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Cable Modems: Tips on 100% Solid Internet

If you’re using cable Internet, check your bill. You might be paying around $15/month “equipment rental” fee.

If so, replacing the ISP-provided equipment with a cable modem of your own will eliminate that monthly cost. Over time the saving will more than pay for the hardware you need to buy upfront.

Using your modem brings about other advantages, too. You then can pick a router, or a mesh system, with features and performance grades to your liking. And, in many cases, retailed hardware can improve connection speeds.

(Some of you might be happy with your ISP-supplied hardware and don’t mind paying the extra for the convenience and some potential added perks. That’s fine with me. But in that case, you should check out my take on how to get the best out of that gateway instead.)

This post will walk you through the process of replacing cable-provider-supplied equipment with your own. Before continuing make sure you brush on the Cable modem standards.

Motorola MB8600 Cable Modem
The back of a typical cable modem. Note the coaxial connector.

Dong’s note: I originally published this post on February 15, 2018, and updated it on December 28, 2021, with substantial additional relevant information.

How to replace the ISP-Provided gateway with your own modem (and router)

This part is based on an Xfinity Internet plan, but the process is similar if you use any other residential cable Internet service, such as Time Warner Cable, Cox, Charter, and so on.

While this is about replacing an existing gateway, it also applies when you want to upgrade a modem or set up a new service. There are three steps.

A. Identify your current cable Internet’s modem/gateway

If you’re about to replace a provider’s equipment, there are two things to keep in mind.

First, are you currently using a modem or a gateway? Most users have a gateway instead of just a modem. If so, they will need a new Wi-Fi router in addition to a new modem, or they can get a retail gateway. A network needs a router — a gateway combines a modem and a router into a single box.

Second, do you also use phone service with your cable internet provider? If so, you will need a phone-capable modem/gateway, which is typically more expensive.

B. Equipment to get

There are many options for retail modems, routers, and gateways. You’ll need a set of a modem and a router, or a single gateway.

(If you also have a TV plan from your provider, the Internet modem has nothing to do with that. TV generally uses separate hardware.)

AmpliFi Alien
The AmpliFi Alien is a cool and super-user-friendly home Wi-Fi 6 router.

What cable modem to get

Modems are simple devices and tend to work similarly. The only difference between them is the reliability. The problem is to know that you have to use the modem for a long time to find out.


Extra: Dong’s recommended cable modems

So, it’s generally hard to review cable modems — it requires a lot of time. But below are a few I’ve personally had experience with over a (relatively) long period. Obviously, these are not the only options, but any will make a safe choice.

A. Best modem for a sub-Gigabit connection: The Netgear CM600
Netgear CM600 Cable Modem 4

Pros

Fast and reliable performance for sub-Gigabit broadband

Supported by multiple cable providers

Affordable and relatively compact

Clear status lights, useful web interface

Cons

No Gig+ or Multi-Gig support


B. Best modem for a Gigabit connection: The Motorola MB8600
Motorola MB8600 Cable Modem 8

Pros

Fast and reliable performance

Supported by multiple cable provider s

Optional WAN Link Aggregation and multi-Static-IP support

Cons

No Multi-Gig network port


C. Best modem for a Multi-Gig connection: The Netgear CM2000
Netgear CM2000 Nighthawk Multi Gig Cable Modem Side

Pros

Fast and reliable performance, up to 2.5Gbps of broadband speed

Supported by multiple cable providers

Relatively compact with clear status light

Comprehensive web interface

Cons

Single LAN port, no WAN Link Aggregation


Generally, if you have a sub-Gigabit broadband connection, it really doesn’t matter what modem you get — be it a DOCSIS 3.0 or 3.1. Just make sure you get one that delivers the speed you pay for, and the provider supports you.

(Here’s the list of the approved modems and gateways for Comcast Xfinity. Note: You need to enter your home address or zip code or sign in with your account.)

The key here is to get what you need, it doesn’t hurt to get the fastest modem out there, but if you don’t have an internet plan that requires it, you’re just wasting your money.

If you need a phone-capable modem, there are fewer options. In my experience, either the ARRIS Surfboard T25 or the NETGEAR CM500V is an excellent choice.

Keep in mind that a phone-capable modem will work even when you do not have a phone service plan. So get one if you intend to add a phone service later.

By the way, an used or refurbished modem will work the same as a new one. Just make sure you get one that’s in good physical shape. Most importantly, make sure the device has been removed from the old owner’s account if you plan to use it with the same Internet provider. (You can check with the provider using the device’s MAC address.)

Once you’ve settled on a modem, it’s time to pick a router.

What’s the best Wi-Fi router or mesh system for cable Internet?

All routers, or mesh systems, work with any internet source. So if you get a good one, it’ll be good no matter who your provider is and what type of connection you have.

What’s also always true is the fact the router is the one that decides the performance of your home network. So, pick one that fits your needs and budget.

Not sure what you need? This post on how to pick the best router for your situation will help. Living in a large home? Check out this post on mesh Wi-Fi systems.

Or, you can follow the general direction:

Or pick one of the following lists:


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