If you have home internet, you’ll likely have been sent a towering internet box we call a cable modem. Seemingly innocuous, that modem can cost you big time over the years as you usually have to pay rental fee to your ISP provider for using it. It only makes sense to get a your own modem, with some essentially paying for themselves.
However, you may not be sure which one to get. In this guide, we look at the best cable modems for the three most popular cable internet service providers — Xfinity Comcast, Spectrum, and Cox — and give a solid recommendation for each. We also provide a solid budget recommendation that is just about equally good for all so long as you aren’t using your ISP’s top speed plan.
Were you intending to get a router — the one that helps you get great Wi-Fi — check out our collection of the best routers instead.
- Buy the if you’re an Xfinity customer.
- Buy the for a great modem-router combo. Ideal for Spectrum customers.
- Buy the for a good Cox-approved cable modem.
- Buy the for an all-around cable modem on the cheap. Great if your internet speed isn’t your provider’s best.
The best cable modem for Xfinity
|Approved by Xfinity
|For Xfinity only
|Includes phone lines for use with Xfinity Voice
You may know of Netgear as one of the best cable modem manufacturers and want to get one for your Xfinity connection. Recently, however, Xfinity has shuffled around their approved modems and many popular Netgear choices, such as the Netgear Nighthawk CM1100, have fallen out of favor. In other words, the best Netgear for Xfinity is now the CM2050V. It has a 2.5Gbps ethernet port and allows for Xfinity Voice — a VoIP service that makes for clearer calls — on up to two lines if you have that service. The CM2050V has a smaller than average size and should work with any router.
|1 x 2.5Gbps ethernet, 2 x phone
|6.8 x 3.7 x 8.2 inches
The best cable modem for Spectrum
|Wi-Fi 6 support
|One of the best modem-router combos
If you’re a Spectrum customer, you probably already know the deal, but if this is an anticipatory purchase, this paragraph is for you. Spectrum doesn’t charge rent for their modem the way other companies do. (If you’re cynical, you can just think of the modem’s cost as built-in.) Furthermore, by and large, people like this modem and have no problem with it. What you might want to do is avoid the router, which you do need to pay for and overall, people don’t like.
This means that if you are going to get a modem at all, it should likely be a modem-router combo. And if you’re going to get one, why not get one of the best modem-router combos out there? The Netgear Orbi CBR750 is great for making a whole-home mesh network — which makes WiFi easier to get in large homes — and has WiFi 6 support, giving the ability to get fast download speeds even without using a wired connection. This option is more expensive than many cable modems, but remember that modem-router combos are more expensive than modems alone.
|4 x gigabit ethernet
|14 x 12 x 10 inches
The best cable modem for Cox
|Approved by Cox
|Not a modem-router combo
|Exceptionally easy installation
|2 ethernet ports for link aggregation
If you’re a Cox user, you will likely enjoy this Arris SURFboard modem. Cox has tons of Arris SURFboard modems in their approved list, and as a result, you can feel confident that their support staff will be used to connecting their systems with this modem’s inner workings. It will work with Xfinity, too, however. The Arris SURFboard SB8200 is a clean, modern-looking modem that is affordable, has an easy setup procedure, and includes dual ethernet ports for link aggregation if you have a compatible router. There’s not a lot to complain about this cable modem, except perhaps that it is not a cable-modem combo.
|2 x gigabit ethernet
|5.13 x 1.75 x 5.25 inches
The best budget cable modem
|Good for all major cable internet providers
|Still has great channel bonding (32 down, 8 up)
If you want a cheaper cable modem that doesn’t need to last you for centuries, try this Arris SURFboard. In the modern era, its defining feature will be its DOCSIS 3.0 connectivity, a protocol capable of reaching a max 100Mbps upstream and 1Gbps downstream speed. For many, that will be okay, but this device has very limited future potential. When your not-the-best plan naturally upgrades over the years, you will find yourself needing a new modem. On the flipside, this cable modem is one of the best of its protocol, featuring great channel bonding, a gorgeous chassis, and a wide ISP compatibility. Due to its low price, even if you only expect to use it for a short time, it may very well pay for itself.
|Up to gigabit
|1 x ethernet
|5 x 2.1 x 5 inches
Despite being a throw-it-in-the-corner-and-forget-about-it kind of device, your cable modem is a somewhat confusing piece of hardware from a distance. If your understanding of what a cable modem is doesn’t go far beyond “internet box” you not only shouldn’t be embarrassed, but you also shouldn’t feel alone. Here are some key things we look at, arranged in order of what you are likely to find important:
Price and build quality
There is an adage that cable modems will pay for themselves, usually way before the two year mark is up. The reasoning behind this is that most ISPs will provide a modem to you but also make you rent it. In the long term these rental charges add up. Please be aware, though, if you buy a cable modem with a low build quality, no warranty, and a high price, this won’t hold true. Likewise, buying a low quality modem can effectively lower the speed of your internet. In this situation you can lose money on a router as you would be paying for a higher quality internet than what you were receiving.
