The 9 Best Cable Modem/Router Combos of 2021

Complete your home network with these cable modem/router combos

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The Rundown
A powerful 24x8 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem and AC1900 Wi-Fi router in an unobtrusive package.
A really affordable option for getting solid Wi-Fi coverage throughout a medium-sized home.
A slim and unobtrusive router with great wireless performance and strong coverage.
A great little unit that provides what most users need without the extra frills.
The first modem router combo to combine blazing fast DOCSIS 3.1 speeds with ultimate Wi-Fi 6 performance.
This ultimate future-proof combo offers advanced Wi-Fi 6 mesh coverage for even the largest and busiest homes.
Best for Gigabit Internet:
Arris Surfboard SBG8300 at Amazon
With download speeds of up to 3.78Gbps, you’ll be future-proofed to go well beyond even 1Gbps plans.
This DOCSIS 3.1 modem/router combo delivers true 1Gbps internet speeds with Wi-Fi performance to match.
Best for Voice Services:
Motorola MT7711 at Amazon
Combines Motorola's great cable modem performance with a built-in voice gateway for XFINITY voice subscribers.

Getting the most out of your cable internet service requires the best cable modem/router combo, and while you can often rent one of these from your ISP, you’ll do much better buying one of your own. After all, with the rental cost of even a standalone cable modem running up to $168/year, it’s not hard to see how purchasing one can easily pay for itself in no time at all. 

The best cable modem/router combos meld together the capabilities of the fastest cable modems with the features of a Wi-Fi router, and usually work out to a fraction of the price of buying two devices separately. These all-in-one devices will also reduce the clutter in your home and simplify your network setup, since you’ll have only a single device to manage. Modern cable/modem router combos don’t cut any corners on performance either, with many offering support for the latest DOCSIS 3.1 cable standards and even modern Wi-Fi 6 technologies. These versatile devices aren’t just for power users either—any cable internet subscriber can benefit from the performance and features they offer, especially if you’re shopping for a new wireless router anyway. 

Best Overall: Motorola MG7700 Cable Modem and Router

Motorola MG7700 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem/Router Combo
What We Like
  • Simple security management

  • Easy setup

  • Unobtrusive design

What We Don't Like
  • Combo unit limits placement locations

  • Not ideal for larger homes

Motorola’s MG7700 builds on the solid and reliable cable modem designs that the company is known for and incorporates an AC1900 dual-band Wi-Fi router. The result is a small and unobtrusive combo device that can deliver strong wireless performance throughout all but the largest homes while easily handling cable internet speeds of up to 650Mbps. 

The 24x8 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem actually lets it potentially hit even faster speeds—theoretically up to 1Gbps—although most cable providers don’t offer that kind of bandwidth over DOCSIS 3.0 technology. However, combined with the 1.9Gbps Wi-Fi speeds—1.3Gbps on the 5GHz band and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz side—the MG7700 provides ample bandwidth for streaming Netflix in 4K and keeping in touch with friends and family on Zoom and FaceTime without missing a beat. It also provides surprisingly great coverage considering its lack of external antennas—up to 2,000 square feet in our testing, and across multiple floors too.

There’s also a set of four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports around the back, offering plenty of room to hardwire in a PC, game console, or other wired device. Unlike Netgear’s cable modem/router combos, however, you won’t find any USB ports on the MG7700, which rules out sharing an external hard drive or printer through the router. It also lacks support for voice services, which is becoming a more specialized feature in cable modem/router combos. If your bundle includes voice services, you’ll want to check out Motorola’s MT7711, which is basically the telephony-enabled version of the MG7700.

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: DOCSIS 3.0 / AC1900 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4

"The router offered a strong Wi-Fi signal on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands on both floors of our home. Everything from surfing the Web to streaming video was solid within an approximate 2,000-square-foot radius." — Don Reisinger, Product Tester

Motorola MG7700

Lifewire / Claire Cohen

Best Budget: Netgear C6220 AC1200 Wi-Fi Cable Modem Router

Netgear C6220 AC1200 Wi-Fi Cable Modem Router Combo
What We Like
  • Extremely affordable

  • Built-in DLNA media server

  • Certified by XFINITY, Spectrum, and Cox

What We Don't Like
  • Limited Ethernet ports

  • Not suitable for larger homes

If you’re a user with more modest needs, you can save a lot of money by returning your rental cable modem and picking up Netgear’s really affordable C6220. For less than the yearly rental fee from most cable ISPs, this modem/router combo delivers enough coverage to meet the needs of an average home and family, with dual-band AC1200 Wi-Fi and DOCSIS 3.0 speeds of up to 340Mbps. 

