Cable Modem Buying Guide
So you’re thinking about buying your own cable modem or have already decided. Well, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll show you some of the things to look for and describe the various options to help you decide. For several cable internet providers, we have lists of every compatible cable modem model readily available for purchase, their current prices, and where to buy them.
Some cable companies are charging $14 a month to rent a cable modem from them. That’s $168 a year or $840 in just 5 years. With new modems costing as little as $60 and used or refurbished ones as low as $30, it can make financial sense to buy your own modem. The downside is that the cable company won’t give you a free replacement if there are problems with the modem.
If you don’t want to read further and just want to find cable modems that’ll work for you, select your cable company below (or at the top of this page.)
The first thing is to find a modem that will work with your current internet cable company. Almost every company provides a list of modems that will work on their network. On each of our pages, we have a link to that list. The problem is, there can be up to 75 or more different models on that list. About half of them are not easy to find or buy, so we found the readily available ones and listed their features, prices, and where to buy them.
The next step is to decide what features you want.
DOCSIS 3.1 and 3.0
DOCSIS technology uses channels to transmit data; these are like traffic lanes. There are downstream and upstream channels. Each channel can only carry so much data or internet traffic. With DOCSIS, these channels can be bonded together like a multi-lane freeway to get multiple times the amount of data through. DOCSIS 3.0 can have up to 32 downstream channels, with a maximum download speed of about 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). Usually, we’re only concerned about the number of download channels because most people are downloading a lot more data than uploading. DOCSIS 3.1 adds more and faster channels (called OFDM for downstream and OFDMA for upstream), with a maximum download speed of 10 Gbps. It’s 10 times faster than DOCSIS 3.0. But DOCSIS 3.1 still has the same channels as 3.0, so DOCSIS 3.0 modems will work on it.
Many companies strongly suggest you buy a DOCSIS 3.1 modem to future-proof your purchase as internet speeds keep increasing. You share channels with people in your neighborhood, so the more channels you have, the better your modem will perform if some channels become congested.
Built-in Wi-Fi Router
Some modems include a built-in Wi-Fi router, so you don’t need a separate Wi-Fi router. This is nice if you have limited space or just like the tidiness of having one device. There are options for a Wi-Fi 5 or a Wi-Fi 6 (the newest, higher speed standard) router. For Wi-Fi 6 routers, your devices also need to be Wi-Fi 6 compatible to take advantage of the higher speeds. But all devices will work with either type of router. We prefer to have a separate modem and router. That way, we can upgrade or replace either as needed.
Voice and Phone Capable
If you also have your phone service through your cable company, you’ll either need to buy a cable modem with phone capabilities, called an eMTA modem, or buy a regular modem and use the modem the company provides for phone service, so you’ll have two modems. Each company has different rules for this, so check our different pages to see what each company allows. Some won’t let you buy your own modem if you have phone or voice service too.
Puma 6 Chipset
Some cable modems have a Puma 6 chipset in them that can cause subpar performance. It can lead to delays (latency) in the data getting to you. This mainly affects some DOCSIS 3.0 modems. We’ve noted the ones with this chip. Most users won’t notice unless they are serious online gamers. We won’t get into the whole Puma chipset controversy, just letting you know it exists, in case you want to do further research or consider another modem.
New vs. Used or Refurbished
You can save even more money by buying a used or refurbished modem. We’ve had no problems with them. Just make sure that you buy it from a reputable dealer with a good return policy and warranty. Watch out for some used modem sellers and other used dealers. They could be selling modems that were rented by ex-customers of cable internet providers and never returned. If this is the case, your cable company will notice when you hook them up and won’t authorize their use.
All of these modems are reliable and built to last for many years. There is very little difference between them, except for the number of download channels and those with routers built in. Price should be a big factor in deciding which one to buy.