Help me buy a Wi-Fi Cable Modem Router
March 1, 2014 5:14 PM   Subscribe

Currently use TW cable with one of their rental modems. Would like to buy my own and add wifi to my home. I use an iMac, a couple of iPhones and will possibly add a tablet soon. No gaming. Home is under 2000sq ft. Use is mostly casual internet, work related. Occasionally download movies. Stream from my mac to my stereo would be nice. Can anyone make any recommendations? I don't need anything top end but would care to avoid too rapid obsolescence. TIA
posted by dougiedd to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Should add that I don't neccesarily need it to be combined modem Wifi router But that seems easier and less messy
posted by dougiedd at 5:16 PM on March 1, 2014

Have you looked at the approved list?
posted by zamboni at 5:17 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest a separate modem. It makes very little difference in complexity (you are unlikely to ever do anything to your cable modem except turn it on and off). All the Motorola modems on the approved list appear to be DOCSIS 3 models - you may well use it for a decade. WIFI routers on the other hand are rarely well made and the standards seem to be far more in flux - lifetime max of three to five years perhaps.

Get the cheapest, simplest Motorola cable modem on the list, and then pick your wifi routers to taste.

Since you seem to be an Apple house, the Apple routers wouldn't be a bad bet - they're of good quality. My taste runs to the Asus N66U or similar high end Asus router.

DO: make sure you get a receipt when you return your current cable modem, and file it in a place where you can find it when you eventually move. Your ISP probably assumes that if you have a cable modem, it must be their cable modem (Comcast TOTALLY fucked me here). Watch your bill for a couple month to make sure the rental fee goes away, too.
posted by wotsac at 5:36 PM on March 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Buy a DOCSIS 3.0-compliant modem from the approved list zamboni linked to. DOCSIS is the standard that lets you move data over the cable network, and 3.0 is the latest version of that. Those should be pretty much all of them in the second table, since those are the higher-speed tiers which'll require the latest stuff.. For example, this Motorola SB6141 is on the approved list and is DOCSIS 3.0 (not that I'm specifically recommending that one, though the Motorola modems have been pretty good in my experience).

If you're not concerned with having the iMac hard-wired, the latest Airport Express would probably be the easiest/best bet. It also offers audio-only streaming, so you could potentially stick it and the modem next to your stereo for the streaming bit. If you're under 2,000 square feet, it should be fine but that may be about its limits. You can, however, buy a second Express and then use it to extend your network if there are dead spots.

You can also do the Airport Extreme, which is the top-of-the-line one, and will have faster speeds (internally at least) if your computer is newer or if you upgrade later on. (The Express does dual-band 802.11n, where the Extreme uses the latest 802.11ac stuff plus the older standards.) It may also do better with your space than the Express. It does not have the audio streaming, though, but you could just add an Express or an AppleTV to do that.

(For what it's worth, regarding range, I've set up older Time Capsules, which are in essence Airport Extremes with hard drives, in 2k+ square feet houses and had them work fine. They were fairly modern, though. In addition, my personal router is a cheap Linksys in a 1,200sqft apartment and I still get signal out in the street quite a ways from my apartment.)

There are cheaper routers; however, the Apple ones are the easiest to configure and manage - you just use an app on your phone or Mac, and it's incredibly simple to deal with - and if they have issues you have Apple tech support, which is far better than many others. They're just easier to deal with. But, that said, a higher-end Linksys/Cisco or Asus device would be good too. I'm also recommending doing them separately - yes, it'd be less messy to have a combined device but you're far more likely to want to upgrade the wireless network than the cable modem. Newer wireless gear comes out more frequently than the cable companies roll out new services that require higher versions of DOCSIS, but you may want to move from (say) 802.11n to 802.11ac sooner than later.
posted by mrg at 5:40 PM on March 1, 2014

First, I'd recommend against getting a cable modem gateway that has both the modem and WiFi/router in the same box. They're almost universally horrible, and limit your flexibility in configuring your network.

For the modem, I would recommend getting a Motorola Surfboard modem. I've had a Surfboard for several years and it is probably the most reliable device I have on the network. The SB6141 is the one I'd get now.

