- Page 1:Best Cable Modems 2017
- Page 2:Why Buy Your Own Cable Modem
- Page 3:What to Look for in a Cable Modem
- Page 4:Arris Surfboard SB6183: Best Cable Modem
- Page 5:Zoom 5370: Best Value
- Page 6:Netgear CM500: A Solid Choice
- Page 7:High-Speed Modems: What You Need to Know
- Page 8:What Modems We Test: DOCSIS 3.0
- Page 9:DOCSIS 3.1: The Future of Modems
- Page 10:Other Modems Reviewed
Best Cable Modems 2017
Relying on your internet service provider to supply you with a cable modem can cost you dearly, as many ISPs charge a monthly rental fee that adds up over time. If you’re tired of paying that tacked-on cost, get the Arris Surfboard SB6183, our top cable modem pick. The modem is compatible with a wide array of internet services, and it can handle speeds that most internet customers are getting these days. While the modem is listed for $89, you can usually find it for less. A two-year warranty on the SB6183 protects your investment.
Looking to save money? The Zoom 5370 has a lower list price than the SB6183, and it's compatible with many of the same ISPs. It also offers a two-year warranty.
Does your ISP offer speeds faster than 300 Mbps? We recommend the Arris Surfboard SB6190 for the fastest internet connections. It’s a 32 x 8 modem (32 downstream channels and eight upstream channels) in a compact design and comes with a two-year warranty. Some users have complained of latency issues with the SB6190 related to the modem Intel Puma 6 chip, so Netgear's CM600 modem might be a good alternative if you can live with a one-year warranty.
All our recommended modems are DOCSIS 3.0 devices. Some ISPs have begun upgrading to DOCSIS 3.1, and if your internet provider is one of them, consider the DOCSIS 3.1 options we include at the end of this article. We plan on reviewing these future-proof modems as DOCSIS 3.1 becomes more widespread.
Why Buy Your Own Cable Modem
Here's what you'd pay over the course of five years if you rented a cable modem from your ISP instead of buying a $90 SB6183 or a $65 Zoom 5370. (And remember, that’s the list price; you can usually find that modem for less online.)
|Internet Service Provider||Year 1 Cost||Year 2 Cost||Year 3 Cost||Year 4 Cost||Year 5 Cost||Total Cost Over 5 Years|
|Comcast Rental Fee||$120||$120||$120||$120||$120||$600|
|Cox Rental Fee||$84||$84||$84||$84||$84||$420|
|Optimum Rental Fee||$60||$60||$60||$60||$60||$300|
|Surfboard SB6183 Retail Cost||$90||$0||$0||$0||$0||$90|
|Zoom 5370 Retail Cost||$65||$0||$0||$0||$0||$65|
Monthly rental fees for cable modems can cost you dearly each year. Comcast charges customers $10 a month if it supplies them with a cable modem; that's $120 a year on top of the internet service you also pay for. Other internet providers charge less each month, but their costs still add up over the course of a year and beyond. Buy your own modem, though, and you pay that cost just once. Just make sure to check your cable bill once you buy your own modem to make sure your ISP drops that monthly charge.
A Comcast customer who opts for the SB6183 will have covered the cost of renting a modem after nine months (and that assumes they pay full price for the modem). The savings are even more immediate with lower-priced options like the Zoom 5370 or Netgear CM500.
It's more complicated for customers who get their internet service from Charter and its new Spectrum service, which includes former Time Warner Cable and Bright House customers. Spectrum internet service includes a modem as part of your subscription. (There is a $5 monthly Wi-Fi fee if you want to go wireless, so if you own both your modem and router, you can avoid that monthly Spectrum charge.) You can still use your own modem, provided it's compatible with Spectrum's service, but you won't reap savings the way Comcast subscribers can.
Monthly rental fees for cable modems can cost you dearly.
There's a trade-off when you strike out with a modem of your own. That ISP-provided modem you're renting receives tech support from your internet provider, who will offer a replacement if your current rental ever gives up the ghost. Buy your own modem, and you're on your own for tech support, as far as your cable company is concerned. That's why we recommend modems with a two-year warranty.
If the speeds of your internet service tier increase, your ISP will likely upgrade your equipment for free if you’re renting. People who own their modem will have to take care of their own upgrades — and some ISPs have been quite pushy about telling users to upgrade their modem. And if you bundle your home telephone service with your internet, you may have to use the modem your ISP issues, so double-check with your provider.
None of this should dissuade most people from ditching their rented modem — not when you can save up to $190 after just two years of owning your own device — but those trade-offs are worth keeping in mind.
What to Look for in a Cable Modem
We base our cable modem recommendations on the four factors you should consider when shopping for a modem.
• Compatibility: The most appealing cable modem in the world won't be much good to you if your internet provider doesn't support it. Should you decide to buy your own cable modem, you should confirm with your ISP over the phone or online that your top choice will work with the service you're paying for. Note that the lack of official support doesn't necessarily mean a modem won't work with a given ISP: a modem maker told us that modems that are DOCSIS 3.0-certified by the industry R&D firm CableLabs should work with a DOCSIS-based internet service.
Modem Compatibility with Providers
|SB6183||Xfinity Extreme 250/300 and lower||Speeds up to 300 Mbps||Ultimate tier and lower||Supported||Supported||Speeds up to 330 Mbps|
|CM500||Xfinity Extreme 250/300 and lower||Speeds up to 300 Mbps||Ultimate tier and lower||Supported||Supported||Speeds up to 330 Mbps|
|Zoom 5370||Xfinity Extreme 250/300 and lower||Speeds up to 300 Mbps||Ultimate tier and lower||Not Listed||Not Listed||Speeds up to 330 Mbps|
|SB6190||Xfinity Extreme 250/300 and lower||Speeds up to 300 Mbps||Ultimate tier and lower||Supported||Supported||Speeds up to 330 Mbps|
|CM600||Xfinity Extreme 250/300 and lower||Speeds up to 300 Mbps||Ultimate tier and lower||Supported||Supported||Speeds up to 330 Mbps|
• Design: Most cable modems have the same set of indicator lights: a power light, lights that tell you the status of your send and receive channels, a light indicating whether you have internet connectivity, and a link light that shows if your modem is connected to a computer, router or other device. You'll want a modem that displays these lights in a clear, easy-to-spot way in case you have to troubleshoot any connectivity problems. You'll also want to consider the footprint of a cable modem; a compact design makes it easier for a modem to blend in with your other networking and cable equipment.
Consider whether your modem can support the speed of your internet service.
• Price and Warranty: The primary reason to drop your ISP-supplied modem in favor of one you own outright is to save money over the long term. While that doesn't mean opting for the cheapest modem you can find, you'll still want to look for one with a price tag that's low enough to pay for itself in less than a year with what you'll save in rental fees. Why a year? Because some modem makers provide a year's warranty with their devices, though we favor modems that come with two years of warranty coverage.
• Speed: Consider whether your modem can support the speed of your internet service. A 16 x 4 modem is likely to support whatever your ISP throws at it, unless you happen to pay for download speeds greater than 300 Mbps. (An 8 x 4 modem will work just fine If your service is capped at 100 Mbps, though a 16 x 4 device gives you more headroom should you ever upgrade your service. We've dropped 8 x 4 modems from our list of recommended devices.)
As for performance testing, it’s really a non-issue. To confirm, we hooked up an SB6183, a Zoom 5370 and a CM500 to a Comcast account with Performance Pro internet service, which tops out at download speeds of 100 Mpbs. We then ran Ookla’s Speedtest.net, and while the SB6183 had the fastest average, all turned in speeds over 113 Mbps. The bottom line: little distinguishes modems by performance, so pay more attention to compatibility, price, warranty and design.
