If your cable internet provider charges you an expensive modem rental fee every month, consider buying your own modem instead. A modem generally pays for itself in the first year of ownership, and most will give you speedy internet for years to come. After researching nearly 100 cable modems over the past six years, we recommend the Motorola MB7621 as the best cable modem for use with most internet service providers (ISPs) and internet plans.
If you have a gigabit or multi-gig internet plan and your ISP allows you to use your own modem, the Motorola MB8611 is the best of the DOCSIS 3.1 modems that are widely available right now, thanks to its relatively low price and two-year warranty. You need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem to guarantee gigabit speeds from most cable ISPs, and some ISPs like Sparklight recommend DOCSIS 3.1 modems for new cable modem activations.
The first two versions of DOCSIS used only one downstream channel (for downloading data) and one upstream channel (for uploading data). DOCSIS 3.0 allows modems to bond multiple channels into a single data stream, giving you 38 Mbps per channel. Since those channels can combine, you can theoretically get up to 600 Mbps with a 16-channel modem and up to 1.2 gigabits per second (Gbps) with a 32-channel modem. A DOCSIS 3.1 will go further, up into the multi-gig capacity (above 1.2 Gbps), but note that wired Ethernet is limited to 1 Gbps on most current desktop PCs, laptops, and streaming boxes.
The MB8611 supports gigabit internet plans (up to 1000 Mbps or 1 Gbps) as well as multi-gig plans (between 1.2 and 2.5 Gbps). It supports those faster speeds using a 2.5 GbE (2.5 gigabit Ethernet) port on its back panel, just above the usual coaxial (round Cable TV-style) cable. The modem's port will connect to older routers with 1 gigabit Ethernet ports up to single gigabit speeds, and newer routers and mesh networks with 2.5 GbE ports at 1.2 to 2.5 gigabit speeds.
If you have cable internet, you probably rent your modem from your internet service provider for a monthly fee on top of your internet plan. It's usually somewhere between $5 and $10 a month, though most ISPs are less than up front about how much their services cost.
Many providers allow you to buy your own modem and avoid those monthly rental fees. While there are obvious benefits to buying your own modem, there are still reasons you may prefer to rent it from your ISP. Here's all the information you need to decide for yourself.
Check your monthly bill for a rental fee; Comcast, Cox, Optimum, and Spectrum all add a charge, depending on your plan. Some providers say they provide a free modem in certain bundles, but they usually charge an extra Wi-Fi service fee if you use a modem/router combo unit (like Spectrum, pictured above).
If you are allowed the option to use your own modem, you could save between $60 and $120 per year by buying one instead of renting it from your ISP. Sure, you may pay $50-$100 upfront, but you will have recouped the cost of those fees within a year, and will then start saving $10 a month. That adds up over time. Just be sure your cable company actually stops charging you the rental fee, since they've been known to \"forget\" in the past(Opens in a new window).
There are some benefits to renting. You can trade it in when it becomes obsolete or if it stops working. Plus, you don't have to worry about compatibility or replacing the unit yourself if something goes wrong as your ISP can just swap it out for you. And again, if your ISP includes the cost of a modem in your package pricing, you won't save any money by purchasing your own.
If you aren't sure what you're allowed to do, check your ISP's website, or give customer service a call to see if it's possible to use your own modem. Most will list compatible modems on their website (here's how to check for Comcast(Opens in a new window), Cox(Opens in a new window), and Spectrum(Opens in a new window).)
The maximum speed of your modem is dependent on the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS), a telecommunications standard used to provide internet access over a cable modem. For years, the standard has been DOCSIS 3.0, though many ISPs now require a DOCSIS 3.1 modem if you're adding a new one to your plan.
DOCSIS 3.0's highest possible speed is 1Gbps, also known as Gigabit internet.\" However, DOCSIS 3.1 maxes out at a whopping 10Gbps. Most consumers won't see speeds that high right now, but in the future, they could. Some providers have offered 1Gbps plans over DOCSIS 3.0, while others now require a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. The latter is the all-around better option, so we recommend them if you're going with a gigabit plan.
DOCSIS 3.1 modems are backward compatible with DOCSIS 3.0, so even if your provider doesn't require it yet, you can use it with your plan. But they're more expensive. If your provider doesn't offer gigabit plans yet, you may not want to spring for a DOCSIS 3.1 modem, since they may end up offering gigabit speeds over fiber or another type of connection. This way you won't spend money on something you might not need in the present or near future.
