Tech Tip: The 6 Best Modems Reviewed by Experts

I explained in the CyberGuy feature How to lower your internet service bill that owning a modem can result in overpayment compared to renting it. In many cases, you have more control over your modem and your privacy. Check your bill from last month and if you see that you’re paying a fee to rent your modem and/or router, it might be time to invest in your own to save money in the long run.

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Top 6 picks for the best modems

You can find the best modem in the list below. The focus is primarily on cable modems as DSL is an older technology that is being phased out and fiber is a newer technology that is not readily available in many locations.

LAPTOP SCREEN TOO SMALL? TOP PORTABLE MONITORS MAKE EVERYTHING BIGGER

MOTOROLA MB7420

Amazon review (at the time of publication): 72% 5-star ratings from 6,667 reviews

Advantages:

  • Affordable
  • DOCSIS 3.0 (16x faster than DOCSIS 2.0 modem)
  • Sit taller than wider so takes up less space when sitting on a desk
  • Really simple, color-coded connector ports
  • Customer Support in USA
  • Two year guarantee
  • Works with top cable providers: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox

Disadvantages:

  • Does not have a phone adapter or phone jack
  • Not as small as some other modems

Get the Motorola MB7420

Motorola MB8611

Amazon review (at the time of publication): 76% 5-star ratings from 25,496 reviews

Advantages:

  • DOCSIS 3.1 technology means it’s faster than DOCSIS 3.0 and backwards compatible
  • Multi-gigabit Ethernet speed, so speed is maximized for routers
  • Sit taller than wider so takes up less space when sitting on a desk
  • Customer Support in USA
  • Two year guarantee
  • Works with top cable providers: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive than some of the older modems and can pay for itself in about a year depending on how much you pay for a modem per month

Get the Motorola MB8611

The router connects to the modem via Ethernet, and you can then connect your WiFi devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, to the Internet without having to connect them to the modem with an Ethernet cable.

The router connects to the modem via Ethernet, and you can then connect your WiFi devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, to the Internet without having to connect them to the modem with an Ethernet cable.
(cyberguy)

NETGEAR cable modem CM700

Amazon review (at the time of publication): 72% 5-star ratings from 6,257 reviews

Advantages:

  • DOCSIS 3.0 technology
  • Sit taller than wider so takes up less space when sitting on a desk
  • Works with top cable providers: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox
  • Different price points for different maximum download speeds (so you can pay more or less depending on how much speed you need)
  • Works with any router
  • Up to 800Mbps speeds

Disadvantages:

  • Technically optimized to be compatible with Nighthawk routers that are routers of this brand
  • No phone jack
  • Limited one-year warranty

Get the NETGEAR CM700I-SPY cable modem: CHANGE YOUR COMPUTER SETTINGS TO STOP PROGRAMS FROM SPYING ON YOU

NETGEAR Nighthawk Cable Modem CM1200

Amazon review (at the time of publication): 75% 5-star ratings from 7,439 reviews

Advantages:

  • DOCSIS 3.1 technology means it is faster than DOCSIS 3.0
  • Sit taller than wider so takes up less space when sitting on a desk
  • Works with top cable providers: Comcast, Spectrum, Cox
  • Works with any router
  • Multi-Gig Ethernet integration
  • 4 Ethernet ports

Disadvantages:

  • Expensive
  • Not compatible with Verizon, AT&T, CenturyLink, DSL providers, DirecTV, DISH and any bundled voice services

Get the NETGEAR Nighthawk Cable Modem CM1200

ARRIS SURFboard SB6190

Amazon review (at the time of publication): 71% 5-star ratings from 5,155 reviews

Advantages:

  • DOCSIS 3.0 technology
  • Works with any router
  • Up to 800Mbps speeds
  • Compatible with major US cable internet providers including Cox, Spectrum, Xfinity and others

Disadvantages:

  • Not DOCSIS 3.1
  • Not compatible with ATT, Verizon, CenturyLink or any other DSL or fiber ISP.

Get the ARRIS SURFboard SB6190

ARRIS SURFboard SB8200

Amazon review (at the time of publication): 76% 5-star ratings from 16,392 reviews

Advantages:

  • DOCSIS 3.1 technology means it is faster than DOCSIS 3.0
  • Two 1 Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Speeds up to 1Gbps
  • Approved for Cox, Xfinity, Spectrum and others

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive than some of the older modems and overall it pays for itself in about 2 years depending on how much you pay per month for a modem
  • Not compatible with ATT, Verizon, CenturyLink or any other DSL or fiber ISP

Get the ARRIS SURFboard SB8200

How to buy the best router

Displays devices using WiFi from the same WiFi router/modem.

