Surfboard SB8200 as a future-facing modem, capable of handling streaming ultra HD and high-performance gaming with its 32 download and eight upload channels. It promises twice the speed of a DOCSIS 3.0 modem — at least if your internet service is capable of supporting that. The modem also features a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports for wired dedicated devices.
Motorola's MB8600 modem also has 32 download and eight upload channels with Active Queue Management for speeding up page loads and gaming. Motorola says the modem's compatible with Comcast's Xfinity service as well as high-speed internet from Cox.
What do cable modems cost?
A 16 x 4 cable modem delivers enough speed to effectively serve the majority of cable customers. That kind of modem typically costs $70 or less, and if you keep an eye out for deals, you might be able to find a top-rated modem for $50 to $60.
Our top pick, the SB6183, usually lists for around $70 to $80, but you can typically find it for less, especially if you opt for a refurbished model. (Just make sure that you still enjoy warranty protection if you go for a refurbished modem.) You'll pay more for faster modems — 24 x 8 models cost around $80, while a 32 x 8 modem might set you back $90.
Modems that support the emerging DOCSIS 3.1 standard start at $150, with some priced as high as $190. Netgear's Nighthawk CM1150V tops $200, but it also includes telephony ports. Unless your internet provider is giving you the 1,000 Mbps speeds that DOCSIS 3.1 devices support, there's no need to pay up for a premium modem. A lower-cost modem will serve the typical internet customer just fine.
Why buy your own modem when your ISP will usually provide you one? Because nothing is free in this world, and you're likely being charged around $10 extra on your bill for that modem. Comcast, for example, charges some subscribers $14 a month for most customers who use their equipment, which means $168 on rental fees over the course of a year. (Reports suggest that cable modem fees could continue to rise this year, as ISPs look to recoup the costs from people cutting the cord on cable service.)
You'll no longer get technical support if your self-bought modem misbehaves, but you'll have paid off the cost off your own modem after half-a-year with the eliminated rental fee headed right back to your pocket.