Comcast charges $10/month for their lousy equipment, and then uses it to broadcast their Xfinitywifi network with your power and bandwidth – you’re way better off getting your own cable modem and wireless router, and this really goes for all internet providers, not just Comcast. It’ll pay for itself soon enough and you’ll have a much more flexible, more reliable, and faster network overall. But you probably need some help actually choosing a modem/router/gateway, so here you go.
Cable Modem + Wireless Router vs Wireless Gateway
The biggest choice you’re going to have is whether you want an all-in-one unit (often referred to as a Wireless Gateway) where the modem and router are in one, or if you want a separate modem and router.
- Easier to set up
- Less cable clutter
- One device instead of two
- Typically cheaper
- Less choices of hardware choices
- Less flexible configuration options
- If the modem dies or becomes outdated, you have to buy a new router as well.
- If the router dies or becomes outdated, you have to buy a new modem as well.
Separate Modem + Router
- Far more options in terms of performance, ports, brands, etc.
- Typically routers are upgraded more frequently than modems, so you don’t need to buy a new modem when you want a faster/better router.
- Better range and performance (if you buy a good router)
- Typically a bit more expensive up front
- More devices = more cable clutter
- More difficult to set up
As you can see, for basic home requirements and don’t need extreme range, performance, or flexibility, a wireless gateway is easier to deal with and probably cheaper.
If you have advanced needs, need cutting edge performance, or plan on upgrading your router frequently, getting a separate modem and router makes sense.
Your Internet Provider’s Approved Modem List
Alright, so you’ve decided whether you want a wireless gateway or separate cable modem and wireless router. But, there’s several brands available on the market, and each manufacturer puts out dozens of models at any given time.
However, the choice is much more limited than you might think – certain internet providers in certain areas work better with some brands and not the others.
For example, where I currently live (Fairfax, CA), the Netgear DOCSIS 3.0 modems don’t work with Comcast! I tried to purchase a top-of-the-line Netgear modem that was on Comcast’s approved modem list – I had to return it for an Arris/Motorola unit in order to get online.
So, just because a modem is on the supported list, doesn’t mean it’ll work right. Start with your internet service provider’s approved modem list, then verify the model of modem you want to get with your ISP before buying it, and finally, check with your neighbors and friends to see what brand of modem they are using – even the Comcast-provided units have a brand name on them somewhere (hint: it’s usually SMC or Arris/Motorola).
Based on my experience, I’d recommend going with the Arris/Motorola units if you have Comcast, but for other internet providers or even areas, Netgear modems (or other brands) might work just fine.
Here is Comcast’s approved modem list, for your reference. For other ISPs, simply search the internet, their website, or call them to find out which modems will work on their cable network.
Picking a Wireless Gateway
If you want an all-in-one unit, you don’t have all that many options. There are two I would consider:
For more basic needs and smaller home networks, the Arris Surfboard SBG6400 would be a good choice. It’s only a single band router (2.4GHz), so you probably won’t get over ~40Mbps through WiFi, but you’ll have no problem getting faster speeds with the wired gigabit ethernet ports. Still, it’ll give you a more reliable connection than the flaky equipment from Comcast, even if it’s not all that much faster on paper, and since it only costs about $100, it’ll pay for itself in under a year. You can buy it Amazon.com with free shipping here.
If you’ve got a faster internet speed, have a larger home, do lots of high definition video streaming, or play online games often, you’ll want a modem with dual band wireless. Currently, the Arris Surfboard SBG6782AC is the best bang for your buck. For about $150 on Amazon.com (here), you get gigabit ethernet ports and dual band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) Wireless AC speeds up to 1800Mbps.
Picking a Cable Modem
Should you decide a separate cable modem and wireless router is in order, you’ve got a ton of choices. For the modem side of things, there are three models of modems that currently make sense.
For most people, the Arris Surfboard SB6141 should do just fine. With 8 download channels and 4 upload channels, it is suitable for most typical cable internet plans up to 150Mbps down. It’s only $70 on Amazon.com (here), so it leaves plenty of budget for a good router.
If you currently have an internet plan above 150Mbps, or plan to upgrade to one in the future, spending a little bit more on the Arris Surfboard SB6183 with 16 download channels is worth it. You’ll eek out every last bit out of the speeds you pay for, and should be future-proof for quite some time to come. At $90 (you can get it on Amazon.com here), it isn’t exactly inexpensive, but you won’t have to buy another cable modem for years to come.
Now, if you have a plan above 300Mbps or plan to get one in the future, the Arris Surfboard SB6190 is for you. With a whopping 32 download channels and 8 upload channels, it’s advertised to support download speeds over 1Gbps, which is pretty insane. At about $150 on Amazon.com (here), it’ll take a bit longer to pay for itself than the cheaper modems I’ve covered here, but if you want the best DOCSIS 3.0 modem available that’s the way to go.
Picking a Wireless Router
This is where it gets complicated. If you don’t want the all-in-one wireless gateway and would rather have a separate cable modem and router, you have thousands of choices. I’ve narrowed down some good choices for every different need and budget here.
TP-Link TL-WR841N N300 (~$20 on Amazon.com)
This router is OK for the most basic home environments where you don’t need performance greater than this router’s 100Mbps ethernet ports when wired and ~40Mbps when wireless, since it’s only single band. That said, It’s going to have reasonably good range for such a budget unit with two 5dBi antennas, so just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it won’t cover your entire apartment.
TP-Link TL-WDR3600 N600 Dual Band (~$60 on Amazon.com)
With gigabit ethernet ports and dual band wireless, this is a much better option to get the most out of your internet, without spending too much.
TP-Link Archer C7 AC1750 Dual Band (~$100 on Amazon.com)
Wireless AC is the future – with better performance than N, I’d highly recommend going this route if you do lots of online streaming, gaming, or large downloads across multiple devices.
Netgear Nighthawk X4S R7800 AC2600 Dual Band (~$230 on Amazon.com)
While the cheaper TP-Link Archer C7 should be plenty fast for even quite demanding networks, the Netgear is a further step up. With a beastly 1.7GHz dual core processor, it supports up to a whopping 2.5Gbps of wireless traffic, which will more than suffice for busy home networks for years to come. Personally, I use a Netgear Nighthawk R7000 (the first of Netgear’s now famous Nighthawk series) at home and have been very, very happy with it – it continues to exceed my expectations in terms of range, performance, and stability.
Asus RT-AC5300 AC5300 Tri Band (~$375 on Amazon.com)
The Asus RT-AC5300 is insanely expensive for a consumer grade router, but it’s also crazy powerful. This Asus router can push up to 5.3Gbps in bandwidth, more than double the already impressive Netgear R7800, thanks to a 2.4GHz band and TWO 5GHz bands, made possible by the latest and greatest Broadcom WiFi chips paired with 8 antennas.
And it doesn’t end there. Asus throws in a bunch of advanced technology designed for power users and gamers, such as built in security protection, dual-WAN capability, port aggregation, and much more. If you straight up want the best and budget is not a concern, consider the Asus RT-AC5300, otherwise, the $230 Netgear R7800 is a better value for what probably equates to similar real-world performance.