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The 5 best cable modems of 2021

Ari Howard

May 12, 2021 — 8 min read

We did the research so that you can get the best internet connection possible with your new modem. Check out our guide to the best cable modems of 2021

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Top cable modems

Why purchase a modem instead of renting?

If you are considering buying a modem instead of renting one from your internet service provider (ISP), you’re not alone. Many providers charge high monthly fees for a subpar modem. This was prevalent in the industry because the equipment fee was included on your bill regardless of whether you used the company’s modem. However, providers can no longer do this as a law was passed at the end of 2019, known as the Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019, that prevents ISPs from charging an equipment fee if customers want to supply their own equipment. This law went into effect in the beginning of 2021. 

Due to this law, it may make sense for you to buy your own modem. It can save you money in the long-term and it will allow you to buy the highest quality modem available. A high-quality modem is essential for accessing the fastest speeds and the most reliable connection. Keep in mind that when you buy a modem, customer support from your ISP will not apply to the equipment. 

How we chose our favorite cable modems

We looked into eight of the most popular modems and then narrowed it down to five based on the following criteria: 

  • Supported speeds
  • Price and value 
  • Features
  • Customer reviews

We put extra weight into supported speeds and value. Since customers have different needs for a modem based on their internet speed plan and budget, we included a wide range of options instead of merely choosing the five most advanced modems on the market. 

Each modem is considered the best in one of five key categories: best value overall, easiest set-up, best for streaming and gaming, best for a gigabit internet plan and best for budgeters. Our picks include: the Arris Surfboard SB6183, the Motorola MB7420, the Motorola MB7621, the Motorola MB8600 and the Netgear CM500. 

The benefits of a cable modem 

The modem is how your home is able to receive internet. The modem is the device that receives signals from your internet service provider and then translates that data into signals your devices can connect to. However, not all modems are made equally which is why it’s important to purchase one that will ensure fast speeds and reliability without breaking the bank. 

With just a modem, your household will be required to use an Ethernet cord to connect your devices to the internet. If your household plans to rely on Ethernet cords occasionally or all of the time, then you will likely want a modem that offers multiple Ethernet ports. Using an Ethernet cord directly from your modem is a good way to boost your internet connection

If you want to be able to connect to the internet through Wi-Fi, on the other hand, then you will also need to purchase a router. Another popular option is to purchase a gateway device, which functions as both a modem and a router

Learn more about the pros and cons of purchasing a gateway device 

The top 5 cable modems of 2021

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Best overall: Arris Surfboard SB6183

  • Max possible speeds: 686 Mbps
  • Modem technology: DOCSIS 3.0 and 16×4 channels 
  • Pricing: under $60 
  • Compatible with: Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox 
  • Gigabit Ethernet port: 1
  • Bonus feature: Small enough to fit on a shelf

The Arris Surfboard SB6183 is a great option for households with a 300 Mbps plan or below. This Arris modem costs $59 and is only 5 X 5 X 2.1 inches, which is one of the smallest sizes available. This means you can put it just about anywhere. There are currently over 20,000 reviews on Amazon and 77% of reviewers rated the Arris Surfboard SB6183 5 stars.

Although max speeds reach 686 Mbps, households with a speed plan higher than 300 Mbps should either opt for the more expensive Arris Surfboard model, the Arris Surfboard SB6190, which Amazon is currently selling for $97.90 or choose a different brand. The Arris Surfboard SB6190 is ideal for internet plans between 300 and 600 Mbps. If you have an internet plan faster than 600 Mbps, you should probably choose one of the DOCSIS 3.1 modems.  

Easy set-up: Motorola MB7420

  • Max possible speeds: 686/123 Mbps
  • Modem technology: DOCSIS 3.0 and 16×4 channels
  • Pricing: under $60 
  • Compatible with: All cable providers 
  • Gigabit Ethernet ports: 1

The Motorola MB7420 is an affordable and reliable option for households with a speed of 300 Mbps or below. At $58.99, this modem is one of the best values around. This Motorola modem has received over 5,000 reviews, with 74% of reviewers rating the modem 5 stars. The average score for both ease of installation and use is 4.6, which is incredibly high. You can learn all about the set-up process in Motorola’s Quick Start manual. 

Best for streaming/gaming: Motorola MB7621

  • Max possible speeds: 1,000+ Mbps 
  • Modem technology: DOCSIS 3.0 and 24×8 channels
  • Pricing: under $80 
  • Compatible with: All cable providers 
  • Gigabit Ethernet ports: 1

Although max speeds for the Motorola MB7621 is 1 Gig, it is recommended for internet speed plans of 650 Mbps. At $77.98, this is a great option for a modem for households with a middle-tier speed plan (300 to 650 Mbps) that likes to stream, game and work from home. The Motorola MB7621 has nearly 7,000 reviews on Amazon and 77% of reviewers gave the device 5 stars. 

Best for Gigabit internet: Motorola MB8600

  • Max possible speeds: 1,000+ Mbps
  • Modem technology: DOCSIS 3.1 and 24×8 channels
  • Pricing: under $200
  • Compatible with: Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox
  • Gigabit Ethernet port: 1

No matter what internet speed plan you have, the Motorola MB8600 can handle it. Amazon ranked this modem No. 4 for computer networking modems and 81% of reviewers gave it 5 stars. The Motorola MB8600 is ideal for households with a gig plan. There is likely no reason to purchase their modem if you have a plan below 600 Mbps. If your household has Xfinity’s 2 Gig speed plan then you will want to purchase this modem but with the 2.5 Gbps Ethernet port

Not only can the Motorola MB8600 handle extremely fast speeds, but it also provides extremely low latency, which is ideal for heavy online gaming and video conferencing. The only downside is that it’s expensive. Amazon is currently selling it the 1 Gbps Ethernet port modem for $149.99 and the 2.5 Gbps Ethernet port for $169.99. If your household isn’t currently able to buy a gig speed plan, but are interested in purchasing it once it becomes available in your area, we would recommend investing in the Motorola MB8600. 

Cheapest: Netgear CM500

  • Max possible speeds: 680 Mbps 
  • Modem technology: DOCSIS 3.0 and 16×4 channels
  • Pricing under $60 
  • Compatible with: All cable providers 
  • Gigabit Ethernet ports: 1

The Netgear CM500 is best for budgeters with a speed plan of 300 Mbps or below, which is most consumers. At $58, the Netgear CM500 is a great value and will work with any cable ISP. If you have a speed plan above 300 Mbps, you can opt for one of Netgear’s more expensive modems, but its value isn’t as good as other high-tier modem brands. 

The Netgear CM500 has received nearly 26,000 reviews on Amazon and 73% of customers rated it 5 stars. Out of all the categories, the Netgear CM500 ranked highest on ease of use. 

How to choose the best cable modem for your home

If you aren’t sure how to choose a modem, consider these five key factors. 

  • Speed: On every modem, there will be a listed download/upload speed. Although it is not necessary to purchase the modem with the highest download/upload speeds, it is important that you buy one that matches or surpasses your internet speed plan. For instance, if you have the Spectrum plan that offers 200 Mbps, you will want to make sure that your modem offers at least those speeds. Otherwise, you will not receive the speeds you paid for.
  • Price and value: It is not necessary to buy the most expensive modem if your internet plan is more basic. However, if you have a high-speed internet plan, such as 940 Mbps or higher, you will likely want to invest in the best modem available to you to ensure you are able to access the high speeds you paid for. 
  • Channels: Every modem will have listed the number of downstream and upstream channels available. This just means how many channels are available for both downloading and uploading. The greater the channels, the faster the speeds. Don’t worry too much about this number as the maximum speed listed will provide all the information you need; however, a good rule of thumb to follow is to ensure the modem you are considering offers at least 16×4 download and upload channels. We didn’t include any modem on our list below this number. 
  • DOCSIS standard: On every modem there will be the acronym DOCSIS (data over cable service interface specification) followed by a number, either 3.0 or 3.1. This number is the standard for high-bandwidth data transfers, which boils down to broadband speeds and channels. Think of the difference between DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1 as the difference between 4G and 5G. If the modem says DOCSIS 3.1, your modem reaches the highest standard, just like if your smartphone is labeled as 5G. For most users, DOCSIS 3.0 is sufficient. You will only want to upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 if your internet plan offers gig speeds (940 Mbps or higher). Otherwise, it’s an unnecessary expense. 
  • ISP compatibility: Although most modems are compatible with any internet service provider, you will want to double check that the modem you want to choose is compatible with your ISP. This is the simplest part of the process but the most important step not to skip over. 

Need a faster internet plan?

If you are unhappy with your internet speeds or service and are looking to upgrade your plan or switch providers, you can check out our internet provider page for more information. Remember, upgrading your modem will not help improve your speeds if you don’t have a fast enough internet plan or the right service. 

The bottom line

In order to bring cable internet into your home, you will need to rent a modem from your ISP or purchase your own. If you decide to purchase, choosing the right cable modem is essential in order to reach your maximum possible speeds and to get the best connection possible. However, not everyone needs the most advanced modem as needs correspond to what type of speed plan you have. That is why we have listed the top five cable modems based on all the different needs a consumer might have. This way, we ensure you are choosing a high-quality modem without overpaying. 

Ari Howard

Written by:

Ari Howard

Associate Writer, Broadband & Wireless Content

Ari is an Associate Writer for the Allconnect team, focusing on broadband and wireless news, as well as broadband and TV provider deals. She recently graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor’s degree in… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

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