Whether you’re currently (or always) working from home or just playing your way through a Game Pass subscription, high-speed internet is crucial. If you notice your connection becoming less reliable and download times lagging, it usually means you need to update either your modem or router. For a new, powerful router, look here. Should it be the modem that’s failing, consider one of these great models with high speeds and other features to ensure nothing slows you down.
Check out quick info below on the top five modems, then scroll deeper for more helpful buying advice and full reviews.
Router vs. Modem: Do You Need Both?
The simple answer is yes. Modems function as your connection to the internet, harnessing it and bringing it into your house, and routers are the means by which you are able to connect your devices to the internet. However, the notion that you need two separate devices isn’t entirely true. Many companies are now making router and modem combos that both connect to and disperse the internet.
While a dual modem-router certainly has the advantage of taking up less space, you may run into some issues in the future that you wouldn’t with separate devices. A common problem with combined devices is that they’re unable to pack as many features in as you would get on separate devices. And with a separate modem (which in general will outlast a router), you won’t have to buy a new one as frequently—it’s often easier and less expensive to update each device separately when needed.
How Many Mbps Do You Need?
Mbps, or megabits per second, are just about the most important factor in deciding what modem to get, as the number can make or break great internet service. The higher it is, the better and faster your internet will be. Modems can have anywhere from 10-1,000 Mbps, and the more megabits you have, the more traffic (or greater bandwidth) your modem can handle. The number of people in your home, and what you use the internet for, will help determine how many Mbps your modem needs.
Video games and streaming videos take anywhere from 5-10 Mbps, while downloading large files can take up to 50 Mbps. In general, you’ll want to stick with at least a 50 Mbps modem. Still, most will be able to handle much more than this to power a heavy-duty router and multiple simultaneous users.
Most modems will also have Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification or DOCSIS technology. The preferred standard of cable providers, it’s speedy, reliable, and saves more energy than fiber cable. The most recent is DOCSIS 3.1, but DOCSIS 3.0 also works well for speeds up to 100 mbps. While there are other means of getting internet from your ISP, DOCSIS is by far the best, and sticking with a 3.0 should be sufficient for most internet users.
How We Selected and Rated Them
We researched 10 expert sources such as Digital Trends, PC Gamer, and Tech Radar, as well as 10,000 consumer reviews to select the top five modems of the year. Our Consumer Score represents the percentage of customers who rated the product at least four out of five stars on retail and review sites like Amazon, Walmart, and manufacturers’ webpages.
Consumer Score: 97% gave it 4 stars or more
Compatible with most service providers, this modem features top speeds and an off button.
We all want fast Wi-Fi, and that’s where the MB7621 excels. With speeds up to 650 Mbps, it can easily handle multiple users streaming games and movies at the same time. Reviewers at Top Ten Reviews tested by streaming 4k Netflix while downloading four large game files—all of which went quickly and without a hitch. They also found that this Motorola was easy to set up, with clear instructions, and use once connected. Its looks are utilitarian at best, but it’s well-designed for function over form, with ventilation to prevent overheating and built-in protection against electrical surges. The power button is also a big plus. Most modems must be unplugged to turn off, but powering down or restarting the MB7621 is more convenient.
Netgear Nighthawk C7100V
Consumer Score: 82% gave it 4 stars or more
This two-in-one has included phone lines, voice control, and more advanced features.
Voice control makes just about everything better. But even if it didn’t have that nifty feature, the Nighthawk C7100 would still easily rise to the top of the router-modem combos. While it is certainly pricey, you get incredible speed in an easy-to-use package. Since it’s capable of up to 960 Mbps, this modem is also an investment in the future. While you likely don’t require such bandwidth now, this amount of Mbps means the Nighthawk has speed to spare and will save you from having to invest in a new modem as tech progresses. While this Nighthawk arguably has the disadvantage of being a dual modem-router, it makes up for it with the unique feature of two included phone lines that function on the Comcast service. Unfortunately, this also means that this device is compatible only with Xfinity and not other phone services.
Arris Surfboard SB6183
Consumer Score: 84% gave it 4 stars or more
A compact, user-friendly modem at an affordable price.
The Surfboard is a popular, affordable choice—and it shows since it’s frequently sold out on retailer sites. However, when you can find one, it’s one of the best available for such a low cost. The modem is compact, and the lights are bright and easy to read. Tom’s Guide praised the two-year warranty (which is longer than most policies you’ll find on a modem) and the speeds of up to 686 Mbps—features that punch well above the Surfboard’s price range.
Consumer Score: 82% gave it 4 stars or more
Pair it with any router and service provider for high-speed internet.
When buying a modem, it’s imperative that you make sure it will work with either your current router or the router you plan to purchase. The Motorola MB8600 relieves you of that stress—it’s capable of connecting to any Wi-Fi router and, on top of that, has a two-year warranty. The design is functional, if not particularly attractive, and it has good ventilation to prevent it from overheating. There’s also built-in protection against service attacks and power surges. Reviewers noted that the MB8600 was easy to set up and connect, and confirmed that it worked well with multiple ISPs.
Consumer Score: 98% gave it 4 stars or more
Score speeds way above its price point and a simple, elegant look.
While we don’t expect your modem to function as a piece of art, many people are still concerned that it will be an eyesore. This particular model has a sleek and sophisticated look, though the shiny exterior can easily smudge. It also doesn’t have the best ventilation, so you will want to keep it in a cool, open area to prevent overheating. Overall, however, reviewers at Top Ten Reviews found that despite the CM500’s low price, it’s competitive with top-tier modems. “[The] Netgear CM500 performed extremely well on a network stressed by running four simultaneous bandwidth-hogging applications, including three large game file downloads on a PC, XBox One, and PS4 Pro and 4K Netflix streaming,” they wrote. While it’s best running at only 300 Mbps or lower, they tested up to 400 Mbps and didn’t have issues.
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