4 Things That Might Be Slowing Down Your Home Network

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what is slowing down my networkFor most people, home networking consists of knowing the wifi password; it’s an oft-neglected yet significant topic that has a big impact on performance. If you have more than one computer in your house, home networking knowledge becomes essential. But there are many factors which can slow down a home network, often quite easily fixed.

While these tips might not improve your Internet speed, they can make all the difference between that network file transfer taking days or just minutes.

Wifi Coverage

First up, go read through Ryan’s article on Wifi Feng Shui; if you find your router is in a non-optimal location, use a long network cable to move it.

The most important step is to check if your wifi channel is overlapping with others from your neighbours; many routers will just default to using channel 6, while some will automatically find the best channel. The best tool to do this is a free app called Wifi Scanner for Android; you can view a nice graph of channel usage to identify which are unused as well as checking signal strength in various parts of the house.

For a Mac computer, use KisMac, though no suitable mobile alternative for non-jailbroken iOS devices exists due to limited hardware access. InSSIDer works for Windows, which Ryan did a full rundown of back in 2010.

what is slowing down my network

Also, seriously consider hard wiring ethernet cables to devices that can use one. Wireless internet is very convenient, but also incredibly unreliable and slow. With home Internet speeds of 50MB and higher now commonplace, a wifi connection will never be able to make full use of that.

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Fixed computers and devices should always be cabled where possible to minimize wifi traffic; obviously if you don’t own your home it’s difficult to drill holes in walls and such, but would a cable around the edge of your rooom really be such an eyesore?

Router

The router should be your first port of call, but unfortunately it’s also the most difficult to configure; adjusting wifi settings that seem to indicate they will operate faster may inadvertently also cut your wifi coverage, or completely prevent some wifi devices from accessing it at all.

Experimentation is the key here, and no one solution will work for everyone, nor is there even a general solution you should follow. If in doubt, leave it on the default.

what is slowing dowm my network connection

You can however always make sure the firmware is up to date. If you’re using a router provided by your cable provider, this typically means you just need to restart it so it can pull an update over the network; otherwise, check out the manufacturers download pages.

In some cases, you may be able to replace your firmware with DD-WRT or similar open-source replacements. Though risky, you can then “overclock” the wifi to run at higher power output for increased coverage. This is not an exact science though: boosting the signal will also boost the amount of noise, so a balance must be found.

If your router comes with detachable wireless aerials, you might also consider upgrading them for larger, more expensive aerials that will again increase your coverage.

what is slowing dowm my network connection

Routers that have more than one network port for internal devices may only be rated up to 100Mbs, not Gigabit. Use the advice on switches below to diagnose this. If they are limited to 100Mbs, I suggest you either replace the device with something Gigabit capable, or use them simply as a gateway to the Internet with internal devices networked together on a separate switch or another router.

Check out our full guide to home networking to learn about different network setups. Note, if your router only has one port for computers, then it doesn’t matter if it isn’t Gigabit as only internet or traffic from wifi devices will travel through it, neither of which are fast enough to warrant Gigabit.

Switches

Switches are used to expand the number of possible devices on the network, but they may also be a point of slowdown if you’re using an older one. Simply check the speeds your device is capable of on hardware: if it just says 10/100, its maximum speed is 100mbs and it’s almost certainly slowing down any devices connected to it. If it says Gigabit or 10/100/1000 then you’re good in theory, but the indicator lights will give a quick diagnostic of the actual speeds detected for the devices plugged in.

The front panel of your switch should tell you how to read the LEDs – in most cases, either a specific color like green for 1,000 mbs, orange for 100 mbs; or both LEDs will light to show the fastest speed is being used, or one or the other to indicate lower speeds. This is how my switch looks (notice where it says Both=1000M, so both LEDs on would indicate it’s detected as Gigabit cabling and connected device).

what is slowing dowm my network connection

It’s also important to consider the physical subnetting of your network; though this shouldn’t be an issue on most home networks. If you do have a networked device that sends high bandwidth traffic to a particular internal server, try to keep them plugged into the same switch.

Network Cabling

Though network cabling will always get you a faster speed than wifi, not all network cables are created equally and some will be faster than others. Broadly speaking, cabling can be divided into Cat–5, Cat–5e and Cat–6.

Cat–5 is the oldest and slowest type. It can go up to 100Mbs speeds with a maximum distance of 100 metres; it is not Gigabit capable.

Cat–5e supersceded Cat–5 and is the most common type of cabling used in home networks today. It can support Gigabit ethernet speeds.

Cat–6 shields each pair of signal wires from others and uses copper with less impurities; it supports up to 10 Gigabit speeds for about 37 metres (though Cat–6a goes up to 100 metres).

For home users, Cat–6 is expensive and uneccessary. However, if you’re still using Cat–5 then this is undoubtly a bottleneck, limiting your internal speeds to 100Mbs. Cat–5e is very cheap, and you can make some yourself easily if you purchases in bulk on a reel; there really is no reason not to replace all your Cat–5 cabling with Gigabit capable Cat–5e.

slow home network

How do you know which you have? Just check on the cable itself – they will either say “CATEGORY 5” or “ENHANCED CATEGORY 5”.

what is slowing down my network

Don’t discard old cable though – use it for your next Arduino project!

Network Interface Cards

Lastly, just like your network switch or router, the network card inside your PC may be limited to 10/100 speeds. In a desktop PC, you can easily add a PCI Gigabit ethernet network card for less than $20, but in a notebook or all-in-one these can’t easily be changed.

Remember that if you’re copying to a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device or even a very old PC, the limitation may not even be related to a network connection. The slow CPU could be the limiting factor here, so regardless of how fast your network is, the device simply won’t be able to read or write to the drives fast enough to keep up.

That’s everything I can think of; networking is a complex topic though, and you could spend a lifetime trying to optimize a wifi signal. My best advice would be to always use Cat–5e ethernet cabling to devices that can use it for the best internal transfer; leave wifi to mobile devices.

Do you have any other ideas or advice you think I might have missed? Help us out in the comments!

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Comments (36)
  • Troy

    So, if I have a 10/100 router connected to a 10/100 switch which is then connected to all my computers, would simply upgrading the switch alone to a gigabit bring my computers on the network up to gigabit speeds (providing the computers have gigabit cards)?

    • James Bruce

      Your cabling would need to be up to scratch too, but yes, with gigabit ethernet cards in each machine, decent cabling, and gigabit switch, your computers would be communicating to each other at gigabit speeds. Obviously, this wouldn’t affect your internet speed, but streaming and file transfers between devices would be significantly improved.

      Your cabling needs to be Cat5E or Cat6, not just Cat5. It should say on the cable which it is.

    • Troy

      Thanks Bruce.
      I constructed all my wires using cat5e several years ago, so I should be good there.
      I’ll need to add a gigabit net card to my HTPC, my old Bimbows PC, and the NAS I’m looking to build. But providing I do that, and get a new gigabit switch, I should be good on my LAN side even though my router is still 10/100?

    • James Bruce

      Is there anything plugged into your router other than the switch? If not, you’re good. The connection between your switch and router will only be used for internet and management traffic, so 100 is fine there. The switch is smart enough to know not to redirect anything to the router if it’s intended recipient is another machine plugged into itself.

    • Troy

      My layout is: Internet(satellite) > into modem > into 10/100 router > (1)cat5e to 8 port switch > (2~6)cat5e to various machines.

      Would be great if my only expense is a switch and a couple net cards!

  • Nikhil Pandey

    Look at my internet speed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-iBkUp3mK4

  • babu vhora

    Thank you….

  • ELIZABETH G.F.

    yes.

  • Eli

    for wifi analysis – I found that wif analyzer is much more convenient than wifi scanner

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.