You’re definitely in luck if you’re researching about cable modems because by the end of this article, you might be on your way to saving between $60-$120 per year.
If, however, you’re still wondering why you need to even be concerned about the cable modem that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) installed some few years back, you’re also in for a journey.
Because we’ll be explaining why it might be necessary to ditch the cable modem that your ISP gave you and possibly get a new one. The main focus will be on a brand that you may have heard of – Arris.
In this article, we’ll first talk about some few things that might be relevant in helping you understand the differences between four of Arris’ products that will be reviewed i.e. the Arris SURFboard SB6121, the SB6141, the SB6183, and the SB6190.
One particular term – DOCSIS – will play a big role in helping you pick the right modem for your household. The article will then go on to review the four Arris modems and showcase the strengths and weaknesses of each before briefly touching on some few words of advice before you decide to get a modem that wasn’t supplied by your ISP.
A Few Things to Note
If you’re in the U.S. and you are currently subscribed to an internet package from your ISP, there is a big chance you’re probably using cable. During the time of installation, you must have been given a cable modem that actually converts the analog signals transmitted from your ISP into digital signals which you then enjoy as the internet. Regardless of your monthly subscription fee, most ISPs in the U.S. usually charge you a rental fee for using their cable modems. This is typically about $5-$10. Multiply this by the 12 months in a single year and you realize you’re giving out $60-$120 to your ISP just for using their cable modem. Of course, you can go and purchase yours, but some ISPs usually make it difficult to use your own cable modem. However, since majority don’t, you can see how you can make some potentially big savings. The real challenge after that comes in when you now want to purchase a cable modem. Grabbing just any cable modem won’t work either because you need to ensure that the cable modem is compatible with your ISP’s standards, and that’s where DOCSIS comes in.
What Is DOCSIS?
DOCSIS stands for Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification. Ideally, it is a standard that is used by your ISP and many others that provide internet services over cable. Its importance comes about because it allows all ISPs to use one unified standard just the same way that the same Thunderbolt port (USB Type C) that’s on your Mac is also on your Samsung handset (Galaxy S8 upwards). The same way that there are different standards of USBs is the same way that there are different standards of DOCSIS. Currently, the highest DOCSIS standard is DOCSIS 3.1, and this is simply a fancy way of saying that if your cable modem is at this standard, your cable modem can support super-fast internet speeds. The table below gives you an impression of how fast you can expect your internet to be if your ISP has plans that reach those speeds:
Maximum Download Speed
Maximum Upload Speed
Theoretical Upload Time (GoT) *
|1||1997||40 Mbit/s||10 Mbit/s||4 Hours||17 Hours|
|1.1||2001||40 Mbit/s||10 Mbit/s||4 Hours||17 Hours|
|2||2002||40 Mbit/s||30 Mbit/s||4 Hours||5 Hours|
|3||2006||1.2 Gbit/s||200 Mbit/s||8 Minutes||1 Hour|
|3.1||2013||10 Gbit/s||1–2 Gbit/s||1 Minute||5-10 Minutes|
|3.1 Full Duplex||2017||10 Gbit/s||10 Gbit/s||1 Minute||1 Minute|
*We’re assuming the entire 73 HD episodes of Game of
As you can see, DOCSIS 3.1 is lightning fast, but if your ISP only supports DOCSIS 3.0, then buying a DOCSIS 3.1 router would be a waste of money because you won’t be getting the speeds shown above. In addition, buying a cable modem with a DOCSIS version that is lower than what your ISP is currently offering you will end in disaster because of compatibility issues.
It is also worth mentioning something about channel bonding as it plays some role in the speeds you see above. Channel bonding is nothing more than combining two different channels in which your data is transmitted via in order to increase the overall throughput. In DOCSIS channel bonding, imagine we have 32 channels each carrying 300Mbps. When combined together, these collectively end up giving us 10,000Mbps of 10Gbps. As such, the more channels the cable modem has, the more capable it can transmit data at a much faster rate. So, these are the two main things we should be looking out for when reviewing the Arris cable modems.
ARRIS SURFboard SB6121 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem
The Arris SB6121 is a relatively older cable modem from ARRIS that was released back in 2010. Despite its age, it won’t be surprising to find it installed in some homes because it equally harnesses the power of DOCSIS 3.0 standards. However, it does not advertise speeds of 1.2Gbps like we had earlier mentioned in the table indicating the differences between the DOCSIS standards. Instead, you get download speeds of 172Mbps. This is mainly because of its number of upstream and downstream channels. Despite this figure, anything above 150Mbps is still enough even by today’s standards. Considering that a typical home would do just fine with a 100Mbps internet connection, the Arris SB6121 still maintains its relevance.
Arris SB6121 Performance
As it has 4 upstream and downstream channels, you can expect maximum speeds of 172Mbps for download and 131Mbps for upload, but chances are that the maximum speeds you would be getting in a real-world scenario would only max out at 100Mbps. Its backwards compatibility also allows you to use it if your cable company allows DOCSIS 2.0 or even lower, but this would be a waste of its true potential. The SB6121 remains cool even when under loads of pressure, and this is something we found interesting especially when you consider that it is nearly 10 years old but can still perform like most new cable modems we see in the market.
Arris SB6121 Speed
Testing the speeds of cable modems is always tricky as this boils down to your ISP in most cases. 172Mbps for downloads and 131Mbps for uploads seem like decent figures, but it’s nearly impossible to get these speeds as they are the upper limits for the Arris SB6121. Of course, there are factors that prevent you from getting speeds higher than this. They include things such as heavy network usage and regular performance dips in the network. Thus, it would be folly to really consider the upper limit speeds because achieving them on a typical day would be difficult.
Arris SB6121 Pros
- It comes with the DOCSIS 3.0 standard which makes it fast and relatively modern
- It has 4 upload channels and 4 download channels which give a perfect balance between upload and download speeds (131Mbps and 172Mbps respectively)
- It is fairly easy to install and configure
- It comes with a 2-year warranty
- It is compatible with a good number of ISPs
Arris SB6121 Cons
- It has been phased out and very few sellers have it on the market
- It lacks a Wi-Fi module which means that you definitely have to get a Wi-Fi router if you want to enjoy Wi-Fi at home
- Its software is outdated
Arris SB6121 Best Use
You can comfortably enjoy HD video streaming and play online games without any fuss while using the Arris SB6121. Anything above HD would have you complaining a bit especially if you want the modem to serve more than 10 people in your home.
ARRIS SURFboard SB6141 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem
ARRIS’ SB6141 cable modem is a big improvement over the SB6121 as it is even currently featured as a decently-performing product on ARRIS’ own website. The speeds and performance of the Arris SB6141 have been bumped up to make it more appealing to the public. Whereas the SB6121 could give only 172Mbps download speeds, the SB6141 pushes this to 343Mbps which improves your overall experience with it. In addition, it also supports IPv6 which makes you somewhat future proof.
Arris SB6141 Performance
Performance-wise, you can already tell that the Arris SB6141 has slightly more channels than the SB6121. With eight channels powering the Arris SB6141, you can now understand why its speeds are almost double that of its predecessor. However, performance does not really improve greatly. You will still watch HD content with this modem, but not because it cannot go the extra mile and let you watch 4K content, but because you would be putting a lot of strain on it. Why is this? Well, even though it is well-ventilated and physically capable of handling your requests with ease, it was a bit worrying that its boot-up speeds were sluggish. This points to either some bulky firmware or just generally slow hardware.
Arris SB6141 Speed
Only the download speeds of the SB6141 were increased, so you are still stuck with 131Mbps as your upload speeds just like with the SB6121. If you are a YouTuber, this might be a bummer because you won’t be able to upload your 4K videos at the rate you would want to. In addition, when we consider the slow booting times, we can forecast that this cable modem might get edgy when we push it to the limits. There are high chances it will get hot despite being well-ventilated, and even though we can be assured of up to 150Mbps from ISPs, it still doesn’t give enough room for growth.
Arris SB6141 Pros
- It supports IPv6
- It equally comes with a 2-year warranty
- It is more readily available than the SB6121
- It is equally easy to install
- It comes with a relatively new firmware when compared to the SB6121
- It has 8 downstream channels which make it capable of supporting speeds of up to 353Mbps
- It is compatible with all major ISPs
Arris SB6141 Cons
- It also lacks a Wi-Fi module like the SB6121 meaning that you need to invest in a wireless router
- It did not improve on upload speeds and this might not make it ideal for content creators who need to publish their work online
Arris SB6141 Best Use
While it has some slightly improved specifications, it still falls under the same category that the SB6121 is. You can use this router for HD video streaming and for online gaming. You could occasionally watch 4K content, but not on many multiple devices at once. For gaming, it might depend on which kind of games you wish to play. If you’ll be streaming games from the cloud, then this might not be the cable modem you should go for. However, if you simply want to play some multiplayer games, then it can suffice.
ARRIS SURFboard SB6183 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem
While it is easy to have high hopes for the Arris SB6183 especially after coming from the Arris SB6141, you might be disappointed to discover that the SB6183 mainly improved on a single thing – download speeds. It also came as a surprise that ARRIS chose to stick with the DOCSIS 3.0 while DOCSIS 3.1 was already making headway at the same time. Users could have thus enjoyed much faster speeds than what the SB6183 was currently offering – 686Mbps download speeds thanks to the 16 downstream channels it now had. Pretty much everything remained the same, but at least it came with improved firmware.
Arris SB6183 Performance
The SB6183’s performance is mostly coined from its improved download speeds over the SB6141. Of course, this meant that users with the SB6183 could subscribe to internet packages with greater download speeds, but emphasis was never put on the upload speeds because that remained constant. It is also worth mentioning that it comes with an energy-efficient ethernet port which the other two (SB6121 and SB6141) do not have. An energy-efficient ethernet port might look like a tiny addition, and even though it is, you can at least boast that the SB6183 is slightly more power efficient than its predecessors.
Arris SB6183 Speed
You still get the same upload speeds as with the SB6121 and the SB6141 which would not be so good if you intended to use the cable modem for 4K video uploading. However, its 16 downstream channels make it a worthy selection if you are interested in HD video streaming and online gaming. Yes, the SB6141 was also great for this as well, but since you get slightly higher download speeds with the SB6183, you have more room to occupy more devices and this makes the SB6183 more superior. Ideally, the improved speeds only make your experience a bit smoother, but when pushed to the limit, this cable modem would not be too different from the SB6141.
Arris SB6183 Pros
- It comes with an energy-efficient ethernet port which is a bonus since the last two (SB6121 and SB6141) lacked this
- It is reasonably faster than its predecessors because of the 16 downstream channels
- It is compatible with the major ISPs today, thus making it relevant
- It also comes with a 2-year warranty like both the SB6121 and the SB6141
- It supports IPv6
Arris SB6183 Cons
- You would still need a wireless router if you want to access Wi-Fi
ARRIS did not decide to upgrade to the DOCSIS 3.1 on this cable modem even though it would have been possible at that time
- For such a highly-ranked cable modem, it is a bit disappointing that it still comes with a mere 4 upstream channels
Arris SB6183 Best Use
Claiming that the SB6183 is still only good for HD video streaming would be repetitive because with a download of 686Mbps, you can comfortably have everyone in your household watching 4K content. With real-world speeds of 250-300Mbps, this is also a worthy choice for gamers as it can support about 2-3 heavy internet users.
ARRIS SURFboard SB6190 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem
The Arris SB6190 sits at the very top on our list, but this is not to say that there isn’t a better cable modem above it – the SB8200 which now moves to DOCSIS 3.1. Either way, the SB6190 does come with improvements galore, and this time, even its upload speed was improved. This makes it the best cable modem of the four, not just because it has great download speeds, but because it is the first to really set itself apart and still emerge powerful.
Arris SB6190 Performance
The SB6190 has 32 downstream channels which contribute to its 1.4Gbps download speeds. This means that among all the four routers, this is the one true gigabit king. In addition, its 8 upstream channels collectively enable it to provide upload speeds of up to 262Mbps. This is double the figure that most of the SB6190’s predecessors were able to achieve.
Arris SB6190 Speed
It has the fastest speeds among all the four meaning that everyone can now enjoy 4K content on their devices without having to limit internet usage on specific devices. While the upload speeds are still far behind the download speeds, you would be wise to go for the SB6190 in case you will be uploading a lot of content online. True, the SB6190 does not offer the best upload speeds out there, but for its price and what it can do, it is a great choice.
Arris SB6190 Pros
- It is the first cable modem in the series to provide gigabit ethernet
- It is compatible with all major ISPs
- It has 32 downstream channels along with 8 upstream channels which amount to the speed of 1.4Gbps for download and 262Mbps for upload
Arris SB6190 Cons
- You would still need a wireless router for the SB6190 as it does not come with an internal Wi-Fi module
- Though upload speeds are considerably higher than those of the previous models, it still isn’t at par with others in the market that offer equal upload and download speeds
Arris SB6190 Best Use
The SB6190 is more than capable of handling 4K content in your home. This also makes it ideal for large homes where many people are connected to the internet. You should however remember that you need to get the right router that can complement the speeds of the cable modem.
Evidently, there are different kinds of ARRIS cable modems for everyone out there. For those that need speed and reliability, it would make sense to go for the SB6190 and forfeit everything else. However, those who are not particularly keen with speed and simply want relatively fast and convenient internet would benefit from the SB6121 or even the SB6141. Since their strengths are linear, it makes sense to say that you should go for the SB6190 rather than the others. As all the routers are DOCSIS 3.0, DOCSIS becomes an irrelevant variable in this particular selection because they are all from the same family. You should still remember to check whether your preferred cable modem will work with your ISP before settling on the one that you would want to purchase. The case is slightly different for people who already own any one of these cable modems. If you own the SB6190, then you need not look for an alternative. If, on the other hand, you own the SB6121, it would make more sense to upgrade to the SB6141 as it gives you much more allowance to grow.