No matter what internet package or provider you are working with and what receiver or ethernet cable you use, you won't be able to get the most out of your connection if you have a bad modem. And if you are reading this article, you are either interested in an upgrade or setting up your internet for the first time. In either case, we are here to provide guidance and provide a few top selections based on your potential needs.
While we will get into the screws and wires of each model more individually later, some of the things you will want to keep a lookout for when choosing a modem are the maximum download and upload speeds it can handle, the number of channels, and in some cases its size and how long of a warranty you can expect to have (although this may vary more based on the retailer than the model). You will have to decide for yourself which factors are most important.
Here are our top choices for the best modems of 2020, each representing a different category:
1. Best All-Around Modem: Motorola MB7420
If you think your household doesn't need anything special, you want a fantastic all-around choice for the average home, or you just want to find a modem without thinking about it terribly (perhaps you're not so technologically inclined), then we think you should go with the Motorola MB7420. It is a reliable, affordable, and easy to understand device that will be good for most households and get the most out of the average internet connection.
However, before you buy this, you should note that if you have a high-speed internet plan that is above about 300 Mbps download, then you might want to check out another one of our recommendations instead.
The Motorola MB7420 can handle download speeds of up to 686 Mbps and upload speeds of up to 131 Mbps. It has 16 download channels and four upload channels and is compatible with all the major cable providers. The device has a 1000Mbps data transfer rate and will generally come with a two-year manufacturer warranty in case anything were to happen to your device.
· A compact model, you will be able to fit it into just about any area of your home without much issue.
· A highly affordable option, this modem will pay for itself by negating rental fees in far less than a year.
· It has multiple ease of use functions such as a color-coded back panel, a power button, and a careful arrangement of ports to prevent confusion for non-experts.
· If you have an internet service plan that reaches the highest speeds possible, this modem might not be enough, and you will want to consider a performance option.
· It is a slightly older model and may be outdated sooner than other models. However, you will still certainly get your money's worth from this device.
· People who are merely shopping for a good modem and do not think they need anything special, just something good.
· People looking for a modem that is easy to set up and forget.
· A household that wants to remove rental fees from their life but isn't looking for a massive and expensive upgrade in the process.
2. Best Modem for Gaming: Netgear Nighthawk X4S C7800 AC3200 (2000Mbps Max Download)
While we do list out a performance modem option below, gaming has its own requirements, and gamers will be very particular about their modem choice, especially when lag can mean the difference between a win and a loss. And without a doubt, we think that the Netgear Nighthawk C7800 is the best device for the job. While it is technically both a modem and a router, we generally believe that any best in class modem for gaming and performance such as this would fall into the category, and you will not regret the decision.
This is the cable modem you get if you want fiber speed but cannot get fiber in your area. Gigabit remains a possibility with the right provider.
The Netgear Nighthawk X4S C7800 has 32 download channels and eight upload channels. On its fastest band, it can reach download speeds of up to 2000Mbps. It is generally compatible with all of the major cable providers and has two USB 3.0 ports for quick connectivity to other devices. Standard security features and protocols are to be expected. It is a moderately large device, so you will need to find a good place for it in your home.
· Some of the best download speeds and other performance metrics available to consumers. We will say it again if we haven't said it already: you will want for nothing with this modem.
· While we will not focus too much on the wireless specifications, the device has an incredible range and can handle all the devices it needs to.
· Similar models are cheaper but have lower download speed caps. You may be able to find a variation that is perfect for your household. For other purposes here, we are focusing on the 2000Mbps model.
· An extraordinarily expensive device. You won't be getting this to save money, and renting for years would be cheaper. For the cost of one Netgear Nighthawk C7800, you might be able to buy 3 to 5 copies of another modem on this list.
· If you do not need or are not interested in any router functionality (as unlikely as that might be), there may be a better and more reasonable option for your household.
