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
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.