Choosing and Connecting a Cable Modem for Time Warner Cable

I was trying to go online with a cable modem and two laptops running Windows 7 x64.  I had multiple issues.  This post addresses some of those issues.  In particular, the discussion here focuses on the choice of modem.

I began with a Motorola Surfboard SB6121 cable modem.  It worked, but it had limits.  One limit was that it had only one Ethernet port.  I learned, from experimentation, that I could not connect multiple computers through that single port by using a Netgear FS605 Ethernet switch.  I did not chase that issue down in detail, but the situation seemed to be that both computers would get the same IP address, producing a conflict.  In addition, the SB6121 did not have wireless capability.

To have options for connecting multiple computers by Ethernet or WiFi, I bought a Motorola SBG6580 cable modem.  This device had multiple Ethernet ports, and also offered a wireless capability.  Unfortunately, after repeated troubleshooting attempts with Time Warner tech support, I had to conclude that this SBG6580 did not work.  I had bought it used, on eBay, and now it appeared that I would have to return it.  My difficulties occurred even when I tried to connect it by Ethernet.  To this, there was the added problem that a number of reviewers on Amazon had problems with its wireless capabilities.  I decided that, if possible, I would rather not simply try again with another SBG6580, but would be better advised instead to buy something else.

In the process of troubleshooting my situation, I tried to connect both of these modems simultaneously to the cable outlet on my wall.  To connect both at the same time, I ran a cable from the wall outlet to a coaxial cable splitter, and then ran separate coax cables to each modem.  This didn’t work.  More precisely, this did not make the SBG6580 work.  (The SB6121 remained operational throughout this phase.)  Eventually, I realized that this was probably because, as just noted, my SBG6580 was not working, even if I connected it by itself.  But for a while, I was assuming that both modems were operational.  Sources differed on the question of whether it should be possible to connect two modems via splitter.  A search yielded a sense that this might work, depending on the specifics of the cable company and the splitter.  One post did seem to indicate that a splitter could work with Time Warner, my cable company.  But I wasn’t sure whether that would apply if I had two different cable modems connected (as distinct from e.g., one modem and one TV); one thread suggested that I would need two different (Time Warner) cable accounts for that.  Time Warner personnel likewise disagreed among themselves.  One tech, contacted via email, said this should work, but the tech support people with whom I chatted (online or via phone) said I would need to buy a second account if I wanted to connect two modems.

The conclusion that the SBG6580 was not working came after multiple troubleshooting attempts, using both the modem’s manual and my interactions with Time Warner tech support personnel.  Those personnel said that the modem seemed to be online and receiving a signal.  So the problem was not with the cable setup; it persisted even when I removed the splitter and connected the SBG6580 directly to the cable wall outlet.  In other words, these personnel could see that the modem was connected, but they said they were getting an error message when attempting to communicate with it.  Our troubleshooting efforts included resetting the modem, both by leaving it disconnected for 30 seconds and also by punching the reset hole on its back with a straightened paper clip.  The lights would light up, but the connection would not be consummated.

The Time Warner troubleshooting efforts exposed some problems in the Time Warner system.  One problem was that their work orders would be executed at odd times.  So, for example, after we finally got back to a state where I was using the old SB6121 successfully, I went to bed and got up in the morning to see their webpage, showing me my modem’s MAC address (also visible on the sticker on the underside of the modem) and giving me the local phone number that I would need to call to complete my Time Warner connection.  It turned out that, in the confusion the previous evening, while attempting to make the SBG6580 work or, eventually, to return to the SB6121, one of their techs had apparently entered a work order that was not executed until the middle of the night, trashing the working arrangement that we had finally reached with the SB6121, and forcing me to start over with another tech support call.  This was compounded by the fact that, when I did make that tech support call, that morning, I was no longer able to reach a local American technician.  Instead, they were putting me through to tech support personnel in India.  I ultimately spent an hour on those calls.  The first woman I spoke with had a thick accent and either was not listening to me or was hampered by a slow Skype-like phone connection.  She led me down a wrong path, having me clear out my browser’s cache and cookies to no avail.  After a long time, I terminated that call and tried again.  This second support call was inexplicably cut off before we really got started.  In the third call, the guy got right to the point and had me working within just five or ten minutes.  (In addition to these instances of misdirection from Time Warner tech support, one technician told me that I could just connect a new modem when it arrived, but another corrected that, saying that I did need to contact them and have them set up the MAC address for any new modem I might install.)

So at this point my situation was as follows:  I did finally have a working connection via the Motorola SB6121, and I was going to return the SBG6580.  I was back to square one.  Having decided not to try another SBG6580, there was a question of what I was going to use instead.  I had chosen the SB6121 and the SBG6580 from Time Warner’s list of compatible modems.  Given my Standard cable plan and the desire to have WiFi, my options on that list were limited to the Motorola SBG6782AC (~$200), Netgear N450 CG3000Dv2 ($35), Zoom 5350 ($100), and Zoom 5352 ($115) (using PriceBlink for current best prices.)  I was not too excited about any of these options:  all had very mixed reviews, and except for the Netgear all were expensive.  I was not impressed by Time Warner’s option to lease my modem from them for $11 per month:  at least I would be able to resell mine when I was done with it.  On the other hand, I still did have a generally positive attitude toward Time Warner support, so it seemed possible that I would have had fewer hassles if I had leased my modem from them.

I did wonder, though, whether Time Warner was deliberately stacking the deck by approving alternative modems that were not very good, so as to drive their customers toward leasing directly from them.  For instance, a friend was using a Panasonic modem successfully with Time Warner, even though that modem was not on Time Warner’s approved list.  Also, a list from a year earlier included some modems that were no longer on the Time Warner list, including the editor’s recommended choice:  the Motorola SB6141 ($80; strong positive reviews from users at Amazon and 1 2 3 other sources).  My concern about possible deception along these lines grew when I saw that multiple lawsuits had been filed against Time Warner, apparently due to fee increases for modem leasers, not to mention a website dedicated to problems with Time Warner Cable.  One source suggested that a user could also forgo the state-of-the-art DOCSIS 3.0 modems in favor of several less-expensive DOCSIS 2.0 modems:  Motorola SB5101, Motorola SB 5101U, and Motorola SBG901.  A list at Amazon suggested these and some others as well.

It belatedly occurred to me that perhaps the single Ethernet port on the Motorola SB6121, and the absence of WiFi, were more sensible than I had realized.  While there were apparently other ways to connect two or more computers via one modem, it seemed that one option was to buy a router and connect it to the SB6121.  A comparison of the SB6121 and SB6141 suggested that, while the SB6141 ranked as No. 1 among modems at Amazon, in terms of units sold, the SB6121 was No. 2 and much less expensive.  With a theoretical maximum download speed of over 300Mbps, the SB6141 was potentially much faster than the 160Mbps ceiling of the SB6121; then again, a Newegg comparison yielded the remark that cable providers tended to max out at around 50Mbps regardless.  (Later, a Speedtest of the SB6121 would yield the conclusion that, in midafternoon on a weekday, I was enjoying speeds of 16.02Mbps (download) and 1.11Mbps (upload) — both of which slightly exceeded what Time Warner’s Standard cable package promised me.) Like the SB6121, Motorola’s product page for the SB6141 provided no indication of wireless capability.  Both modems offered only a single Ethernet port, making it likely that I would need a router in any case.

Therefore, I decided to stay with my working SB6121 setup and turn my attention to the selection of a router.  A search at Amazon, sorted by user rating (and thus, hopefully, by freedom from setup hassles), suggested a distinction between highly regarded routers costing around $50 (notably by Medialink and Linksys) and comparably well-received units costing half that (especially by ZyXEL and TP-Link) — although, unfortunately, the latter did not offer both wireless and multiple wired (Ethernet) connections.  For units in the vicinity of $25 offering those kinds of connections, I had to fall back to somewhat less positively reviewed units by Netgear and TP-Link.  A look at Amazon user reviews for these less expensive items suggested an elevated risk of problems.  There was a striking contrast against user reviews of the MediaLink Wireless-N broadband router in particular.  I decided to buy that unit, ranked No. 1 among routers at Amazon.  When it arrived, I set it up and began using it.  For the time being, there were no further problems.  My next question in this area had to do with setting a static private IP address.

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