Router vs Modem vs Modem Router Combo

When you are thinking about purchasing a new router for your home, you must have come across routers or modems with router functions built into them. In this basic comparison guide, we will list out a few advantages and disadvantages of owning a Router, a Modem, or a Modem / Router Combination.

Please note that we try to make this guide as simple as possible so that you can get a basic understanding of these devices under the shortest amount time with the least amount of effort. If you would like to learn more about these in detail, you may wish to check other sources.

Router vs Modem vs Modem Router Basic

A router links the computers to the internet from modem or let the computer link to each other within the same router network.

A modem gets information from your ISP or internet service provider such as Comcast or Time Warner.

You need modem to connect to the internet, and then you need router to dispatch the internet information to your devices.

A Modem / Router combination is a device that is two in one. It has router functions as well as modem functions.

Buying vs Renting Modem or Modem/Wifi Combo from ISP

For the ease of installation, your cable or DSL companies such as Comcast, Time Warner, Brighter House, or AT&T will typically offer you modem or modem/router equipment at additional cost per month.

Renting is More Expensive
You should never “rent” modem or worse modem / router combination from your ISP. The reason is that modem by itself is a lasting technology that does not change much, the modem that you buy can well last till its end of life time without having to change. You will be able to save money by buying the modem straight out.

Renting Modem / Router Combos can be problematic
If you are planning to alter the advanced settings on the rented Modem / Router combo, it can cause problems with router configurations. Sometimes your cable companies can push firmware updates to your modem / router and resetting your configurations without you even knowing it. It can be problematic at times when it deletes important information such as DMZ host or static IP information.

Can Return Rented Models
The only benefit that you can get from renting modems from your cable or DSL company is that in the event that the machines break, you can return them for a different one. However, the chance of your modem breaking is actually pretty low. Most of them can last years before you actually need to replace them.

Router + Modem or Use Modem Router 2 in 1

If you are thinking about upgrading your network items, you may run into this dilemma. We will go into some of the most common factors to help you decide the best setup for your home.

In general, you should only get Modem/Router combo unit if you are a home basic user. Since you probably do not need all the features available on the advanced routers. However, once you start getting into heavier and advanced networking stuff such as web hosting, better parental control settings, you should get a separate and advanced router unit.

If you are running a business or public wifi, you should generally get separate modem and router units because a dedicated router unit that typically offer better security functions.

Reasons Why You Should Get Modem Router Combo

Separate Router + Modem is Slightly More Expensive
In most cases, if you want a decent router for your home networking. A separate Router and modem is typically a little more expensive. For example, a common combination model with a few cable companies is Motorola Surfboard SBG6580. It generally costs about $130. However, a comparable modem only model SB6141 costs about $85. A comparable router portion can cost about $55. So you are looking at some minor price differences.

Modem/Router combo can be Easier to Setup
A combination unit has less moving parts, you have 1 less line and 1 less device to worry about. In most cases, combination unit is easy enough for beginners to use if you do not want to go into advanced router settings.

Internet Providers Control Updates
This reasoning can tie into the previous one. You give up control to let your internet provider decide the best software for your combination unit. The cable companies can push firmwares that they believe if the best for your machine based on customer feedback.

Reasons Why You Should Get Separate Modem and Router

Easier To Upgrade (Less Expensive)
In general, modem technology and hardware does not change much. However, the router side of things can advanced quite fast when the timing is right. By having separate modem and router units, you can have much easier time to upgrade your in house networking capability.

Since you only have to upgrade the router portion, it can be cheaper compared to buying an upgraded Modem / Router unit.

More Control
In general, a dedicated router let you have more control over its settings and firmware. You can even update your routers with third-party firmware like DD-WRT.

You are less likely to have to deal with your ISP
If you get a combination unit and still have trouble with the router option, you are out of luck. Most of the customer service from your loved Internet Service Providers will have you jump through hoops to receive real help. By having a separate router, you leave “less” to the ISP and more control to yourself.

Better Performance
Now because you have more control over your modem / router combination units, or you can simply get a stronger and more advanced model. You can end up with better wireless performance for your entire home.

Better Router Placement
The location of your home routers matter in terms of your overall wireless performance. It is much easier to place your router at a desired location with Cat5 cable extenders, compared to extending the standard Coaxial cable the modem / router combination unit that needs.