For most people, their cable modem and router are two separate devices, however this isn’t always the case. You can also get integrated “combo” devices, which feature a cable modem and a router in the same box.
Before we go any further – a brief note: In this article, we are referring to router and cable modem combos, not router and DSL modem combos. We will cover DSL modem combos in a future piece.
So why would anyone want a router and cable modem combo in the first place?
- Saves Space
- Uses less electricity
- Simpler: Only one device to manage, only one IP address to remember
- Many combo devices are very robust and feature the same features as their standalone counterparts, such as DOCSIS 3.x support on the cable modem side and 802.11 AC Wi-Fi on the router side – so you aren’t necessarily giving anything up by going with a combo device
- Saves you money on your cable bill – no more needing to pay monthly for a modem rental
- Fewer cables, less mess
- They are typically expensive since they are effectively two devices in one
- If it fails, you either have to buy another combo device (expensive) or ditch the combo and buy a separate router and modem (two devices, also expensive)
- Doesn’t always provide all of the features that a separate cable modem and router setup would provide – especially on the router side
What is the difference between a router and a modem?
Duties of a router:
A router performs many functions, however the primary purpose for a router in the home is to share your internet access among all of the people and devices in your home. Without a router, you would only be able to connect one computer at a time to your internet connection.
The router further enables sharing of your internet connection through the integrated switch ports and built-in wireless radios. Most home routers have an integrated 4 port switch for wired devices, as well as a built in wireless access point for Wi-Fi devices.
The router also enhances the security of your internal network within your home through technologies such as firewalling, packet inspection, and network address translation.
Duties of a modem:
The word “modem” originates from two words (modulator-demodulator) shortened and crammed together. Modems basically allow a provider to convert digital data into a waveform for transmission over a wire, with a set of modems on each end converting digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital again.
Many people are familiar with dial-up modems, which were primarily used in the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s to send data over voice-grade telephone lines. Today, cable modems function in a similar manner, sending modulated RF data over coaxial wiring.
The modem is what enables your internet service provider to actually deliver service to your home. Ultimately, a router is an optional accessory, since your internet service will function without one – however a modem is always required.
A note from a Nerd:
Personally, I am not a fan of combo devices as they tend to be a “Jack of all trades and master of none”. I like having a lot of choices when it comes to my cable modem and router.
If I am selecting a combo device, my choices are much more limited because of the much smaller selection of them available on the market. However, I am an advanced/power user. For the typical user, these devices are an excellent choice.
That being said, here is our pick:
What we like about it:
- Supports DOCSIS 3.0 – This thing absolutely screams and supports data transfer speeds up to approximately 1 Gigabit per second
- The wired ports are all 10/100/1000 “Gigabit” ports
- Simple to install (some of the installation is dependant on your Internet Service Provider, so results may vary)
- Supports dual bands – it can be configured to operate on both the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz spectrums
- Excellent Wi-Fi coverage for small to medium size homes (up to ~2500 square feet)
- Includes a USB port for network storage or network printing
- The management web interface is consistent with other Netgear routers – if you have owned a different Netgear router in the past, you will likely be familiar with this one right out of the gate
What we dislike about it:
- As with any cable modem swap, your Internet Service Provider may have to send a tech out to install it – however, most ISP’s can make the change remotely, and Comcast even lets you make the change on their website
- The management interface is somewhat clunky and slow – this will only affect you when you are actually making changes to the router, not during regular internet use
- One year warranty is a bit short – we would have liked to have seen a three year warranty
- Compatible with Xfinity from Comcast, Spectrum, Cox, CableONE & more. Not compatible with Cable bundled voice services;Dimensions: 9.66 x 8.31 x 1.7 inches
- Three-in-one DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem + AC1900 WiFi Router+ 4 Gigabit Wired Switch
- Up to 960Mbps modem speed and Dual-Band AC1900 (2.4GHz & 5GHz) WiFi speed. 24x8 channel bonding/ Approved for plans up to 500 Mbps
- System requirements: Microsoft Windows 7, 8, Vista, XP, 2000, Mac OS, UNIX, or Linux, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.0, Firefox 2.0, Safari 1.4, or Google Chrome 11.0 browsers or higher. DOCSIS 3.0 unleashes 24x faster download speeds than DOCSIS 2.0
- Ideal for streaming 4K HD videos, faster downloads, and high-speed online gaming
Andrew Namder is an experienced Network Engineer with 20+ years of experience in IT. He loves technology in general, but is truly passionate about computer networking and sharing his knowledge with others. He is a Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and is working towards achieving the coveted CCIE certification. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.