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How to Choose the Best Cable Modem for Gaming

Learn about cable modems and what to look for when buying a cable modem for gaming.

Cable Modems Kevin Jones / TechReviewer

Last Updated: August 15, 2022

Written by Kevin Jones

The modem you use to connect to your Internet service provider (ISP) is essential if you game online. A lousy modem can potentially ruin your gaming experience through lag and dropped signals. It's also not fun to spend money on games only for them to be unplayable because of a slow connection. In this guide, we will cover how to choose the best cable modem for gaming.

Best Cable Modem

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Cable Modem for Gaming

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DOCSIS Version

DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) is the international data transfer standard for existing cable television systems (CATV). DOCSIS makes it possible for a cable modem to connect to the Internet by using the coax cable in your wall. Coax cables are the cables often used for cable TV.

There are multiple versions of DOCSIS available. DOCSIS 3.1 is the current standard, and DOCSIS 4.0 will be available in the future. The different versions of DOCSIS mainly determine the speed of your Internet connection coming from the coax cable. DOCSIS 3.0 is good enough for slower connections, but DOCSIS 3.1 is ideal for future-proofing performance.

While most online games don't need a lot of download bandwidth to play, improved download speeds will increase the rate at which you can download new games and game patches.

The downside to getting a DOCSIS 3.0 modem is that most internet service providers (ISPs) no longer fully support it, even though it may still work. So we recommend getting a DOCSIS 3.1 modem.

DOCSIS Versions - Speed Comparison
DOCSIS VersionMax DownloadMax Upload
3.0 1 Gb/s 200 Mb/s
3.1 10 Gb/s 1-2 Gb/s
4.0 (Future) 10 Gb/s 6 Gb/s

Learn more about how internet speed can be affected by which cable modem you use in my article, Does a Modem Affect Internet Speed?.

Latency

No matter how fast your Internet connection is, dropped or delayed network packets could mean the difference between a win and a loss in a game.

Modems are generally fast enough not to introduce significant latency from processing packets. However, you can further minimize latency by using the most recent DOCSIS version, DOCSIS 3.1. DOCSIS 3.1 includes some improvements to buffering algorithms that can reduce latency.

However, most latency comes from packet loss due to a high signal-to-noise ratio. My Ultimate Cable Internet Wiring & Optimization Guide shows you how you can diagnose and improve high SNR and incorrect power levels.

Ethernet Port Speed

When purchasing a modem and router, it's crucial to ensure that both support the desired Ethernet speeds. Devices typically support either 1 Gbps, 2.5 Gbps, or 10 Gbps ports. Any of these will work fine for gaming. However, your modem's Ethernet port and router's WAN port should support at least the download speed of your Internet connection.

Firmware

Suppose you have outdated firmware on a modem. In that case, this can reduce the speed and stability of the connection or prevent it from working altogether.

Generally, internet service providers (ISPs) push out firmware to modems, allowing them to work correctly on their service. ISPs tend only to support newer modems and discontinue support for older models that the ISP doesn't provide.

Modems rented from an ISP are usually supported with firmware updates for longer or are swapped out for newer modems. However, it's typically cheaper to own a modem than rent one.

Does Your ISP Support It?

Modems support most major internet service providers (ISP). It's always good to check the description of the product you're purchasing. Check with your ISP to see if a modem is supported. However, sometimes it will work even if it's not officially supported.

Router Combo or Separate

An important factor in choosing a suitable cable modem for gaming is determining whether you would like a modem that offers a combined modem and router, sometimes called a gateway.

A router sends and receives data packets between your local network and the Internet. Devices like computers or phones connect to a router to obtain internet access via an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi.

A cable modem is a device that communicates with your Internet service provider's equipment via a coax cable. It connects to your router via an Ethernet cable.

A modem router combo does have some benefits, such as being simpler to set up. However, we prefer a separate modem and router due to the ease of upgrading and increased availability of purchase options.

Learn more in Modem Router Combo vs. Separate? Which You Should Buy.

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Best DOCSIS 3.1 Modem: Motorola MB8611

  • Find the Motorola MB8611 DOCSIS 3.1 Cable Modem on Amazon (affiliate link).