If you have a slower plan and decide to go with a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, you'll want to look at one other spec: the number of downstream and upstream channels it supports. Originally, DOCSIS used one channel for downloading data and one channel for uploads. DOCSIS 3.0 enables modems to combine multiple channels to stream data, increasing the speed of both downloads and uploads.
Another factor worth considering (eventually) is DOCSIS 4.0(Opens in a new window), the newest standard that was announced in 2019. DOCSIS 4.0 promises the same 10Gbps down seen in 3.1 modems, but also 6Gbps in upstream capacity. There are currently no modems on the market that are compatible with this standard, but it's something to think about as you look to upgrade.
At PCMag, we don't rate cable modems because it's not possible to isolate modem performance from ISP speed, and we're unable to test them with every compatible ISP under the same conditions. The right cable modem for you is what's compatible with your ISP and your particular plan, and offers the best balance of price and features (not to mention a good warranty).
The best modems overall support DOCSIS 3.0 or 3.1, and are compatible with the major US cable companies, namely Spectrum, Comcast, and Cox, which is true of all the modems listed below. Most of these models cost $100 or less (excluding the DOCSIS 3.1 options), so if you're paying $10 a month to rent your modem, you'll make back your investment in less than a year.
If you have a plan that goes up to 650Mbps, you'll want to step up to something with 24 upstream and eight downstream channels like the Motorola MB7621(Opens in a new window). It comes with a two-year warranty and is compatible with most ISPs. While 24x8 supports a theoretical speed of 1Gbps, it's unlikely your ISP rates this modem for those speeds, so you'll want one of the DOCSIS 3.1 modems below.
If Motorola's MB7621 is out of stock or more expensive than the Netgear CM600(Opens in a new window), the latter is worth looking at. It uses the same 24 upstream and eight downstream channels, and is compatible with most ISPs. But it only comes with a one-year warranty, which makes it our second choice for 24x8 modems.
If you pay for Gigabit internet or higher, we recommend going with a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. This way you can fully benefit from the speeds your plan offers and avoid limiting your network's capabilities by using an older unit.
Netgear also makes its own DOCSIS 3.1 modem for gigabit customers, and it's similarly priced to the other two offerings, though it only comes with a one-year warranty and a single Ethernet port. If neither of the other two are an option, the Netgear CM1000(Opens in a new window) should do in a pinch.
With the increased number of connected devices in the home, your network now needs higher bandwidth to support all these WiFi devices. Rented WiFi modems or gateways struggle to support every device, but with the latest WiFi modems and routers, you easily get the speeds and connection reliability that you need.
When top-tier speeds and reliability are high on your list, NETGEAR WiFi Cable Modem Routers can easily handle all your high-bandwidth wireless requirements. NETGEAR WiFi Cable Modems and Routers let you take advantage of the fastest cable internet speeds and are compatible with most ISPs. DOCSIS 3.0 and DOCSIS 3.1 compatible NETGEAR modems support multiple channels to boost speeds and are backwards compatible, offering consumers a future-proof solution to enjoy the speeds offered today and still be ready for tomorrow when their service plan upgrades to higher speed tiers.
This means a strong WiFi connection for everyone and WiFi coverage that will reach every corner of your home. The new NETGEAR DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem for Internet and Voice (CM500V) provides a connection to high-speed cable Internet and supports two phone lines. It automatically prioritizes voice over Internet for best call clarity and also offers enhanced call features such as 3-way conference calling, caller ID, call forwarding and more. This cable modem is ideal for XFINITY from Comcast Double and Triple Play service plans.
Get the best cable modem, and you no longer have to worry about hidden fees popping up on your internet bill. That's because supplying your own modem gets rid of the equipment rental fee your internet service provider could be charging you if you're using the ISP-supplied modem they gave you with when setting up your service.
You'll need to find a modem that works with your internet service, but that's not a huge challenge. All of the best cable modem contenders we've assessed work with major ISPs in the U.S. So really, all you need to do is find a modem that's easy to hook up and comes with a generous warranty. Here's what we'd recommend based on testing assorted cable modems over the years.
If you have gigabit or even a multi-gig internet plan, you're going to need a DOCSIS 3.1 compatible modem to take full advantage of the speeds you're paying for. The ARRIS SURFboard S33 is one such modem that's compatible with Comcast, Spectrum Cox and most other major U.S. cable internet providers. 59ce067264