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You’ve probably noticed that we’re all spending a lot more time indoors and on screens these days. We’re all reacting to the convalescence differently, but the healthier among us are working from home via teleconferencing or trying to take our classes, and then relaxing later by enjoying all the content that the streaming wars have to offer.
But none of this is possible if your internet isn’t up to par. If you’ve been dealing with a lot more buffering and dropped Zoom calls than you’d like, it might be time to upgrade your modem or router — or both.
Buying a new modem might also help you save some money on your internet bill. Sometimes you don’t own your modem, and instead rent it from your internet service provider. Modem rental fees run $12 or even $14 per month, and you can buy a decent modem for under $100 — so it’s a purchase that easily pays for itself in less than a year. (Just make sure that the modem you buy is compatible with your internet provider service.)
What’s the difference between a modem and a router? A modem connects your home network to the internet. A router lets all of your wireless devices use that internet, and allows them to pair with each other via Bluetooth technology and the like. Then there are modem-router combo devices that handle all of the tasks above.
If you’ve recently upgraded to a high-speed internet service but have the same old box, or if you modem is more than five years old, or you just find that your internet is always slow, then it could be time for an upgrade. Fortunately, we’ve asked technology experts and people who work in IT departments for their recommendations, as part of our ongoing product recommendation series.
Best Modem Router Combo
Motorola MG7550: $149.99
Dennis Bell, who has worked in the IT industry for 15 years and now is now the Quebec-based CEO of the online coffee resource Byblos Coffee, likes modem-router combo gadgets.
“Routers and modems are usually separate devices, but there are combined devices that simplify the setup process,” he says. “I recommend Motorola MG7550, as it is the best choice for internet speeds of 250 Mbps to 300 Mbps. Combining the modem and router saves space, eliminates wires, and simplifies the installation.”
He adds, “You can save over $120 per year in cable modem rental fees, depending on your service provider,” and that “it offers a 2-year warranty on the device upon purchase.”
Netgear CM500: $54.99
Some people are lucky enough to live in cities with multiple internet service providers, so they can shop around and see which one gives the best value.
But as Patrick Ward, the Los Angeles-based director of marketing at the software development agency Rootstrap, points out, you need to make sure you don’t buy a modem that locks you into one service. That’s why he likes the Netgear CM500.
“The Netgear CM500 is a workhorse modem that is fully compatible with most cable providers. This is a key consideration because the entire point of buying your own modem is to reduce the monthly rental fee from your internet provider,” he says. “At the same time, all those savings are for naught if you purchase a modem that locks you into one particular internet provider.” Ward says that for heavy duty internet users, such as households with online gamers, “You’ll be better served shilling out a bit more cash for a more powerful, faster modem. For users looking to simply get out from underneath their current rental fees, however, this is a great option at an affordable price point.”
ARRIS SURFboard SB6183: $69.99
Ben Kurlan is the co-founder of BillFixers, a Nashville-based business that helps consumers and small businesses save money on their monthly internet and cable bills. “We negotiate with internet providers all day, every day and end up giving a fair bit of tech advice a long the way,” he says. “Rental modems are one of the biggest scams around — internet providers are charging up to $13/mo these days, so most people will get their money back within a year by buying their own modem/router rather than renting from their ISP.”
For those trying to save money, he recommends the Arris Surfboard, a budget workhorse. “They tend to be reliable, good for any residential use, and I’ve never encountered an issue that powercycling doesn’t solve.”
Motorola MB8600: $159.99
“If you’re a more serious user who has to run an internet-based home business or needs to game competitively, the Motorola MB8600 is one of the more future-proofed options you’ll find,” Kurlan says. “It’ll be several years before you can even get home internet as fast as it can support, and it’s optimized to handle low latency.
“Be careful though, because the MB8700 isn’t compatible with internet service from several providers, including Verizon, AT&T, and CenturyLink.”
TP-Link Wi-Fi 6 router AX1800: $126.41
If you’ve been thinking about getting an Alexa or similar smart home device, check and make sure your router can handle it first, says Michael Miller, the Portland-based CEO of the cyber security firm VPN Online.
“Getting your money’s worth and versatility are two of the things I look for in a home office router,” says Miller. “The TP-Link AX1800 can support multiple IoT devices and integrate with Alexa easily. It uses WiFi 6 technology which guarantees you won’t need to replace them for years to come. An added feature that I love is the OFDMA (Orthogonal frequency-division multiple access), which increases efficiency and reduces latency rates.”
Netgear Nighthawk R6700: $86.17
If you have a big family full of smartphone and screen users, the Netgear Nighthawk is a cost-friendly way to keep everyone online, and there are enough options available to fit your budget and service needs, according to Ward.
“The Netgear Nighthawk R6700 provides more than enough power and speed for the vast majority of internet users. The 802.11ac wireless protocol allows for greater transmission ranges suitable for medium to large-sized homes, and according to the manufacturer, it is designed for users with 13 or more connected devices,” he says. “If you’re looking for a measurable bump in your performance without breaking the bank, the Netgear R6700 Nighthawk is an ideal choice that helps the majority of consumers stream HD media and browse the web on multiple devices at once.”
Gryphon Guardian: $99
You might have noticed that there’s, uh, a lot of weird stuff on the internet. If you’d like to avoid having to explain to your children what some of the more lurid things they might encounter mean, then Sarah Kimmel has some suggestions for routers that can help you block what your family sees, and to help limit screen time overall. A resident of Lehi, Utah, Kimmel has been an IT manager for more than 17 years and runs the Family Tech website, which “helps families understand and manage the technology in their home.”
She likes the Gryphon Guardian “because it’s the only device I have tested that gets both the networking and parental controls right. Some that had good parental controls lack the strong networking capabilities I require with over 50 devices connected to my home network. Others that have really good networking, lack quality parental controls. The Gryphon nails them both perfectly.”