For the router, there's a pretty wide selection. I personally own an ASUS router that works very well. If I were shopping today I'd probably get an Asus N56U, but there's a lot of options here and the other answers seem to have you covered.
posted by Aleyn at 5:43 PM on March 1, 2014

Response by poster: thank you all!
posted by dougiedd at 5:50 PM on March 1, 2014

I hate Time Warner. I am in TWC-NC, and about a year and a half ago, I started seeing a $6/mo charge for a cable modem that I had had for 10 years!! That went for $3.99 on ebay, inclusive of shipping! I was perfectly happy with my DOCSIS 1.1 modem. It was fast and trouble-free. The higher levels of DOCSIS make things easier for the cable company, but not necessarily for you. I had a premium speed package for internet service, and still, TWC did not deign to upgrade me to this decade's technology, but they were perfectly happy to charge me for it.

DOCSIS 3.0 is the latest, and any modem with that would be useful for a long time. But, you buy into a particular speed standard when you sign up, and if the cable company guarantees X Mb/s, they will deliver it. The higher levels of DOCSIS make it easier for the cable company to deliver the speeds they promise, but you don't necessarily need them.

Anyway, I have a motorola sb5101 for the cable modem, and a dlink 655 for wireless. You can get both for under $16 including shipping from ebay, and I am perfectly happy with them. IN MY EXPERIENCE (caveat) you do not need a modem explicitly on the compatibility list for good service. I am sure the list looked quite different 3 years ago.
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 5:56 PM on March 1, 2014

Just a bit of follow up- the SB6141 does look like your best bet. It's rated very well at New Egg and Amazon. Motorola for these purposes is now owned by Arris, which does not make cable modems that I trust. So...
posted by wotsac at 5:58 PM on March 1, 2014

The bad news, Maxwell Smart, is that only DOCSIS 3 modems are on the approved list. Otherwise, for suitable tiers of service I would suggest the SB 5101 or similar. Going off the approved list invites trouble.
posted by wotsac at 6:01 PM on March 1, 2014

I bought my cable modem as well when only DOCSIS 3.0 modems were on the list. I assumed if my cable company were charging me for my DOCSIS 1.1 modem without providing a replacement, that it was up to the task.

At the time, I thought the risk of buying a potentially unsupported modem for $20 (at the time) was better than spending $60 for a sure thing, especially when a $0.99 modem seemed to work just fine.

Here are my speeds.

Here are the Netflix guidelines.

I agree with the others that the SB6121 is a good modem to buy as a "sure thing."
posted by Maxwell_Smart at 6:07 PM on March 1, 2014

You should buy the Motorola SB6141. I own one. It's absolutely unimpeachable, but don't just take my word for it.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 7:20 PM on March 1, 2014

I'm going to nth the Motorola SB6141, which hasn't so much as sneezed since I turned it on. Get that and a good wireless router. If you want to be future-proof, get an 802.11ac router.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:09 PM on March 1, 2014

Don't buy a combo unit. I HATE those things, they're like combination toaster oven slot toasters or something in that they half ass both. I've never had one be stable.

I had a terrible experience with that motorola people are mentioning here, the only good part of the whole ordeal was that i got a decent price for it on ebay.

Buy a really basic modem that is _just_ a modem, like the cheaper arris or basic motorola models(the SMCs are also great if that's on your approved list). Then buy an asus ac66/airport extreme/linksys e4xxx/higher end netgear and set it and forget it.

With every combo unit i've had it needed an unplug reboot a couple times a month, or heavy torrenting would lock it up, or multiple clients pulling heavy traffic would cause it to start having latency spikes inconsistently, or...

My airport+arris modem combo has been so solid that i've never actually needed to hard reboot it since about last may. i had similar good times with my linksys+older modem setup, and my netgear+dsl modem setup.

Buy the cheapest, most basic modem that's just a simple modem you can find(slickdeals often has refurbs for cheap posted! so does ebay!), then buy a quality router.

Arris isn't on your list actually, i just saw, but whatever the cheapy is on there.

i will also add that the airport extreme is the best router i have ever used ever. if you don't need wireless AC buy an older N only model from around 09 or newer for $40-80 on ebay. freaking thing is more stable than the $$$$$ commercial wifi AP + firewall routers i manage at work.
posted by emptythought at 10:15 PM on March 1, 2014

Motorola makes pretty sturdy modems. I have the SB 6121 which we bought about a year ago and it works well with our Comcast. It was recommended by the Comcast guy who set up my account.

Since you have Macs in the house you might want to think about the Apple AirPort. It's a solid router, and the AirPlay feature is really nice.
posted by radioamy at 11:16 PM on March 1, 2014

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