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Zoom past Comcast's evil spell with 5341J
Sep 10, 2012 (Updated Sep 10, 2012)
Review by valleyman
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Easy to set up, can double DOCSIS 3.0 downstream speed if your cable co allows.
Cons:Strange admin Web bug that has no practical impact, no illustration of physical installation features
The Bottom Line: Stop paying for rental (or upgrade your old modem) with 5341J, DOCSIS 3.0, gigabit Ethernet, IPv6 and all.
. Why 5341J?
Recommend this product?
While looking to rid myself of Comcast's rental (which I had shamefully paid for so many years), I read reviews on Amazon and decided on Zoom DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem 5341J (hereafter 5341J). All DOCSIS 3.0 models are priced similarly, but this one has that little advantage of potentially bonding 8 channels downstream instead of the normal 4. (Not that Comcast will allow you without your arm and leg.) Besides, the Cisco/Linksys model that I was actually looking to buy was too unproven, and Motorola's was, eh, SurfBored. But the deciding factor was the overwhelmingly positive experience shared by actual users. The same positive experience that I am going to share. (And based on user reviews, an experience not shared by all competitor products.)
Before I start, let me point out two mistakes in Epinions' descriptions. First, the picture shown with a curved front is not for this model (5341-00-00J, or 5341J), but for an earlier model that Zoom calls 5341H. The old model is certified for DOCSIS 3.0 but can only bond 4 channels like competitors'. Second, the specifications describes DOCSIS 1.0 capabilities - in fact, the specifications only mention DOCSIS 1.0 even though 5341J is certified for DOCSIS 2.0 and 3.0 as well.
. How does 5341J work?
Like any other cable modem, Zoom 5341J is a simple box with all connections in the back of the box and LED indicator lights in the front. You connect the coaxial cable to the cable connector. You plug the 12V DC jack into the power socket. You plug the Ethernet cable into the RJ-45 socket.
The other side of the Ethernet cable, it is safe to assume today that you'll want to connect to a router. Except before your cable co allows your 5341J into their network - not that there is any technical problem, but your cable co will sure find the router at fault if there is the slightest sign of trouble. It is not worth arguing with clueless technicians. Just connect a computer directly with Ethernet at this time.
If you see three green lights and two blue lights, your modem and network are all right.
You need a Web browser on the computer to authorise ("activate") your modem to Comcast (or another cable co). Until then, anywhere you browse, you'll land on Comcast's self-service activation page. (You can potentially use a plain old phone to do activate, but I recommend that you go with self-service.) Just follow the Web instructions. It will take some 15 minutes. After that, reconnect Ethernet to your router.
. How 5341J may not work with Comcast's technician
So I hooked the cables up, and ventured to the Web. Initially, Comcast's self-service activation had a problem (that their server could not define) with my unit even though all lights were up correctly on my side. After ten minutes of retries, I sensed that Comcast wasn't letting go of my $8/month without a fight. Fight I must, fight I will. Dreading to stay on the phone listening to elevator music, I opted to "Chat with an online expert." (Via the very modem connection.)
The agent asked me to identify the MAC address even though their system should able to identify based on the chatting session. (The MAC address is located on a sticker on the back of the modem. Now here is a second advantage of using online chat vs phone call: No misunderstanding or bad transmission. Some reviewers complain about language barrier with overseas call center staff.) Five minutes after adding this unit to my account, she told me that "I sent it a signal but it cannot receive." The "advice" for me? "Find a replacement device."
Really? I had already viewed my unit's status Web page and determined that the device was working perfectly. I insisted to try again. Comcast - or the agent - failed again. Anywhere I browse landed on Comcast's activation page. "Find a replacement device," repeated she. I gently suggested that the device couldn't possibly be defective because I was able to ping any Internet server (beside the fact that the very device was used in the chat). "I understand. But my advice is for you to find a replacement device," she insisted.
. How 5341J works perfectly with Comcast
Thanks but no thanks. After more than half an hour in live chat, I went back to the self-service page, and tried once more myself. Bling! No more problems. In less than 10 minutes I was online. All my Internet-dependent thingies including iTalkBB phone adapter and ASUS RT-N56U wireless router (and the army of devices connected to them) work perfectly with 5341J.
So do not listen to any cable co trained monkey who tells you that your 5341J will not work, especially if you can already go to their activation page. They just want to chain you to their aged rental unit. (Or they may have a plan to sell you their stock Motorola junk.) Of this, Zoom is fully aware. They spent more than half a page in the 8-page "quick" start guide complaining about "installers" who may have a different interest from the yours. (Zoom dares not talk about cable co's, obviously, even though they put "Eliminate equipment rental charge" in the front of the product packaging - in small font.)
.. How does 5341J perform?
In my side-by-side tests, Zoom 5341J is consistently faster than the Comcast rental (Motorola SB5101, which uses DOCSIS 2.0), both downstream and upstream. The speed difference is marginal not because 5341J is incapable, but because Comcast is throttling my speed to my pay level. ("Performance", I think, at 20Mbps down, although I am able to get over 27Mbps from 5341J compared with 24Mbps from the rental unit.)
. Other features
The main body of 5341J is about the same size as SB5101's, but more elegantly designed. It has four rubber feet to stand flat, or you can use the shipped plastic stand to raise it upright, or you can mount it on the wall using the mount holes in its belly. (I had initially struggled to figure out the modem stand. It's a shame that neither the manual nor Zoom's Web site illustrates these features.) The power converter uses a newer slim design that easily fits in a single slot on a typical power bar. It looks day and night compared with SB5101's clumsy, heavy, and bulky converter. (But the latter comes with a super long power cable. Long cable is not necessarily a plus but sometimes can be helpful.)
The quick start guide is adequate (not that I needed it). But 5341J has the most bizarrely coded Web interface that I have seen in any such devices. Well, most people will never need to use this, so this defect has little impact. (Besides, depending on your browser settings, you may not see the problem even if you go there.)
In addition to a reset switch that every such device has in the back, Zoom puts a power button there, too. Is it useful? I haven't touched it. (No on-off switch in Motorola cable modem; they put a "Standby" button in the front instead. Must be designed by Steve Jobs.)
Bottom line: Zoom 5341J is an solid, elegant product that is a perfect replacement for your cable co rental. (Yes it is said to be certified with all U.S. providers and many in other countries.) Or if you are looking to replace your own old DOCSIS 2.0 device, this is a worthy candidate. In addition to a nice upgrade to DOCSIS 3.0 (and gigabit Ethernet - you'll need it if you pay their top rate, and IPv6 - you'll need it when it happens, period), I am looking to recover the $80 that I paid in less than one year if I stick with Comcast - not that I have many choices. Do not let your cable co deceive you.
A final thought? Do not buy a modem/wireless router combo. Wireless technology is evolving quickly, while your cable co is working hard to make DOCSIS a stale standard. You don't want to get stuck when your neighbour has that shiny new wireless toy.
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