In practical terms, this means it can handle Wi-Fi speeds of up to 900Mbps on the 5GHz band and up to 300Mbps on the 2.4GHz side, and while this may not seem like much, it’s more than enough to handle even the 4K streaming and video calling needs of a small family. Users with larger homes will need to look elsewhere, as it only offers around 1,200 square feet of coverage, but that’s fairly in line with what you’ll find in most standalone routers in this price range, and can easily handle an apartment, condo, or small bungalow. 

The biggest downside to the C6220 is the dearth of wired connectivity options. You get only two Gigabit Ethernet ports around the back, so if you have a lot of wired devices you’ll need to add your own hub or network switch. It does offer a USB 2.0 port for sharing media on your home network, or even to a smart TV using the built-in DLNA server. As an added bonus, it’s also certified with XFINITY and Spectrum service for plans of up to 200Mbps, and up to 150Mbps with Cox, so you should have no compatibility problems. It even supports fast self-activation for XFINITY customers.

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: DOCSIS 3.0 / AC1200 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 2

Best Performance: Netgear Nighthawk C7000 DOCSIS 3.0 AC1900 Wi-Fi Cable Modem Router

Netgear Nighthawk C7000 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem/Router Combo
What We Like
  • Slim design

  • DLNA media streaming

  • Easy to set up

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks advanced features like MU-MIMO and QoS

  • A bit pricey

Despite its slim and unassuming design, Netgear’s Nighthawk C7000 actually packs in some impressive wireless performance, with dual-band AC1900 Wi-Fi that can deliver speeds of up to 1.3Gbps on the 5GHz band throughout a 2,500 square foot home, thanks to its three internal beamforming antennas. 

With 24 downstream DOCSIS 3.0 channels, the C7000 is technically capable of speeds of up to 960Mbps, although most ISPs won’t let you go nearly that fast without jumping up to a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. Still, the C7000 is Certified with Xfinity for 600Mbps plans, and 400Mbps on Spectrum, so it can deliver more than enough performance for all of your household streaming, gaming, and video calling needs. A USB port also allows you to easily share files with multiple devices from a portable drive, with a built-in DLNA server for streaming media to a smart TV or game console. 

Four Gigabit Ethernet ports around give you plenty of room to wire in PCs or other devices that don’t support Wi-Fi or simply need the best possible performance. Unless you’re on an extreme cable internet plan, however, you should find the Wi-Fi speeds that the C7000 delivers to be more than adequate. Likely for similar reasons, Netgear hasn’t seen fit to include any kind of QoS features or MU-MIMO, so those with a lot of active wireless devices at home may want to consider other options. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: DOCSIS 3.0 / AC1900 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4

"Even with our extreme 250Mbps internet connection, the modem was able to keep up during even the busiest times."Bill Thomas, Product Tester

Netgear Nighthawk C7000

Lifewire / Claire Cohen

Best Value: Arris Surfboard SBG7600AC2 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem & Wi-Fi Router

Arris Surfboard SBG7600AC2
What We Like
  • Good Wi-Fi coverage

  • Simple to set up

  • Great app support

What We Don't Like
  • Limited advanced features

Arris has a solid reputation for making great cable modems, and its Surfboard SBG7600AC2 delivers great value with some of the best cable and Wi-Fi speeds in its class. You get a 32x8 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem that can handle the fastest sub-gigabit internet plans without breaking a sweat, plus dual-band Wi-Fi speeds of up to 2,350Mbps across the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands. 

While the 32x8 channel support means the SBG7600AC2 offers theoretical download speeds of up to 1.2Gbps, the reality is that most cable providers don’t offer more than 650Mbps over DOCSIS 3.0. On the other hand, the AC2350 Wi-Fi performance will ensure that you can take full advantage of those speeds for 4K streaming, surfing, and gaming—even when several devices are competing for bandwidth.