  • 6 Gbps max speed.

  • 2.5 Gbps Ethernet port.

  • Lightning and power surge protection.

  • Active queue management, which can reduce internet latency.

  • DOCSIS 3.1, which allows for faster speeds and better network stability.

  • Works with Comcast Xfinity, Comcast Business, Cox Communications, and Charter Spectrum.

  • It does not have a built-in wireless router.

  • It does not have telephone call capability. Motorola MB8611 Motorola MB8611 Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

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Modem Router Combos

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Form-Factor

Modem router combos have a smaller form factor since you don't have to have two separate devices and cables going to each one and connecting each other. A modem router combo takes up less space overall compared to individual devices.

Can Be Cheaper Than Separate Devices

Individual routers can cost around the same as a modem router combo. While the upfront cost of buying a separate modem and router is more overall than combined, it can be cheaper in the long run.

You will have the flexibility to upgrade your devices separately, reducing your long-term cost. If you have a modem router combo, you'd have to replace the entire device. If you buy them individually, you can upgrade one device if any unfixable issues arise or new features you want that come out in the future. Modems can often outlive a router, so combining them can be limiting.

Setup

Modem router combos are the easiest to set up. Instead of two separate devices to connect, power, and run cables to and from, you'll only need to connect one device.

Modem router combo devices are generally easiest for beginners, including the set-up phase where you'll change settings, set passwords, and connect your devices.

Upgrading

Having a separate modem and router is easier to upgrade in the future because if you have both a router and modem, you can decide when to upgrade them separately. Your modem can outlive your router, so there's no need to upgrade both at once. If your router stops working, is outdated, or is no longer supported, you can buy a new router instead of both.

Router Placement

A separate router allows you to place it farther away from your modem. Individual devices will enable you to optimally position the router to receive the best Wi-Fi strength where you need it most.

A modem router combo restricts the flexibility of where you can place them. The coax cable that connects to your modem is limited and often thicker, making it hard to put across the room from the coax cable outlet.

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Best Cable Modem Router Combo: Motorola MG8702

  • Find the Motorola MG8702 on Amazon (affiliate link).

  • Comes with a smart Wi-Fi app for easy set-up, guest network management, usage monitoring, parental controls, and security alerts.

  • Works with Comcast Xfinity, Cox Communications, and Charter Spectrum.

  • DOCSIS 3.1, which allows for faster speeds and better network stability.

  • Up to 3.2 Gb/s data transfer speeds.

  • USB 3.0 port for shared network storage. Motorola MG8702 Motorola MG8702 Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

Runner-Up Cable Modem Router Combo: Netgear Nighthawk C7000

  • Find the Netgear Nighthawk C7000 on Amazon (affiliate link).

  • Works with Comcast Xfinity, Cox Communications, and Charter Spectrum.

  • Get up to 1800 sq ft of wireless coverage.

  • Connect up to 30 devices with speeds up to 1.9 Gb/s.

  • 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports.

  • 2 USB ports for connecting printers, storage drives, or other devices to your network.

  • Only supports DOCSIS 3.0, which may not be supported as long. Netgear Nighthawk C7000 Netgear Nighthawk C7000 Check Price on Amazon Amazon Affiliate Link

Ethernet Cable Speeds

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Even if a cable modem's Ethernet port supports a high speed, network speeds can still be limited by the type of Ethernet cable connecting your devices. Lower Ethernet cable categories can restrict your internet speed because they only support specific data rates.

Here are the minimum versions of Ethernet cables that are needed to reach maximum speeds for each Ethernet port type:

Ethernet Port Type Ethernet Cable Needed for Max Speed
Fast Ethernet (10/100) Cat 5
Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000) Cat 5e
10 Gigabit Ethernet (10/100/1000/10000) Cat 6a

Finding Ethernet cables that comply with their category rating can be tricky. Some manufacturers use misleading or incorrect naming, and their cables do not allow you to get the maximum expected speeds.

Here are some cables which I recommend:

Building Your Network

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If you want to learn more about cable internet equipment, networking, wiring, or troubleshooting, check out these articles: