Modems are fairly simple machines, helping to connect your devices to the internet, but that doesn't mean they don't come with their share of varieties and features. While your internet service provider (ISP) may have given you a modem, you are most likely paying monthly rent on it that can quickly get expensive. Your modem needs to be capable of supporting the download speeds of your internet service, especially if you are paying for a high-speed gigabit service. Some modems have built-in routers so you don't need an additional device to deliver WiFi. In this concise guide, we break down the basics of modems so you can find the right model for your budget and your internet needs. Our top recommendation is from Motorola - it's expensive but if you're paying for upgraded internet speeds then you need a modem like this to match.
Considerations when choosing modems
A modem is a major factor in your internet speed. It doesn't matter how fast your ISP claims your internet service is if you don't have a modem capable of supporting a fast enough upload/download speed. You should also consider whether you plan to purchase a separate router or will opt for a modem/router combo.
Choosing a modem for your internet speed
When shopping for a modem, take note of its upload and download speeds to ensure that they match or exceed the speeds offered by your ISP.
Modem/router combo vs. separate units
Many modems have built-in routers, eliminating the need for an additional unit to provide WiFi in your home. While this is convenient, wireless routers are upgraded more frequently than modems, so you may be sacrificing speed for simplicity.
There are two main modem speeds: basic high speed and gigabit speed.
If you are paying your ISP for gigabit-speed internet, you need a gigabit-speed modem to keep up with it. Gigabit-speed modems, called DOCSIS 3.1 modems, are the current standard for gigabit internet services. For basic high-speed internet, you need a DOCSIS 3.0 modem or a DOCSIS 3.1 modem, which is backward compatible with lower speeds.
If you use a landline phone, you will need a modem that offers telephone service.
You should also confirm with your ISP that the modem you are considering is compatible with their service.
Just as you need to compare the speed of your modem with your internet service, you should also consider the speed of your Ethernet cable.
A basic high-speed modem typically costs $50 to $100 and usually offers few additional features. For a gigabit-speed modem, you will usually need to spend between $100 and $350. These modems may have features like built-in routers or USB ports.
Q. How do I find out my internet speed?
A. You can call your ISP or log into your ISP account to see the speed of your internet service.
Q. Why should I buy a modem rather than use the modem provided to me by my ISP?
A. There are two main reasons. Your modem may be out of date, and you are likely renting this modem from your ISP for a rate that costs you more per year than a new modem would.
Modems we recommend
Best of the best: Motorola DOCSIS 3.1 Giga-speed Cable Modem
Our take: The speed of this modem makes it the perfect modem for a gigabit internet service. The high price may be out of some customers' budgets, however.
What we like: Backward compatibility with DOCSIS 3.0 is a great feature of this powerful modem. Durable construction.
What we dislike: A few customers have experienced connection issues. Pricey.
Best bang for your buck: ARRIS SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem
Our take: This affordable modem offers reliability and performance for those on a budget. While its upload speed may not match more expensive models, this is still a fairly fast modem.
What we like: It's hard to find a modem with a high download speed at a price lower than this. Easy to set up.
What we dislike: The lack of a USB port may be a deal breaker for some. Upload speed not as fast as download speed.
Our take: This is a powerful modem from a trusted brand that provides fast download speeds but mediocre WiFi.
What we like: The plethora of features makes this modem/router combo an excellent deal, including a USB port and Genie app.
What we dislike: If fast WiFi with moderate range is a must, this modem/router combo may not be for you. Not compatible with several popular internet service providers.
Peter McPherson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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