If you buy an appropriate cable modem that has decent longevity, however, it will indeed pay for itself in the long run.
Modems and modem-router combos (Gateways)
To use wireless internet, you’ll need a router. As such, another way that you can succeed with the purchase of a cable modem is to combo it with a router. You can refer to this combo as a modem-router combo or “gateway” if you prefer.
Not sure about the differences between a modem and router? You’re not alone.
Generally speaking, having these separate is just fine. At the same time, combining them is often more space convenient and reduces wires. If you want more control over your system components, however, buying them separately is ideal. Since Spectrum gives you a cable modem with no rent payments, there is less monetary incentive to get a modem for their service. However, since their router is generally considered subpar (and requires purchase) we recommend a modem-router combo for this ISP.
Nearly all cable modems will come with compatibility statements saying that they are great for Xfinity (or Comcast), Spectrum, and Cox. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a modem is ideal for that particular ISP or your plan. Additionally, you may wish to look at this issue in reverse. For example, Cox provides a list of cable modems that they approve of. This suggests that support technicians will be well-versed with these modems and are more likely to be able to help you resolve issues between their internet and your modem. If you’re choosing your own modem, we cannot guarantee that a product recommending your ISP will be the best cable modem for it, but it is a good place to start.
Speed is speed and we all want speed, right, but it isn’t as simple as that. Remember that internet speed is a sort of ‘weakest link detector’. Whether it is your WiFi router, your ethernet cable, your ISP, your modem or the botched job your ISP did in setting up your internet, the slowest speed of all of your equipment is your speed. You can buy a cable modem that allows for faster speeds than your internet plan provides, but this will not boost the speed of your internet. As a result, many modems covered here are quite fast, as they will cover the majority of plans and upgrades down the road. At the same time, we have also provided a budget option. There is no need to pay for a fancy cable modem for average internet.
Another thing to be wary of is the somewhat confusing messaging you will get about internet speed capabilities from cable modem manufacturers. While today’s best computer games take space on the order of gigabytes, you likely still remember ‘megabytes’ as being the important metric of the day. When reading about speeds, however, manufacturers use measurements of ‘megabits’. This can become particularly confusing when abbreviations are used as Mbps stands for “megabits per second”. There are 8 megabits in a megabyte.
DOCSIS 3.0 vs 3.1 (and even 4.0)
One thing that you will consistently see when shopping for cable modems is a DOCSIS version. If you don’t want to get too technical, just think of DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems as slower but cheaper modems and DOCSIS 3.1 modems as ideal for modern high-speed connections. When in doubt, get a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem, as it will serve you for longer, at least until multi-gigabit DOCSIS 4.0 becomes the norm.
As weird as it may sound, you most likely only need one ethernet port on your modem. To explain it simply, the vast majority of simple modems can only put out internet via one of the ethernet ports. You can use this ethernet port to your device directly or connect to a router, from which you can connect to multiple devices via the additional ethernet ports of your router (which acts as a splitter) or even connect via WiFi. This differs, however, in two situations — if you have a modem-router combo or if you want to use link aggregation.
Modem-router combinations will typically come with four ethernet ports, all usable with different devices. To oversimplify, the more the merrier. It is no wonder that some of the best routers are actually modem-router combos.
Sometimes you will find cable modems with dual ethernet ports. These can be used for link aggregation, an advanced networking technique that increases the bandwidth of your connection, potentially increasing download speeds.
Size and aesthetics
Cable modems are not conversation starters, they’re devices that are a nigh-on necessity of the modern home. As such, you likely don’t want a big, gangly device taking up space in your home. If you plan to pop your cable modem on a shelf, make sure you don’t get one that is too tall for your intended shelf. Meanwhile, if aesthetic matter to you, the black Netgear modems will likely fade into the background of your home, but tend to display the dust they collect quite handily. Meanwhile, Arris SURFboard modems have a bright, modern aesthetic that looks clean and bright.
This article is managed and created separately from the Digital Trends Editorial team.