Arris’ Surfboard Manager app also helps you get it up and running quickly, along with offering parental control features and network security provided by McAfee Secure Home Internet to help keep you safe from viruses and malware. Four Gigabit Ethernet ports around the back let you wire in devices that don’t support Wi-Fi or simply need better performance. There’s also a USB 2.0 port conveniently located on the front to let you share files from a USB flash drive or hard drive, including DLNA support for streaming media to a smart TV, game console, or media player. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: McAfee Home Security, WPA2 | Standard/Speed: DOCSIS 3.0 / AC2350 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 4

Best Splurge: Netgear Nighthawk CAX80 DOCSIS 3.1 AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 Cable Modem Router

Netgear Nighthawk CAX80 Wi-Fi 6 Cable Modem Router
What We Like
  • Advanced Wi-Fi 6 Support

  • Fast DOCSIS 3.1 Performance

  • 2.5Gbps Ethernet Port

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Not compatible with cable bundled voice services

While it may not come cheap, Netgear’s Nighthawk CAX80 is a solid investment for the future, since it packs in support for both the newest and fastest DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem standards and the latest 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 technology. This means it’s not only ready for the fastest cable internet plans available today, but also anything else that comes down the pike in the next few years. 

The DOCSIS 3.1 technology will make sure you can get true gigabit speeds from your ISP. The two downstream OFDM channels offer download speeds of up to 3.78Gbps, which is well beyond what any cable provider currently offers, but there’s also full-speed 32x8 DOCSIS 3.0 support, so it’s fully compatible with sub-gigabit plans too. This means that even if faster plans aren’t available in your area yet, you can still use the Nighthawk CAX80 with your existing plan while you wait, knowing you’ll be ready when your ISP finally does offer higher speeds. 

The CAX80 is also designed to keep up on the Wi-Fi side as well, with AX6000 Wi-Fi 6 speeds that provide up to 4.8Gbps of bandwidth for 5GHz devices, and 1.2Gbps on the 2.4GHz band. The usual four wired Gigabit Ethernet ports around the backs support link aggregation, so you can combine two of them into a single 2Gbps link, plus there’s a faster 2.5Gbps port on top of that. This means you can get the fastest possible wired speeds for a gaming rig or share your multi-gigabit broadband plan to multiple devices using a downstream hub or switch. A USB 3.0 lets you stream and share your media from a portable storage device, and like most of Netgear’s routers, the CAX80 also includes the Netgear Armor cybersecurity package to protect the devices on your network against viruses, malware, and other online threats. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ax | Security: Netgear Armor, WPA2, VPN | Standard/Speed: DOCSIS 3.1 / AX6000 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 5

Best Mesh: Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi 6 System with DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem (CBK752)

Netgear Orbi CBK752
What We Like
  • Fast DOCSIS 3.1 speeds

  • Advanced Wi-Fi 6 support

  • Extensive coverage

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Subscription required for advanced security features

Netgear’s Orbi mesh Wi-Fi systems are among the best when it comes to delivering fast and reliable wireless coverage throughout a larger living space, so cable internet users looking for whole-home coverage will be delighted to hear that Netgear has released a premium version of its system. Netgear’s Orbi CBK752 is a no-compromise solution that takes all the great features of the Orbi Whole Home Tri-Band Mesh Wi-Fi 6 System and adds in a high-performance DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem to ensure you can take advantage of everything your broadband connection has to offer. 

Thanks to advanced mesh Wi-Fi 6 technology, the CBK752 can deliver top performance throughout even the largest and busiest homes, with AX4200 Wi-Fi 6 speeds and support for multi-gigabit internet plans. Two Orbi units—the main router and a single satellite—can provide gigabit wireless speeds over areas of up to 5,000 square feet, and you can drop in one or more additional satellite units to extend that coverage to a total of 7,500 square feet and beyond. 

Thanks to a dedicated Wi-Fi 6 backhaul channel between the Orbi stations, your connection also remains blazing fast no matter where you are in your home, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports on the main router and two more on each satellite unit let you hardwire in those devices that demand maximum performance or simply lack built-in wireless capabilities on their own. Netgear’s Armor security suite also offers anti-virus and malware protection for all the devices on your home network, although you’ll need to pay a small recurring subscription fee to take advantage of it once the free trial period has ended. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ax | Security: WPA3 | Standard/Speed: DOCSIS 3.1 / AX4200 | Bands: Tri-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4 (Base) / 2 (Satellite)

Best for Gigabit Internet: Arris Surfboard SBG8300 DOCSIS 3.1 Gigabit Cable Modem & Wi-Fi Router

Arris Surfboard SBG8300
What We Like
  • Fast DOCSIS 3.1 Performance

  • Easy app-based setup

  • Solid Wi-Fi performance

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks advanced wireless features

  • No USB ports

Arris has a solid reputation for making great cable modems, and its Surfboard SBG7600AC2 delivers great value with some of the best cable and Wi-Fi speeds in its class. You get a 32x8 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem that can handle the fastest sub-gigabit internet plans without breaking a sweat, plus dual-band Wi-Fi speeds of up to 2,350Mbps across the 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands. 

While the 32x8 channel support means the SBG7600AC2 offers theoretical download speeds of up to 1.2Gbps, the reality is that most cable providers don’t offer more than 650Mbps over DOCSIS 3.0. On the other hand, the AC2350 Wi-Fi performance will ensure that you can take full advantage of those speeds for 4K streaming, surfing, and gaming—even when several devices are competing for bandwidth.

Arris’ Surfboard Manager app also helps you get it up and running quickly, along with offering parental control features and network security provided by McAfee Secure Home Internet to help keep you safe from viruses and malware. Four Gigabit Ethernet ports around the back let you wire in devices that don’t support Wi-Fi or simply need better performance. There’s also a USB 2.0 port conveniently located on the front to let you share files from a USB flash drive or hard drive, including DLNA support for streaming media to a smart TV, game console, or media player. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: DOCSIS 3.0 / AC2350 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: No | Wired Ports: 4

"While some DOCSIS 3.0 cable modems advertise speeds of 1Gbps or higher, most cable internet providers will only give you up to 600Mbps over this standard. To get the fastest possible speeds, you'll need to invest in a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem." — Jesse Hollington, Tech Writer

Best Range: Netgear Nighthawk C7800 DOCSIS 3.1 AC3200 Wi-Fi Cable Modem Router

Netgear Nighthawk C7800
What We Like
  • DOCSIS 3.1

  • Expansive range

  • Two USB 3.0 ports

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

  • Limited security and parental controls

Not only will Netgear’s Nighthawk C7800 let you take advantage of the fastest cable internet plans available both today and in the future, but it also offers solid coverage for a large and busy home, thanks to its four powerful beamforming antennas and support for advanced Wi-Fi features like MU-MIMO. This means that not only can you get top cable speeds, but you’ll also be able to enjoy great performance throughout your entire living space.

The Nighthawk C7800 was actually one of the first modem/router combos to include DOCSIS 3.1 capabilities, but it also provides 32x8 DOCSIS 3.0 channels for backward compatibility, so it will work fine with any lower-tier plan you may already have while ensuring you’re ready once faster speeds come along. 

The built-in AC3200 Wi-Fi router can also deliver speeds of up to 3.2Gbps—1Gbps on the 2.4GHz band and 2.2Gbps in the higher 5GHz range. If the wireless speeds aren't fast enough, four Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports let you hardwire in your gaming console or PC directly, and two USB 3.0 ports to hook up external hard drives for sharing files or streaming your media directly to your smart TV or game console using the DLNA feature

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: DOCSIS 3.1 / AC3200 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: Yes | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: 4

Best for Voice Services: Motorola MT7711 Cable Modem/Router with Voice Gateway

Motorola MT7711
What We Like
  • Built-in support for XFINITY Voice

  • Solid Wi-Fi performance

  • Two voice ports

What We Don't Like
  • Only works with XFINITY by Comcast

Getting the right cable modem/router combo can be a bit trickier if you rely on your cable internet plan for your voice telephone service as well, as many units don’t come with built-in voice gateways. Fortunately, however, Motorola has you covered with its MT7711, which is basically the voice-enabled version of the popular MG7700, designed specifically to work with Comcast’s Xfinity voice service. 

In terms of internet and Wi-Fi performance, the MT7711 has virtually identical specs to the MG7700, with 24x8 DOCSIS 3.0 channel support to handle the fastest sub-gigabit internet plans, and dual-band AC1900 Wi-Fi. In practical terms, this means you’ll be able to handle online speeds of up to 600Mbps, with even more Wi-Fi bandwidth to go around—1.3Gbps on the 5GHz band, and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz side. 

Around the back, you’ll find two Xfinity voice compatible phone parts In addition to the usual four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and since it's designed with Comcast’s internet service in mind, it's also effortless to get it up and running with all of your Xfinity services by following a simple Quick Start procedure to automatically register it with your ISP. There’s also an optional battery backup module you can add to make sure your telephone service stays up if there’s ever a power outage. 

Wireless Spec: 802.11ac | Security: WPA2 | Standard/Speed: DOCSIS 3.0 / AC1900 | Bands: Dual-band | MU-MIMO: No | Beamforming: Yes | Wired Ports: Ethernet: 4 / Telephone: 2

Final Verdict

Motorola’s MG7700 (via at Amazon) checks all the right boxes when it comes to delivering the performance and features that most users need in a cable modem/router, but if you’re looking for top-notch performance and coverage, then Netgear’s Orbi CBK752 (view at Amazon) combines a top-rated Wi-Fi 6 mesh system with a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem to let you take full advantage of the fastest internet plans in even the largest homes. 

About Our Trusted Experts

Jesse Hollington is a freelance writer with over 10 years of experience writing about technology and three decades of experience in information technology and networking. He's installed, tested, and configured just about every type and brand of router, firewall, wireless access point, and network extender in places ranging from single-family dwellings to office buildings. university campuses, and even coast-to-coast wide-area network (WAN) deployments.

Don Reisinger is a full-time freelance writer based in New York City. He has been covering technology, video games, sports, and entertainment for more than 12 years. He is an expert in consumer technology, which includes cable modems and router combos.

Bill Thomas is a Denver-based freelance writer who covers technology, music, film, and gaming. They reviewed the Netgear Nighthawk C7000 on this list.

What to Look for in a Modem/Router Combo

Bandwidth

To take full advantage of the bandwidth your ISP provides, you'll need a modem/router combo that at the very least matches, and ideally exceeds, the top speed promised by your provider. The maximum bandwidth is indicated in gigabits per second (Gbps) and is usually prominently displayed in a modem/router's title or description.

Bands

Routers increasingly are offering multiple data bands (think of traffic lanes) in an effort to reduce bottlenecking and increase efficiency in directing network traffic. Dual-band devices typically supply 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, with the 5GHz band providing more peak bandwidth. Tri-band routers provide an additional 5GHz band to sort devices into, further reducing congestion when multiple devices are attached to a network at once.

Range

If you live in an apartment or modest home, nearly any modem/router combo will provide ample coverage for your entire living space. For larger homes, however, pay close attention to the range indicated by the model you're considering, and you also may want to consider a modem/router with beamforming technology, which shapes the signal from the router into a tighter beam to direct it towards specific devices, delivering a stronger and faster signal.

FAQs

What is a Cable Modem/Router Combo? 

A cable modem/router combo is a single device that combines the capabilities of a cable modem with the features of a Wi-Fi router. You plug it directly into your coaxial cable just like you would a cable modem, and then connect your computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices directly using either wired Gigabit Ethernet connections or via Wi-Fi.

Is it better to get a modem/router combo or separate devices?

Buying a cable modem/router combo can save you quite a bit of money since these all-in-one units are usually far more affordable than buying a cable modem and a router separately. And if you're renting your cable modem, you can save even more by returning that to your ISP, reducing your monthly bill. That said, while modern cable modem/routers are very capable if you have more advanced needs, there are many more options and advanced features to be found among the best wireless routers.

Does DOCSIS 3.1 increase speed?

The speed of your cable modem is determined by the DOCSIS standard it supports and the number of channels that it offers, although your ISP also has to support these standards on the other end. Buying a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem won't give you any better performance if your cable provider only supports DOCSIS 3.0, although it could still be a good investment for the future. Further, even though 32-channel DOCSIS 3.0 modems offer theoretical speeds of up to 1Gbps, most cable providers top out at 600Mbps over DOCSIS 3.0, so if your ISP is offering multi-gigabit plans, you'll almost certainly need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem to take advantage of those speeds.

The Ultimate Cable Modem/Router Buying Guide

A good cable modem/router combo unit can ensure that you not only get the fastest internet speeds from your cable provider but also offer the kind of Wi-Fi performance and range that you need to meet the streaming and gaming needs of even the busiest homes.

Combining the cable modem and the router in a single device gives you one less piece of equipment to worry about managing. Many can offer even tighter integration with your cable service, as well as improved security and performance since you don't have to worry about whether your router will actually talk to your cable modem properly, which can especially be a challenge if you're still relying on the cable modem that your ISP provides.

Netgear C3700

Why Buy a Cable Modem/Router Combo? 

Although many cable ISPs now offer cable modems with built-in routers, they often focus too much on the cable modem side and not enough on the router side, resulting in solutions that may be okay for casual surfing in an apartment or small bungalow, but are seriously underpowered for anybody looking for fast performance or expansive coverage. 

If the cable modem/router combo that you're renting from your ISP isn't meeting your needs in terms of Wi-Fi range or performance, you'll end up needing a standalone router anyway. And if you're going to go down that road, you can just as easily purchase a router that already includes a cable modem for about the same amount of money and lose the monthly rental fee in the process. 

In addition to saving money, you'll also end up with an integrated solution that's far easier than trying to figure out how to bypass the router that your ISP has already provided you with. Some ISP-supplied modem/router combos don't even let you fully disable their router features, which can make it even more of a hassle to add your own standalone router into the mix. A cable modem/router combo means that you only have to manage and configure a single device and you won't have to worry about any potential compatibility issues. 

Cable Modem Standards

Since a cable modem/router will replace your actual cable modem, you'll want to pay attention to the actual cable standards it supports to make sure it’s compatible with your provider and that you’re getting the maximum performance from your internet service plan.

All cable modems use an international telecommunications standard known as DOCSIS, however, there are several versions of the standard, each supporting faster speeds, and better security features. At this point, the leading edge standard is DOCSIS 3.1, which can provide a theoretical maximum throughput of 10Gbps.

Although you won't find any ISPs that offer anywhere near those kinds of speeds yet, purchasing a DOCSIS 3.1 compatible cable modem/router combo can be a great future-proofing investment to ensure you'll be ready for faster speeds when they do come. All newer DOCSIS standards are compatible with older ones, so you'll have no problem using a DOCSIS 3.1 modem even if your cable ISP only supports DOCSIS 3.0 right now. 

Netgear Orbi
Lifewire 

It's also worth mentioning that although DOCSIS 3.0 technically supports speeds of up to 1Gbps, very few cable ISPs offer much better than 630Mbps on DOCSIS 3.0, so if you want to take advantage of the newer 1Gbps plans, you'll likely need a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem anyway.

The downside, of course, is that DOCSIS 3.1 modems are still fairly expensive, so unless you're already on a really high-speed internet plan, you'll have to weigh the additional expense against when you'll actually expect to be getting faster internet speeds.

Note that while you may still find cheaper modems around that use older DOCSIS standards, these days DOCSIS 3.0 should be considered the bare minimum, as it not only offers better performance but fixes a number of security problems that plagued the older standards.

Channels and Speeds

The DOCSIS standard used by your cable modem determines the maximum performance that's possible, however not all cable modems will take advantage of the full capacity. This is especially true of DOCSIS 3.1 cable modems since there's no point in building modems to support 10Gbps internet plans that aren't likely to be available anytime soon. 

The actual performance of a cable modem is determined by the number of channels that it supports, and this is usually expressed as the number of download channels by the number of upload channels. So, for example, a "32x8" DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem would offer 32 download channels and 8 upload channels.

Each channel offers a fixed speed based on the DOCSIS standard that's being used. For DOCSIS 3.0, each download channel is 43Mbps and each upload channel is 31Mbps, and these are additive, so a 4x2 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem will offer download speeds of 172Mbps (43Mbps X 4 channels) and upload speeds of 62Mbps (31Mbps X 2 channels). On the other end of the spectrum, a 32x8 DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem, which is the fastest DOCSIS 3.0 configuration available, will give you download speeds of 1,376Mbps and upload speeds of 248Mbps, assuming your ISP supports that many DOCSIS 3.0 channels, which as we noted earlier, most don't.

If you're considering a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem/router combo, don't be scared by the lower number of channels, however. DOCSIS 3.1 channels are much faster than DOCSIS 3.0 channels, with each one offering 1.89Gbps download speeds or 0.94Gbps upload speeds. So even a 1x1 DOCSIS 3.1 modem can run circles around a 32x8 DOCSIS 3.0 modem, although when running in DOCSIS 3.0 mode, it naturally still has to use the slower channels, so you'll often see the DOCSIS 3.0 channels listed as well, although it's pretty rare to find a DOCSIS 3.1 cable modem that doesn't support at least 24x8 DOCSIS 3.0 channels.

Motorola MG7700

Voice Services

If you subscribe to voice telephony services through your cable ISP, this can make your situation a bit more challenging, since you'll need to find a cable modem/router combo that can act as a voice gateway. These are considerably less common.

Don't despair if you can't find one, however, as you might be able to continue using your ISP-provided rental modem strictly as your voice gateway alongside a better cable modem/router combo for your actual internet access. Unfortunately, this means you'll still have to keep paying for your rental modem, but you'll get all of the other advantages of an integrated cable/modem router combo.

If you find yourself in this situation, however, we recommend checking with your ISP before purchasing a new cable modem/router combo, as not all ISPs allow you to use two cable modems on the same service. On the other hand, some ISPs can also offer you a more inexpensive rental modem that acts only as a voice gateway. 

Speed and Throughput

As we explained earlier, the performance you get from the cable modem side of a modem/router combo will be determined by the DOCSIS standard and number of channels it supports, as well as by your actual internet plan, of course.

However, when buying a modem/router combo, you also need to consider the router side of the equation, since you'll want to make sure that you can get the maximum speeds that your ISP and cable modem are offering you. Unless you have a fairly basic internet plan, this means you'll want support for relatively modern Wi-Fi standards.

On the Wi-Fi side, a cable modem/router combo works the same as any other wireless router, meaning you'll be choosing from the same Wi-Fi standards and frequencies, such as 802.11n and 802.11ac, which have recently been redesignated as Wi-Fi 4 and Wi-Fi 5, respectively, in order to make it easier for consumers to understand the relationship between them.

As the new numbering system implies, Wi-Fi 5 is better than Wi-Fi 4, and it's the fastest standard that's in widespread use right now. Most Wi-Fi 5 routers will have a speed rating that begins with AC and represents the maximum total throughput in Mbps. So an AC1900 router will offer you 1,900Mbps, or 1.9Gbps, an AC3000 can do 3Gbps, and so forth. Similarly, older Wi-Fi 4 routers offer similar ratings, starting with the letter N instead. You may also have heard of the Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax, but while there are a few standalone routers out that offer support for this leading-edge standard, Wi-Fi 6 cable modem/router combos are still just emerging. It's not a bad idea to invest in technology for the future, but it will be a while before you're likely to really need Wi-Fi 6 in your home, or even be able to fully take advantage of it.

Also keep in mind that these ratings represent the maximum total throughput for all of the devices on your network, which is the reason that higher numbers are so important. You may not think you need an AC1900 router if you only have a 200Mbps internet connection, but remember that if you have a dozen devices using your Wi-Fi at the same time, they're all sharing that bandwidth. 

Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC5300
Lifewire / Yoona Wagener

Wireless Frequencies

The other thing that's important to understand is that Wi-Fi 5 routers are almost always at least dual-band routers. This means that they operate on two separate frequency bands—2.4GHz and 5GHz. This generally allows for better performance by placing your fastest devices on a higher frequency band that's less prone to congestion and interference.

The 2.4GHz band is the most common Wi-Fi frequency, and it's been used for over 20 years. Almost every Wi-Fi device on the planet supports 2.4GHz as a minimum standard, and this is the only frequency that most older devices and inexpensive smart home devices support.

However, the 2.4GHz frequency range is also used for a lot of other things, including cordless phones, walkie-talkies, garage door openers, and baby monitors, so it's a pretty crowded place. It's also subject to interference from things like microwave ovens. Hence the architects of Wi-Fi decided to begin using the 5GHz frequency range in order to avoid these problems. As an added bonus, higher frequencies also offer faster speeds. Wi-Fi 4 devices could optionally use the 5GHz band, while Wi-Fi 5 devices use it exclusively when operating in 802.11ac mode. All Wi-Fi devices are backward compatible with older standards, however, so a Wi-Fi 5 device still can fall back to using the 2.4GHz band on Wi-Fi 4 when a strong enough 5GHz signal isn't available—although you'll get slower performance in this case.

In addition to dual-band routers, you can also find tri-band routers, which may be a boon if you have a really busy home with a lot of Wi-Fi 5 devices. As the name implies, a tri-band router offers a third band, in the form of a second 5GHz band, to help separate your high-performance devices to reduce congestion. Keep in mind, though, that this is a second 5GHz channel, so it will do absolutely nothing for your 2.4GHz devices. The additional 5GHz band won't double your performance for a single Wi-Fi 5 device either, as Wi-Fi devices only use one band at a time. Tri-band routers are about improving performance by reducing congestion, so they're really only necessary if you have a lot of high-speed Wi-Fi 5 devices on your network.

It's also important to note that the AC speed ratings on dual-band and tri-band routers refer to the total speeds across all the bands, which means that you'll definitely never see the maximum throughput from a single device. For example, a dual-band AC1900 router often provides 1.3Gbps on the 5GHz band and 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz side, and an AC5400 tri-band router will divvy that up even further, perhaps offering 600Mbps on the 2.4GHz band and splitting the rest between the two 5GHz channels. This is why tri-band routers have higher speed ratings. 

Range and Coverage

You'll want to get a cable modem/router combo that can provide solid Wi-Fi coverage throughout your entire home, but if you only live in an apartment or small bungalow, don't buy more than you need—unless you think you'll be moving into a bigger home soon, of course.

Even the most basic Wi-Fi routers will cover an apartment or smaller home without any serious challenges, but if you live in a larger home, you'll want to pick something up that offers external antennas with beamforming support, or maybe even look into a mesh Wi-Fi system.

Bear in mind that there's more to getting good coverage than just raw distance, as you'll want to make sure that your router still can offer good performance at the periphery of its range. Some routers have performance that drops off faster as you move farther away from the router, and this is even more common on the 5GHz channel, which offers less range and penetrates solid objects more poorly than 2.4GHz does, meaning that your Wi-FI 5 devices may be forced to switch back to the slower standards as they lose their 5GHz connections. Just because you can get a signal at the opposite end of your home doesn't mean that you'll be getting a fast signal.

Wired Connectivity

Having a wireless router doesn't mean you need to give up on wired connectivity, especially if you have a fast cable ISP connection. If you or someone in your household is into online gaming, you'll definitely want room to wire in for the best performance, since unless you have a gaming-centric router, the latency over Wi-Fi will make it unsuitable for playing fast-paced games online. 

So make sure your router has enough Ethernet ports for the devices you'll want to plug in, and if you have an internet plan that offers speeds above 100Mbps, you'll want to get one with Gigabit Ethernet ports to take maximum advantage of your plan.

Firmware Updates

One of the potential disadvantages of cable modem/router combos is that the firmware for the router is often tied to the modem firmware, which means you can't update one side without updating the other. This often means that important firmware updates can be delayed while manufacturers wait for the big cable ISPs to certify them to make sure they're compatible with their networks.

In most cases, this usually isn't a big deal, unless of course you're dealing with a security vulnerability or a serious bug that needs to be patched, in which case you may find that you'll be waiting longer for an update than you would be if you simply had a standalone router. 

Top Brands

Arris

While you may never have heard the name among router brands, when it comes to cable modems Arris is actually one of the oldest names in the business, with a wide array of small and unobtrusive cable modems. While Arris' cable modem/router combos are fairly spartan on the router side, they're easy to set up and provide decent coverage for smaller spaces.

Motorola

Like Arris, Motorola is a household name in cable modems and has logically extended into offering units with built-in Wi-Fi routers as well. However, Motorola brings its strong background in radio technology to produce some surprisingly solid Wi-Fi routers, especially considering that they don't sprout large antenna arrays.

Netgear

Approaching the cable modem/router family from the other side is Netgear, one of the most venerable names in Wi-Fi routers. The company offers quite a collection of both wallet-friendly and higher-end premium routers, even including a version of its top-rated Netgear Orbi that also packs in a cable modem. 

Conclusion

Opting for a cable modem/router combo no longer means that you need to compromise on either the cable modem or the router, as more companies begin packing in leading-edge DOCSIS cable modem technology into some of the very same premium routers that you can buy in standalone form. 

So if you're looking to stop paying to rent your cable modem, and you're in the market for a new Wi-Fi router, as well, a cable modem/router combo can be a great way to kill two birds with one stone. You'll have one less device to manage, fewer compatibility issues to worry about, and less wiring to fuss with. Unless you have really specialized needs, a cable modem/router combo can be a win all around. 

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