Keep Your Modem and Router Separate
Some manufacturers offer modem-router hybrids — Linksys offers a $200CG7500 dual-band modem and router. While it's tempting to kill two birds with one hardware stone, keep in mind that if any part of a hybrid device fails, you're out both a modem and a router. Having a modem-router combo also complicates upgrading, since routers tend to add support for new networking features at a more rapid clip than modems do. We also test and rate routers, and we can recommend the best router for your needs.
Arris Surfboard SB6183: Best Cable Modem
The Arris Surfboard SB6183 is our top pick, retaining all the charms of the 8 x 4 SB6141, but with more channels to handle faster internet tiers. It’s a dependable 16 x 4 modem that will deliver solid performance for the majority of internet users. A two-year warranty gives it an edge over Netgear’s modems, which are backed by one year of protection.
I’m a big fan of the compact design of Surfboard modems, and the SB6183 is no exception. At 5.2 x 5 x 2.1 inches, the all-white SB6183 tucks 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 only have to deal with that once.
The SB6183 favors a simple row of vertical indicator lights that are easier 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 and see if there’s any issue with your internet connectivity.
The SB6183 gets a largely positive response on Amazon, with more than 70 percent of 5,800-plus user reviews left a 5-star rating, thanks to its performance. (Note that Amazon appears to lump user reviews of multiple Arris products together, so pay attention to the reviews connected to the company's 16x4 modems if you're looking for feedback on the SB6183.) The negative reviews largely cite reliability issues that develop over time.
You may have heard reports of security flaws affecting Arris and Motorola broadband modems, routers and gateways supplied by AT&T to its internet customers. Those flaws do not appear to impact the Surfboard modem lineup that's sold directly to consumers, so that security warning shouldn't impact your cable modem choice.
Zoom 5370: Best Value
More internet providers list compatibility with the SB6183 than the Zoom modem, but if the 5370 is supported by your ISP, the 16 x 4 modem is a good, lower-cost alternative to Arris’ device. The Zoom 5370 is larger than the SB6183, but at 6.9 x 5.4 x 1.5 inches, it’s still relatively slender when compared with other bulkier modems. And its all-black look may fit in better with your other internet hardware.
I particularly like the 5370’s indicator lights, which are good and bright. More important, they’re clearly labeled, instead of making you rely on icons to let you know what light shows which function. A power button in the back makes resets easy, and gives you a one-press option for cutting off internet access (something parents might appreciate if their kids spend dinner glued to their devices).
Around 400 people have reviewed the Zoom 5370 at Amazon, but the reviewers are overwhelming positive. Users like the easy setup and reliable performance, and you can likely get a 5370 for less than an SB6183 while still enjoying the protection of a two-year warranty.
Netgear CM500: A Solid Choice
At $70, Netgear’s 16 x 4 modem costs less than the SB6183, and it enjoys wide compatibility with internet service providers. On the downside, Netgear offers only a one-year warranty on the CM500.
Netgear’s CM500 is taller than the SB6183 and Zoom 5370, at 7.3 inches. I also found its indicator lights difficult to see, though at night, you may appreciate the lack of a light show. The coaxial and power connectors are also far apart on the CM500, making this an easy modem to set up.
Amazon customers who bought the CM500 are generally pleased with its setup and performance, giving the modem an average rating of 3.8 stars. (Amazon lumps reviews of the CM500 in with a combination router-modem product, which could be skewing that rating.) More than 60 percent of the 3,500 reviews on Amazon are of the 5-star variety.
High-Speed Modems: What You Need to Know
We’ve looked at a trio of modems that offer a little more horsepower than their 16 x 4 counterparts, but with 16 x 4 devices capable of handling up to 300 Mbps download speeds, only a sliver of internet users will need to pay for performance beyond that, and most who do should probably jump on the DOCSIS 3.1 modem train since that's what many ISPs are upgrading to.
Among the high-speed DOCSIS 3.0 modems we've looked at, the 32x8 SB6190 ($129, but currently available for less than $100 at Amazon) is our pick, thanks to its compact size (it’s roughly as big as the SB6183) and two-year warranty.
But that's a qualified recommendation. If there's a reason to hesitate at buying this modem, it involves complaints from some users over latency which have been attributed to the Intel Puma 6 chip that the SB6190 uses. (Some users filed a class-action suit earlier this year over the SB6190, and some Amazon user reviews of the SB6190 cite the Puma 6 chipset as a complaint.) Arris says that it's released a firmware update to address the issue, though ISPs deploy such updates on their own schedule. For what it's worth, I've been using an SB6190 for the past three months with no issues, though I don't do the kind of online gaming that's going to be impacted by latency issues.
If those user complaints have you looking for an alternative, consider the CM600 from Netgear. The 8.7 x 5.3 x 2.4-inch CM600 (available for less than $100 from Amazon) looks like a sideways star cruiser and performs reliably, though it only offers a one-year warranty. We've also tested the CM3024 from Linksys ($105) though that 8 x 7 x 1.8-inch modem uses the same Puma 6 chip that has triggered user complaints about the SB6190.
What Modems We Test: DOCSIS 3.0
We focus on DOCSIS 3.0-compatible modems in our testing and research. 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.
Our recommendations now focus on 16 x 4 modems — those are devices with 16 downstream channels and four upstream channels — since they can support internet plans that deliver download speeds up to 300 Mbps. We have looked at a trio of more powerful modems — the 24 x 8 Netgear CM600 and Linksys CM3024 as well as the 32 x 8 Arris SB6190 — but unless your internet plan offers lightning-fast speeds, these $100-plus modems are likely overkill for your needs.
DOCSIS 3.1: The Future of Modems
We haven't reviewed DOCSIS 3.1 modems because high-speed broadband is available in only some markets, and even then, some providers don't yet allow you to bring your own DOCSIS 3.1 modems. Still, with Internet providers expanding gigabit internet, modem makers are beginning to offer DOCSIS 3.1 devices that can deliver 1000 Mbps download speeds.
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.
Linksys and Netgear unveiled DOCSIS 3.1 modems at the start of 2017, and Arris followed suit with a model of its own in the spring. Linksys has since put the launch of its CM3132 modem on hold, but other DOCSIS 3.1 devices are now available.
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.
As of this update, CES 2018 is just around the corner, so we could be hearing about additional DOCSIS 3.1 modems at that trade show. Unless you need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem right now, it may be worth holding off until early January when modem makers will reveal plans for the coming year.
Other Modems Reviewed
We’ve evaluated a bunch of 8 x 4 modems over the last two years, and because modems are basically a commodity, they remain widely available. Here’s a quick rundown of these different devices and what we thought about each one.
|Modem||Price||What We Liked||What We Didn't||Average Amazon Customer Rating|
|Arris SB6141||Two-year warranty; generally reliable performance initially||Performance issues develop over time; modem is difficult to find these days||4.2 stars|
|TP-Link TC-7610||Low price; reliable performance||Hard-to-spot indicator lights||4.3 stars|
|Zoom 5345||Two-year warranty; visible indicator lights||Minor setup complains||4.3 stars|
|Netgear CM400||Visible indicator lights; competitive price||Users cite reliability issues in online reviews||3.7 stars|
|Linskys CM3008||Compact design; easy setup||Indicator lights aren’t always easy to spot; pricey compared to other 8x4 modems||4.2 stars|
|D-Link DCM 301||Easy-to-spot indicator lights; reliable||One-year warranty; not listed as supported by some ISPs||4.3 stars|
Photo Credits: Philip Michaels/Tom's Guide
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- Best Cable Modems 2017
- Why Buy Your Own Cable Modem
- What to Look for in a Cable Modem
- Arris Surfboard SB6183: Best Cable Modem
- Zoom 5370: Best Value
- Netgear CM500: A Solid Choice
- High-Speed Modems: What You Need to Know
- What Modems We Test: DOCSIS 3.0
- DOCSIS 3.1: The Future of Modems
- Other Modems Reviewed