· Most internet service plans will not even touch this device's maximum capabilities, effectively making it a waste to get for low-speed connections.
· Gamers and those who want the best speeds possible and the lowest response times possible (without using a cable).
· People who do not care about price, only performance.
· People who would also consider getting a performance modem as well.
3. Best Performance Modem: Motorola DOCSIS 3.1
While we also have a listing for gaming, and you might think there are major similarities, the truth is that there are other performance models on the market that we feel are worth your attention. Chief among them is the Motorola DOCSIS 3.1, which is one of the few if only models that can work with 3.1 DOCSIS technology, which allows for the absolute fastest internet speeds, faster than most ISPs, cable, or otherwise, even hope to offer.
The Motorola DOCSIS 3.1, can reach download speeds of up to 3.8 Gbps and 1 Gbps upload speeds, both of which are effectively unheard of when it comes to cable internet. It has one gigabit ethernet port, a two-year limited warranty, 32 download channels, and eight upload channels.
· It is difficult to beat the raw performance this modem provides. We found that the price wasn't worth the difference for those modems that do, or there were other mitigating factors for those models.
· Assuming proper care is taken, this device will last your household for years longer than other models, even with changes in cable internet technology.
· Setup is relatively easy, just requiring the connection of a few ports.
· As at the time of writing, it may be relatively hard to find, requiring some searching on your end. As a reminder, we do not recommend you acquire and install a used modem.
· This is an expensive modem and might be too much for the average household, especially if you do not have a high-end internet plan.
· It seems to be only certified for Comcast Xfinity and Cox internet, although you can rest assured it should (but this isn't guaranteed) work for most others.
· Power users who aren't necessarily gamers but want to access large files and high-end streaming options without issue and quickly.
· People who want to take advantage of DOCSIS 3.1 technology or want to prepare for its widespread use. Effectively, getting this modem future-proofs your cable internet setup.
· People who have an excellent router but want a superb modem to match.
4. Best Budget Modem: Arris Surfboard SB6183
If you're just looking for the cheapest modem that you can be sure works, you will want to buy and install the Arris Surfboard. It can handle basic internet needs while also saving you from more expensive modem options. The Arris Surfboard only has one real competitor on price, and that's also our all-around choice. However, the SB6183, in our opinion, has a more intuitive setup and design that would genuinely appeal to the minimalist owner or anyone looking for simplicity in their tech setup.
Yet why don't we generally go much lower than this price point? Because below a certain level, we find reliability and long-term value become issues. We do not want you to be dissatisfied with your connection and know that problematic connections will lose you more in time (and even work opportunities) than the $20 you can save by getting a cheaper model. Value is measured in more than currency.
While it will not have the most impressive numbers on this list, the Arris Surfboard SB6183 handles download speeds of up to 400Mbps (300Mbps with some providers), making it a good choice for the standard 100Mbps tier offered by many internet providers. It is generally compatible with all major United States cable providers. It has 16 download channels and four upload channels.
· A smaller device, it can fit in most nooks or places inside of your living room or home.
· The price point is excellent for a reliable and effective modem and will allow you to recoup the cost versus renting equipment quite quickly.
· An extremely popular choice which means you will have few problems finding one and can easily look up the solution to any basic problems or questions that arise.
· There are few special features or included technologies that would be noteworthy.
· You will likely need to upgrade your modem if you want to upgrade your cable internet plan significantly.
· People who do not want to spend a lot of money on a modem and just want to have basic internet access in their home.
· People looking to transfer from their rental modem and save as much money as possible.
· Households that want a simple, popular, and tried-and-true modem for their home.
There are more modems on the market than you can possibly go over and personally review as an average internet user (or even a power user). We know that you have other things you would rather be doing, and we hope that this information helps guide you to a swifter and better-informed decision. Alternatively, you might find that you are happy with your current modem after all and want to wait for the next generation of tech. No matter what, we hope you get the best connection possible soon to continue doing the things that you love.