LAST UPDATED DECEMBER 7, 2017 AT 1:58 P.M.
How to pick the best cable modem
Finding the best cable modem that’s compatible with your local cable provider can be a pain.
You have to make sure the one you want is compatible with your local cable company, or Internet service provider. And you want a modem that can meet the multiple demands of HD streaming and gaming without any hangups.
The Netgear CM600 is the best cable modem for HD streaming on multiple devices.
It’s compatible with most U.S. cable companies including Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum and Cox. Xfinity customers can utilize a “self activation feature” so you don’t need to call customer service to activate it. The CM600 has a snappier performance our previous pick of Arris SURFborard 6183, and can handle whatever kind of high-speed, multi-device requirements your household may demand from it.
A cable modem that supports streaming to multiple devices is becoming more of a standard requirement these days.
Whether or not you’re a cord cutter, you may have times in your home where someone is watching Netflix in one room, and playing a PlayStation 4 game in another.
The last thing you want is choppy reception.
5 facts about Netgear CM600 cable modem
- Ideal for HD multimedia streaming and gaming
- Download speeds up to 960Mbps
- Compatible with Comcast, Spectrum and most U.S. cable providers
- 24 downstream / 8 upstream channels
- Self activates for Xfinity customers without service call.
Cable modems, WiFi routers and WiFi extenders serve as the foundation of our home entertainment. Those three pieces of equipment often have more impact on Internet performance than the ISP you choose.
Cable modems are often quickly forgotten about in a closet or cubby-hole soon after installation by a local cable provider. They really shouldn’t. When I bought my first cable modem, the overall performance of my home network dramatically improved.
People are demanding better and better performance from their Internet service. No matter if you are a cable subscriber or cord cutter, you may stream a lot of content from platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
This quick guide to picking the best cable modem will help you sort out what to choose for your home.
What kind of cable modem do I need for Comcast, Time Warner Cable, etc.?
Many cable providers require DOCSIS 3.0, which stands for Data Cable Over Service Interface Specification. It’s a fancy term about how cable delivers high-speed Internet.
You will basically only care about having a DOCSIS 3.0 modem because your local cable company like Comcast, or ISP will require you to have one.
DOCSIS 3.0 performs a bit faster than the prior generation of modems using DOCSIS 2.0. And you want something faster that also performs better than modems that came out a few years ago.
If you have a DOCSIS 2.0 modem around your house and would like to use it, check with your local cable provider first. DOCSIS 2.0 modems are considered retired or at an “end of life” status by most cable companies and ISPs.
You will also want a router with Gigabit network ports. If you don’t, you will be limiting yourself quite a bit and possibly throwing away money down the road. If you ever wanted to use an ISP that offered Gigabit speed, you would need to buy another new modem.
Best modem for Comcast Triple Play or Xfinity bundle
If you’re a Comcast subscriber with a Triple Play bundle, you will need a cable modem with a phone port. The Arris SURFboard SVG248AC has two VOIP telephony ports, and made specifically for Comcast Xfinity service.
It’s capable of 1 Gigabit download speeds. This is a combination modem and AC1750 router. The cable modem is DOCSIS 3.0 with 24 channels for downloads and 8 channels for uploads. There’s also the option to install a backup battery, which is sold separately. If you’re a Comcast or Spectrum customer who is not necessarily looking to cut the cord, check out my guide: How to Replace a Comcast Triple Play modem, router or cable box for more suggestions.
Higher downstreaming means less congestion
DOCSIS 3.0 modems generally support at least 8 channels for downstreams and four channels for upstreams. That’s plenty of channels for most people. But let’s put it this way, if an interstate has more lanes, then it can better handle possible congestion.
That’s the strength of the Netgear CM600 because it supports up to 24 channels instead of the standard 8 for downstreams. Those are the very channels that are bringing Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime into your home.
With 24 channels, you have enough of a data highway – so to speak – to handle both traffic jams and a faster service if you ever upgrade your service plan.
If you are only streaming on one or two televisions in your home, the TP-Link TC-7620 has enough download capacity for multiple streams without lag. The TC-7620 has fewer channels, but it’s a solid 16 x 4 modem that works with most major Internet service providers, including Comcast, Spectrum, Cox and Cable One.
Do I use a cable modem with DSL or fiber?
Don’t buy cable modem if you are using fiber, DSL or if you are also using your cable provider for telephone service. DSL and fiber use different kinds of connectors than what you’ll find on a cable modem.
If you are a cable subscriber that bundles your phone service, you will need a cable modem with a phone port. You should check to see if your ISP or cable provider allows you to buy your own. Comcast customers can buy the Arris SURFboard SVG248AC .
There are some folks who will get a Comcast bundle because it got them a better overall deal on their cable. But they won’t even use the landline. They just want the lower price on cable. Here’s the rub. Even if you don’t use Comcast’s phone service, you likely won’t be allowed to use a modem without telephone capabilities. And, your monthly rate will go up once the deal is over.
What’s the best cable modem for cord cutters?
The Netgear CM600 is the best cable modem for HD Multimedia Streaming. It’s also the best cable modem for high-performance online gaming. So you if you have a NVIDIA Shield, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or PC designed for high graphics games and online play, you’ll want our top pick, the CM600 for your next modem.
The CM600 is a DOCSIS 3.0 modem that has download speed of up to 960Mbps.
The TP-Link TC-7620 is our runner-up pick because it can handle speeds up to 686Mbps and has a 16 by 4 channel setup. The TC-7620 basically has the same features as our top pick, and works with many of the top cable and ISP providers nationwide.
Best cable modem for Gigabit speeds in 2017
If you live in a place like Austin, Texas or Wilson, North Carolina, then you are among the elite cities that offer residential gigabit speeds. The High Speed Geek site has a handy list of the 50 cities that now have Gigabit internet, and a coming soon list.
If you’re living in one of these places, the SURFboard SB6190 is worth considering. The SB6190 also works with Comcast/XFinity, Time Warner, Cox and Spectrum.
It’s designed to handle Internet speeds up to 1.4Gbps with 32 download channels and 8 upload channels.
Such high speeds networks aren’t available everywhere in the U.S., but the list is growing year by year.
Do you need a modem and a router?
Since we’re talking about a much faster cable modem, let’s circle back for a moment. It’s worth mentioning our axiom about your modem and WiFi router being the foundation of your home entertainment again. Upgrading a cable modem in the hopes of saving money and getting better Internet speeds is only one piece of the puzzle. If you buy a high performing router like the SB6190, you will also want an equally powerful WiFi router to broadcast your signal to devices in your home.
Having a great cable modem and a lesser performing WiFi router isn’t going to give you peak performance.
For example, Amazon is currently advertising that many of the customers are buying the SB6190 along with the ASUS RT-AC88U wireless router. That WiFi router is one of the most powerful on the market. It’s among our top picks for a wireless router, but not our first choice mainly because of its price. You can read more here for a review on the best wireless routers.
SURFboard SB6141: best cable modem for RCN
The Arris SURFboard SB6141 has been our top choice for a cable modem, but Comcast and Time Warner Cable appear to be phasing it out to an “end of life” status. It’s still a viable cable modem if you are an RCN customer.
If you already own a SURFboard SB6141, and it’s working fine, don’t panic. It’s still a highly recommended modem that has a strong performance for streaming and gaming. We’ve used the SB6141 for many months and it’s still a great router. But if you are in the market for a new router, you should be aware of how some companies like Comcast are phasing it out.
Best cable modem router combo
Generally speaking, I don’t recommend buying a combination modem/router setup. Having separate devices gives you much better performance than modems that double as routers. The other problem is that if the router suddenly breaks, but the modem is fine…guess what? Yep, you’re replacing the whole dang thing. There are exceptions, of course. If you’re Comcast Triple Play or require a modem that provides a telephone port, then you will likely have to buy a combination unit like the modem that I mentioned above, Arris SURFboard SVG248AC.
Does getting a cable modem save money?
Yes, it saves you quite a bit every year for as long as it works. No matter what cable company you get Internet from, whether it’s Comcast, Spectrum or Cox, you’re paying a rental fee for your cable modem. Most cable companies charge you $10 per month for a rental fee to use their modem. And you have no way of knowing whether you are getting a previously used or defective unit. Some providers also add another charge for potential repairs.
Owning your own cable modem gives you a level of protection from unpredictable increases in fees. It’s a source of revenue that cable companies have been coveting, and trying to protect.
Yahoo News reported that Comcast was aggressively advertising use of its own “approved” modems to customers through their Internet connection. In fairness, companies like Comcast also have portions of their web site to help customers find and use their own cable modems. But make no mistake, they would prefer you to rent it from them.
The monthly savings may not seem like much at first. But consider the annual total of saving $120 year and getting better performance out of your Internet subscription.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble