How to get the most out of the high-speed internet you’re paying for
By Jaime Vazquez
Jan 12, 2020 | 7:32 AM
It’s 2020 — which means if you’re not getting fast internet speeds on your devices, it’s time to fix that.
Whether it's slowpoke downloads on your laptop, long load times on your smartphone, or frustrating buffering moments on your streaming box, there are affordable solutions out there, provided you know what tech to get.
Slow internet speeds can be tough to troubleshoot, so the first thing to do is consider the three big areas for potential bottlenecks and make sure you've got the right gadgets to address each one.
Here's everything you need to know to make waiting for data a thing of the past.
Your internet speeds are first and foremost controlled by your internet service provider (ISP). Start by checking your ISP account to see what download speeds you’ve signed up for. If you’re paying for less than 1,000mbps speeds, you’ll need a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem. If you’re paying for speeds that are 1,000mbps or faster, you’ll need a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. If you haven’t updated your modem in a few years, now’s the time — and if you’re renting one from your ISP, it’s time to ditch the monthly fee and buy your own.
Good: The ARRIS Surfboard ($116.75) is the place to start if you have download speeds of 400mbps or lower. It's reliable, easy to set up, and it includes a built-in WiFi router, so you can enjoy fast wireless speeds (and save money by not having to buy a separate WiFi router). If you're a casual internet user or just prefer all-in-one devices, the Surfboard is a solid choice.
Better: The Motorola MG7550 ($149.99) is a step up, adding more ethernet ports, so it's easy to hard-wire additional devices to your network. It's a DOCSIS 3.0 modem and ideal for subscriptions up to 400mbps. It has a built-in WiFi router as well. It supports a wider range of ISPs than the Surfboard, so if you get internet service from a smaller company (like Suddenlink or Cable One), it's one of the best options available.
Best: The Netgear CM1000 ($159.99) is our favorite modem for working with gigabit (1,000mbps or higher) internet subscriptions because it's super simple to hookup, and frankly, very fast. Many gigabit modems don't deliver all the speeds they promise, but the CM1000 makes good on every megabyte, and it's ideal for homes where a lot of simultaneous streaming happens.
Honorable mention: If you're looking for a DOCSIS 3.0 modem for a more basic setup -- for example, for a grandparent or a secondary home -- check out the Motorola MB7220 ($46.99). It supports speeds up to 200mbps and doesn't have a WiFi router, so it's definitely barebones and has a bargain price tag to match.
Once you’re certain that your modem is delivering the best speeds for your ISP subscription, it’s time to look at your WiFi speeds. If your modem doesn’t include a WiFi router, you’ll need to buy one separately — one that’s capable of translating your modem’s speeds to the fastest wireless signal possible. If you don’t have a router or it’s been a few years since you’ve upgraded, check out a few of our most recommended models.
Good: We're fans of TP-Link's AC1900 Smart WiFi Router ($71.99) because it's fast, dependable, and legitimately smart -- it works with digital assistants like Amazon's Alexa so you can do things like enable a guest WiFi network with voice commands. It also has intuitive Quality of Service (QoS) controls so you can prioritize specific devices and make adjustments on the fly.
Better: The ASUS AX6000 ($293.72) is a step up with some very worthwhile perks. It's got four antennas, so it offers an incredible range, 8 gigabit ethernet ports included, and it even supports the newest, bleeding-edge wireless standard, WiFi 6. If you're looking to blanket your apartment or home in WiFi and you own devices that support WiFi 6, this is one of the best options available.
Best: Amazon's eero mesh WiFi system ($249) has long been our favorite mesh networking solution for WiFi -- it comes in a three-pack, so you can place each node around your home to ensure there are no dead spots. The best part: eero devices automatically update themselves, and their best-in-class WiFi management app makes it easy to see what devices are online and to set up a guest network in seconds.
Honorable mention: TP-Link's AC1750 Smart WiFi Router ($57.99) is a solid entry-level WiFi router. It's got all of the services and features of their more expensive models, like parent controls, QoS controls, and a built-in VPN server -- but with a smaller WiFi footprint. That means it's perfect for smaller spaces or situations where super-fast speeds aren't always required.
Enjoy wired speeds without rewiring your home
Having fast WiFi is essential to most devices, but especially so if you’re a gamer or you stream a lot of video in 4K. In these instances, it might be worth it to look into hard-wiring some devices on your network. If your home doesn’t have ethernet ports handy to make that work — most don’t — that’s all right: with the right gadget, you can use your AC power outlets or coaxial ports to create wired connections. Here are the ones to start with.
Good: If you have coaxial ports you're not already using, you can get a pair of Multimedia over Coaxial Alliance (MoCA) adapters to access your existing wiring to facilitate a wired ethernet connection. We recommend the MOTOROLA MoCA Adapter for Ethernet Over Coax 2-Pack ($137.99) because it's so straightforward and lives up to its speed claims. Just be aware: using any MoCA kit requires a MoCA-compatible modem, so triple-check to make sure you've got compatible gear before you buy.
Better: Another option to consider is powerline networking: using your existing AC power outlets to transmit data. Powerline networking kits work with any internet setup -- no special modems required -- and the right kit can deliver gigabit ethernet speeds after just a few minutes of setting up outlets as connection points. Our favorite is Netgear's Powerline Adapter Kit ($87) because it's one of the fastest kits available, and it's got two ports on each unit. It also supports power passthrough, so you can still plug anything into the wall, even when they're in use.
Best: We often recommend TP-Link's AV2000 Powerline Adapter ($77.99) because it's fast and easy to connect, and it also comes with a few extra killer features. For example, it supports Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) connections for devices like security cameras, and it has built-in noise filtering, which makes it a better choice for homes with older electrical systems. Just keep in mind that they don't sell them in pairs, so you'll need to buy at least two to start out with.
Honorable mention: ZyXEL's Powerline Adapter 2-Pack ($49.99) is a solid option for temporary situations; its single ethernet port and built-in ethernet encryption make it ideal solution for fast connections when you're away from home. However, it's missing power-outlet passthrough and isn't as fast as other similar models, but at this price point, we're not complaining.
Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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