Best Cable Modems 2018
After testing more than a dozen cable modems, the Arris Surfboard SB6183 remains our modem of choice when you're tired of paying monthly rental fees to your internet service provider and decide to buy your own networking hardware. The SB6183 is a dependable modem that's compatible with a wide array of services and can handle the speeds most internet customers get these days. And you get a two-year warranty if anything goes wrong.
Looking to save money? You can now get a Netgear CM500 modem for around $50 from some retailers, making it an appealing alternative to the SB6183. If your home internet speeds top 300 Mbps, Netgear's CM600 modem is more reliable than its high-speed rivals, and its price has fallen below other 32 x 8 modems (32 downstream channels and eight upstream channels).
Arris Surfboard SB6183: Best Cable Modem
The Arris Surfboard SB6183 is our top pick, since 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, like the CM500, which are backed by one year of protection.
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. (If you don't like that white look, never fear — the SB6183 is also available in a more traditional black.)
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 more than 70 percent of 3,800-plus user reviews awarding a 5-star rating, thanks to its performance. The negative reviews largely cite reliability issues that develop over time.
Netgear CM500: Best Value
Netgear's modems have a disadvantage when compared to similar devices from Arris and Zoom — they only have a one-year warranty, instead of the two years of coverage available from rival modem makers. However, the price on the Netgear CM500 — a solid cable modem — has dropped significantly enough to where the warranty length may not matter, especially if you just want to save some money.
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, though at night, you may appreciate the lack of a light show.
Like our other top modem picks, the CM500 gets generally good reviews on Amazon, though the retailer seems to combine reviews of all of Netgear's modems so it's hard to get a good read on what customers say about this specific model. From what we can tell, 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.
Netgear CM600: Best High-Speed Modem
Netgear's 24x8 CM600 modem enjoys the edge over rival high-speed devices for what it doesn't have — an Intel Puma 6 chip that's been blamed for some latency issues with other 32 x 8 modems such as the Arris SB6190. Opt for the CM600, and you're going to get reliable performance without the lags reported by some users with Intel Puma 6-powered devices. (Arris, which makes the high-speed SB6190, says it has put out a firmware update to address the issue, though ISPs roll out these updates on their own schedule.)
Netgear offers only a one-year warranty for its cable modems, but the more dependable performance is worth the trade-off in this case. With the price of the CM600 falling below that of the SB6190, it's an even easier choice to make.
Users who buy the CM600 are pleased with the purchase: Three-quarters of the 2,000-plus reviews on Amazon give this modem a five-star rating.
Other Modems Tested
Over the past few years, we've looked at many other cable modems that are still on the market. Here are the best remaining options based on our testing.
- Zoom 5370: Zoom's 16 x 4 modem has been our favorite alternative to the Arris SB6183, thanks to its clearly labeled indicator lights, two-year warranty and generally lower price tag. But the Zoom modem appears to be out-of-stock at most retailers these days.
- TP-Link TC-7610: This 8 x 4 modem has a low price and delivers reliable performance for users with lower speed caps on their service, but its indicator lights are hard to spot.
- Linksys CM3008: Another 8 x 4 modem, this model is noteworthy for its very compact design and easy setup. But its indicator lights are difficult to spot, and this was one of the pricier models available when we tested it. (The price seems to have dropped on the CM3008 as modems with more download channel become available.)
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.
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 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.
About DOCSIS 3.1
We haven't reviewed DOCSIS 3.1 modems because high-speed broadband is still rolling out to different markets, and even then, some providers don't yet allow you to bring your own DOCSIS 3.1 modems. That's changing, though: Comcast says that 58 million homes and businesses now have access to its Xfinity Gigabit Internet service. As a result, 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.
Motorola's DOCS 3.1 modem also has 32 download and eight upload channels. It also features 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.
Cable Modems: Quick Buying Tips
The modems reviewed here work with cable internet service. If you're getting your internet over fiber or DSL, that requires different equipment.
We have an in-depth look at what to consider when shopping for a cable modem. These four things are the most important considerations.
• 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 does 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.
• 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.
Cable Modem Buying Guide
Your monthly internet bill is likely $5 to $10 higher than it needs to be, thanks to the rental charge your ISP slaps you with for using one of its modems. Buying your own modem eliminates that cost, paying for itself in a year or less, depending on how much you’re already paying to rent that modem. (Comcast charges $10 a month, so you're looking at $120 in rental feels every year.)
Some ISPs include a modem as part your internet service at no extra charge. You'll want to check your monthly cable bill to see if you're paying any equipment leasing charges. If you get your phone service bundled with your internet, you'll likely need a modem that supports telephone calls, too, which can limit your options. (None of the modems reviewed here support telephone services.)
When shopping for a modem, make sure that it's compatible with your ISP. Modem makers Arris and Zoom typically offer two-year warranties, which are better than the single year of coverage you'll get from companies like Netgear. Modems are generally available in black, though you'll find some in white; consider the ones that fit in with your decor and that don't take up too much space.
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. That said, Netgear offers a $300 version of its Orbi mesh router that includes a 32 x 8 modem, and we're interested to see if the promised software updates delivered via the Orbi app keep both the router and modem as up-to-date as Netgear is promising.
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. You'll pay more for high-speed modems, especially newer models that support the emerging DOCSIS 3.1 standard. But unless your internet provider is giving you the 1,000 Mbps speeds that DOCSIS 3.1 devices support, there's no need to pay the $180-and-up prices that these ultrafast modems command.