Displays devices using WiFi from the same WiFi router/modem.
(cyber type)

Modems connect to routers using Ethernet cables. Most routers have an additional Ethernet port for wired connection to your devices. Most routers have Wi-Fi capabilities. Once your modem is connected to a Wi-Fi router, your devices can connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi.

Features to look for in a router:

  • Network type: Routers allow you to create Wi-Fi networks. There are two general types: 802.11ac: Latest and fastest technology that is backward compatible with older Wi-Fi devices. If you have many devices that you can connect via Wi-Fi, this is the best choice. 802.11n: This is an older technology with a default speed of up to 600 Mbps, while the newer 802.11ac routers have a throughput of up to 1 Gbps. One advantage is the greater range.
  • 802.11ac: Latest and fastest technology that is backwards compatible with older Wi-Fi devices. If you have many devices that you can connect via Wi-Fi, this is the best choice.
  • 802.11n: This is an older technology with a default speed of up to 600 Mbps, while the newer 802.11ac routers have a throughput of up to 1 Gbps. One advantage is the greater range.
  • Wireless band: It is a set of frequencies that carry data from your router to your devices. Below are 3 types: Single: Uses the 2.4GHz band or 5GHz Dual: Uses both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Tri: Uses 2.4GHz and 2 separate 5GHz
  • Single: Uses the 2.4 GHz band or 5 GHz
  • Dual: Uses both 2.4GHz and 5GHz
  • Tri: Uses 2.4GHz and 2 separate 5GHz

2.4GHz bands are great for connecting devices like smart lightbulbs and wireless devices. While devices like tablets and laptops perform better on a 5 GHz band. A multi-device router helps separate network traffic by device type.

  • Beamforming: This allows the Wi-Fi router to direct signals to where they are needed most. This is ideal for large rooms where devices and routers are further apart or placed in less accessible locations.

For top router choices, go to CyberGuy.com and search “top routers”.

Advantages and disadvantages of combination devices

Wireless router connected with three antennas and cables.  Man using smartphone in the background

Wireless router connected with three antennas and cables. Man using smartphone in the background
(iStock)

Although there are some modem-router combo devices, it is generally better to purchase them separately.

When a provider requires you to use their equipment to connect, they typically require that the modem be rented or purchased from them. Usually you can choose your own router. Some other reasons why a separate router and modem is better than a combo device are:

  • Easier troubleshooting. When there is a problem with the connection it is usually obvious if the problem is directly from the ISP vs your internal hardware (router) issues when the devices are disconnected as you are on a modem vs a router. On the other hand, if you have a combo device, it usually doesn’t differentiate between problems with the modem or the router.
  • Sometimes cheaper. If you might not be able to negotiate the cost of the modem but can buy the router separately, you can probably find a better ideal
  • Better Technology. While you may be stuck with the technology that the ISP gives you in terms of the modem, being able to choose your own router allows you to buy the latest and greatest router to maximize the speed you are paying for.
  • Pay less tax. You are only taxed on the equipment you rent.
  • Easier to replace. If the modem breaks, you still have a working router and vice versa. Whereas with a combination device everything is broken.

The only real downside to not buying a combo device is that sometimes you have to pay for two separate devices. Again, you can save by getting a better price on these two separate purchases.

When not to buy your own gear

Of course, you should do your own research to find out what providers are actually available in your area and what your chosen company allows.

Below are the top reasons NOT to buy your own gear:

  1. Against company policy. There are still some ISPs that make it part of their terms and conditions that you have to rent or buy their equipment.
  2. Free equipment. Although not as common, some ISPs, like AT&T, actually give their customers devices for free. Unless the gear they provide is an actual “fossil” that has yesterday’s technology, it can just be nice to take advantage of the free gear. It’s already included in the cost of your monthly service.
  3. setup issues. If you are unfamiliar with technology and would prefer someone else to come along and set up the equipment, you can rent or buy the equipment from your ISP and have them set it up. In cases like ViaSat, special equipment like a satellite is installed that cannot be easily purchased or used without the company’s help.
  4. Repairs/Replacements. When rented equipment breaks or doesn’t work, the ISP usually replaces or repairs it. If you bought your own, you are responsible for repair or replacement.

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