Motorola Surfboard SBG6782-AC Gateway by ARRIS review

Cable service subscribers looking for a device that's both a modem and wireless router with less than high-demand throughput needs will find the Surfboard worth a look. A bonus is its support for MoCA devices.

The Motorola Surfboard SBG6782-AC Gateway by ARRIS is more than a cable modem. The device functions as an 802.11ac Wi-Fi router (it’s the first cable modem on the market to support 11ac) and also supports a technology called MoCA (Multimedia over Coaxial) that lets users extend Wi-Fi over existing coaxial cable. This is an ambitious device with robust hardware, yet its integrated wireless router capability is not as speedy as other dedicated dual-band 802.11ac routers we’ve tested—and the interface is in need of a refresh. There is also a troubling lack of detailed help and guidance available for this device, helpful for fully understanding its advanced capabilities.

Specs
The first thing you will notice about the Surfboard is that it’s a big device. It measures 8.8 by 2.1 by 10.1 inches (HWD) and weighs a fairly hefty 10.5 pounds. The Netgear High Speed Cable Modem (CMD31t) is miniscule in comparison, at 6.9 by 4.5 by 1.2 inches (HWD) and weighing 0.68 of a pound.

Of course, the Netgear cable modem is only a cable modem. The Surfboard is larger because it has wireless router components as well as modem hardware. The device uses a Broadcom chipset and has 3×3 MIMO internal antennas.  The router portion is dual-band, supporting up to a theoretical 450 Mbps at the 2.4GHz band and 1300 Mbps at 5GHz.  The Surfboard is also DOCSIS 3.0-compliant. DOCSIS is a standard for transferring high-speed data over coaxial cable. Most ISPs providing cable Internet should be using DOCSIS 3. It’s important to find out and make sure you buy the right cable modem.

There are seven LEDs on the front panel that represent, power, downstream channel, upstream channel, online status, 2.4GHz Wi-Fi activity, 5 GHz, and to show when a MoCA-enabled device is connected.

The rear panel has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, a coaxial connector (female, “Y”), and power. There’s also a tiny reset button to reset back to factory settings.

On the top of the device is a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button for connecting WPS- supported devices to the wireless network.

The Surfboard has vent holes all over the sides and the top, but it still ran warm after just three hours of operation.  You are going to want to place it in a well-ventilated area with good air circulation.  One feature the hardware lacks is a USB port for connecting storage and printers (although the Surfboard does support wireless printing).

Setup
The Surfboard ships with a quick start user guide. This guide has a diagram for connecting ports. First, connect the coaxial. Next, you need to connect an Ethernet cable from one of the LAN ports to a computer’s Ethernet port. Finally, you connect power.

You can configure the modem once when the Power, Online, Send, and Receive lights are solid. At this point, I had to contact my ISP to activate the cable modem. When I fired up a browser, I could see I still was not online until they activated. Activation took all of ten minutes.

One setup aspect I preferred with the Netgear modem was when I fired up the browser before activating it with my ISP, I received a splash page which showed my ISP’s name and also the MAC address of the Netgear CMD31t. This is handy for two reasons: You need to give the ISP the MAC address so they can activate, and it lets users know what to do next to get the modem online.

With the Surfboard, all I saw was what looked like a regular “Page Not Found” error in Internet Explorer. An inexperienced user may be confused about whether the device is working or not upon seeing this; when what he needs to do is call his provider for activation. The Quick Start guide hints at this only by stating that if all the LEDs do not light up call your ISP for assistance—a bit vague.

I also prefer when setting up the Netgear device I saw the MAC address on-screen. With the Surfboard the MAC address is printed on the bottom of the device and also is included with the startup guide. If it’s not convenient to get to the bottom of the Surfboard to take a look when you are on the phone with the ISP or if you lose the guide, it can be hassle to get the MAC address if you need it again and can’t get into the Surfboard’s management interface.

You will also want to take note that by default the Surfboard’s wireless radios are on, something you want to be aware of if you already have a wireless router running on your network. You don’t want to have two devices performing routing as that can cause performance issues.

What I did not like about the setup process was the lack of a detailed user manual. The device only shipped with a Quick Start guide. When I wanted to go into the management interface, the quick start guide instructed me to consult the user manual to get the username and password to get into the Surfboard’s interface. However, I could not find a user manual online and there was not one included in the packaging! I managed to get the password and username from a search on the Internet. There are a lot of features and functionality in this device and no detailed user manual readily available to customers is a huge oversight.


Management Interface and Features

I finally accessed the interface. I was a bit disappointed with its dated look once I got past the snazzy home page. It seems out of sync with the latest hardware the Surfboard uses. To access the interface is just a matter of pointing a browser to the IP address of the device: 192.168.0.1 and entering “admin” as the username and “motorola” as the password when prompted.

While the UI is a bit dated, there are a lot of settings. The home page lets you quickly access specific features such as parental controls, diagnostics, firewall, DDNS, guest networking, and wireless controls. The interface includes typical settings you would find in any premium dual-band router such as IP and MAC address filtering, port forwarding, DMZ, and IPSec, and PPTP passthrough for VPN connections.

The home page of the interface features a Quick Start Wizard to help get you up and running with configuration.  It’s easy enough to use if you want to change the pre-configured SSID and passphrase, which I did.

There are some advanced features. For instance, you can operate the Surfboard in a bridged mode if you already have a wireless router. Security settings protect against IP flooding and you can also setup notifications to send to an email address if a threat is detected. There are also granular wireless settings such as configuring the beacon interval.

The Surfboard also supports QoS (Quality-of-Service). The settings in this feature are likely to be undecipherable to the average home user. It requires setting some very granular parameters that may puzzle user and unfortunately, the help inside the interface is very limited. I prefer the graphic QoS interface in other routers I’ve tested, like the one in Buffalo’s AirStation Extreme AC 1750 Gigabit Dual Band Wireless Router which makes it very easy to prioritize traffic.

There is a lot of functionality in the interface, but hopefully Arris will offer a firmware update in the future to give it a bit of a refresh and add contextual help that explains specific settings and makes QoS more user-friendly since many users want to prioritize video in particular.

Performance
I tested the Surfboard on two fronts: as a cable modem and as a router. Your Internet bandwidth is fixed at the level of service you have from your ISP so you are not going to see any big gains in Internet speed just by buying a new cable modem. However, a well-engineered cable modem can help make that Internet pipe send and receive data more efficiently. I tested with speedtest. Net and did see a slight bump over my ISP-provided Ubee modem in upload speed and over the Netgear CMD31t in both upload and download speed (all three were tested on the same cable modem service and connection):

Ubee: Download-  19.25 Mbps, Upload- 0.98 Mbps

Netgear CMD31t: Download- 14.39 Mbps, Upload- 0.99 Mbps

Surfboard: Download- 16.16 Mbps, Upload- 1.08 Mbps

You can see, the speeds were not significantly different.

Next, I tested the wireless throughput. I tested using Intel’s 3×3 Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN wireless adapter which is integrated in my testing laptop and the Edimax AC1200 Wireless Dual-Band USB Adapter, an excellent USB 3.0 AC adapter which managed to hit a rate of 266 Mbps with the Linksys EA6500 AC router— amazing throughput in our access-point saturated testing environment.

As a router, the Surfboard offers decent however nowhere near excellent performance in 802.11n mode in both the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands and below average performance than some dedicated 802.11ac routers I’ve tested. The Motorola modem hit a max of 82 Mbps in 5 GHz in 802.11n mode, sufficient for doing most throughput tasks, but certainly not overwhelming speed. In 802.11ac mode, the Surfboard managed a paltry 70 Mbps—far below throughput I’ve seen from dual-band premium 11ac routers.  Here are comparison charts to other 802.11ac routers:

Motorola Surfboard SBG6782-AC Gateway by ARRIS 2.4 GHz Mixed Mode Throughput

Motorola Surfboard SBG6782-AC Gateway by ARRIS 2.4 GHz N-Only Mode Throughput

Motorola Surfboard SBG6782-AC Gateway by ARRIS 5 GHz Throughput

A Good Hybrid Gateway and a So-So Router
I typically find that hybrid devices usually don’t perform as well in testing as dedicated devices. If you have heavy throughput demands such as high-definition video streaming, are a heavy gamer, or have a highly-trafficked NAS box, you may want to stick with keeping your cable modem and router as separate devices.
If you have more modest throughput needs; you are getting a pretty good deal with the Surfboard as it is two devices in one. You will definitely want to look into this device if you use or are planning to use MoCA technology. It’s an easy three out of five stars with a few points off for the so-so wireless throughput, lack of help and a user manual, and an interface that needs some sprucing up. I still prefer the simplicity of the Netgear CMd31t, and although it’s just a cable modem with no added functionality, it’s the current Editors’ Choice for cable modems.

Specifications
Device Type Cable Modem
Networking Options 802.11ac draft

Verdict
Cable service subscribers looking for a device that's both a modem and wireless router with less than high-demand throughput needs will find the Surfboard worth a look. A bonus is its support for MoCA devices.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc