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what is slowing down my networkFor most people, home networking consists of knowing the Wi-Fi 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.

1. Wi-Fi Coverage

First up, go read through Ryan’s article on Wi-Fi Feng Shui Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception Wireless Feng Shui: How to Optimize Your House For Best Wi-Fi Reception Setting up a Wi-Fi network should be an easy prospect, shouldn't it? I mean, a house is a closed-in box, and you'd think when you place a device that transmits wireless signals in all directions... Read More ; 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 Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi 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 Analyze and Plot Local Wi-Fi Networks With inSSIDer Analyze and Plot Local Wi-Fi Networks With inSSIDer Read More 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 Wi-Fi connection will never be able to make full use of that.

Fixed computers and devices should always be cabled where possible to minimize Wi-Fi 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?

2. Router

The router should be your first port of call, but unfortunately it’s also the most difficult to configure; adjusting Wi-Fi settings that seem to indicate they will operate faster may inadvertently also cut your Wi-Fi coverage, or completely prevent some Wi-Fi 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 What Is DD-WRT And How It Can Make Your Router Into A Super-Router What Is DD-WRT And How It Can Make Your Router Into A Super-Router In this article, I'm going to show you some of the coolest features of DD-WRT which, if you decide to make use of, will allow you to transform your own router into the super-router of... Read More or similar open-source replacements. Though risky, you can then “overclock” the Wi-Fi 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 100 Mbps, not Gigabit. Use the advice on switches below to diagnose this. If they are limited to 100 Mbps, 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.

3. 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 100 Mbps 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 Wi-Fi, 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 100 Mbps speeds with a maximum distance of 100 meters; it is not Gigabit capable.
  • Cat–5e superseded 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 meters (though Cat–6a goes up to 100 meters).

For home users, Cat–6 is expensive and unnecessary. However, if you’re still using Cat–5 then this is undoubtedly a bottleneck, limiting your internal speeds to 100 Mbps. Cat–5e is very cheap, and you can make some yourself How To Make Your Own Ethernet Cables How To Make Your Own Ethernet Cables Read More 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 Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi 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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  1. Tim Norris
    March 30, 2017 at 9:02 am

    When my internet router and connection is busy, the whole of my home network, 3 PCs and 2 iPads, slows down to a halt even though everything works through a good quality switch. Does anyone know how can I isolate the problem or separate the two elements - internet and LAN? Thanks Tim

    • James Bruce
      March 30, 2017 at 10:02 am

      It sounds like your router is the problem - probably one provided by your ISP. Consider replacing it by buying an actual router, then use the one provided by your ISP as just the internet connection (don't use it to serve Wifi). You may be able to switch it into what's called "modem mode", which will shut down it's ehternet ports and everything else other than just the internet.

      • Tim Norris
        March 30, 2017 at 10:10 am

        Hi James
        Thank you for your quick response. The router is a Cisco enterprise level router with no wifi and only has one link into the switch I do not manage it, it is managed by the ISP who are quite competent and they use NAting to map my fixed public addresses to my internal addresses - 192.168....... I loaded Wireshark yesterday to capture traffic and see what is happening. I am gradually blocking ip addresses connecting to my server using IPSec, and it does seem to be having an effect.
        Keep well, and thank you again. Warmest regards Tim

  2. snickie
    August 24, 2016 at 11:02 am

    When I test my internet speed with a cable on LAN I get 97/97 Mbit/s (download/upload). I get exactly the same with WiFi at a distance of 30 feet and a thick concrete wall between my laptop a my router.
    This article is outdated, WiFi works very well today.
    Btw, my internet is announced at 100/100 Mbit/s.

    • James Bruce
      March 30, 2017 at 10:04 am

      Your wall isn't thick enough to be a problem. Come visit my house, where meter thick solid stone walls do present a problem to Wifi. The fundamental laws of physics haven't changed, and no, you should still shouldn't be running lots of devices off of Wifi if you have a choice. It does get congested, and it does suffer interference from other household devices and other networks.

  3. Bathrasher
    January 3, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    ... I wish 100mbs was even an option.

  4. Troy
    January 27, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    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
      January 27, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      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
      January 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm

      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
      January 27, 2015 at 5:29 pm

      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
      January 27, 2015 at 5:33 pm

      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!

  5. Nikhil Pandey
    February 11, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Look at my internet speed.

  6. babu vhora
    January 28, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you....

    January 10, 2013 at 11:37 pm


  8. Eli
    December 20, 2012 at 10:28 pm

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

  9. Anonymous
    December 19, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    Good article, very informative on the subject! Looks like I have some tweaking to do myself.

  10. Brandon Brown
    December 19, 2012 at 1:09 am

    Some very useful information here. I feel a weekend project coming...

  11. Alan
    December 18, 2012 at 4:47 am

    i have a fluke DTX1800 if anyone wants cable test results.....

  12. Alan
    December 18, 2012 at 4:44 am

    WIFI = Slow even the 5Ghz 'N' 300 mpbs stuff. light use only other than that, Avoid like the plague.
    Best for home = 1gbps to the desktop via CAT6 and a good Gigabit switch.
    Depending on the length of the cable runs you can get 1gbps connections over Cat5 and Cat5e. not the best tho.

    Ultimate = 10Gbps fibre to the desktop (i haven't seen it used in home setups tho)

  13. Walter Askew
    December 18, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Now you've given me a lot of work to do, but at least you told me what to do and how. Thanks.

  14. Igor Rizvi?
    December 17, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Thats true about old cables.i switched to a new cable (odl one was old for about at least 3 years) and i got slightly increas in speeds...

  15. LovesFLSun
    December 17, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    The bottleneck will always be the internet connection.

    • muotechguy
      December 18, 2012 at 9:06 am

      That's not true. A slow wifi can easily be eclipsed by some of the faster net connections.

  16. Gerald Huber
    December 17, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    nice article. you forgot one thing that slows down a network. Kid playing Call of Duty.

    • muotechguy
      December 18, 2012 at 9:05 am

      Hehe. I always wondered how much bandwidth gaming actually used. Acording to some tests, COD clients actually only use about 5-10k/s, which is quite remarkable really. The host can expect to have about 20X that since they receive everyone else's info, but still. Less than you might think!

  17. Scott Macmillan
    December 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    This was a real help.I wasn't aware of the network interface card.

  18. Jorge Andrade
    December 17, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    thanks for the info. beeing trying to enance my home network for awile, this is going to help

  19. Mac Witty
    December 17, 2012 at 8:45 am

    Thanks, will check this when I'm home to see if I can get better speed

  20. Mike McClure
    December 16, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    Could you please tell me where you found the information that states that Category 5 cable is incapable of running Gigabit Ethernet?

    Not only does that conflict with the Category 5 Wikipedia article, but I'm also using Cat 5 on several 1000baseT network links and it seems to work just fine.

    • Jose Paolo Gonzales Otico
      December 17, 2012 at 1:17 am

      I'm actually interested to know too since it does conflict with the Wiki article.

    • James Bruce
      December 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

      Hmm, good question. In my experience, none of *my* cat5 cables have ever successfully supported 1000baseT - switches and routers only ever let them go to 100. In theory, they *can* support it, but only if (a) all four pairs are wired (some cat5 cables only had 2 pairs wired since those are all thats needed). (b) the run is short enough, and (c) the interference is not too high or the cable is of good enough quality.

      Made to spec, I believe you're correct in saying cat5 should be able to support gigabit. In reality, I've found they don't. I guess it will vary, but for most home users it will be easy to check - just look at the switch lights and see the speed it has auto-negotiated. Obviously, if the cat-5 cable you have supports gigabit, no need to upgrade it. Sorry for the confusion, and thank you for commenting on that bit.

      • Mike McClure
        December 17, 2012 at 12:08 pm

        Sorry to nitpick, but even a Category 5e or Category 6 cable won't work on 1000baseT if all four pairs are not connected. It also might not work if it is poorly made, damaged, or interference is really high. But that has nothing to do with the type of cable.

        Your article makes it sound like a Category 5 cable will *never* work.

  21. Achraf Almouloudi
    December 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    If you want to setup a home storage using your old PC it is better to make sure it has a faster drive or SSD if possible or you'll suffer when transferring files.

  22. Charles Klug
    December 16, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Keep in mind that if you have a DIY NAS your hard disks could be the limitiing factor instead of the CPU. I turned a old 3.2GHz P4 into a FreeNAS machine and learned that my 2TB Seagate HDD was the limiting factor. The HDD only spun at 5200RPM and only went up to 30MB/s transfer. I bought a new network card, updated router firmware and monitored the NAS CPU load. Granted 30MB/s is a great improvement over 12MB/s with 10/100 router.

    • James Bruce
      December 17, 2012 at 9:02 am

      Good point; I guess in this case a striped RAID would help.

      • Charles Klug
        December 17, 2012 at 5:13 pm

        Or if you set up a ZFS Pool which can be safer than a RAID but the RAM needed (1GB RAM for Every TB of HDD) would be beyond using an old computer.

  23. Nicola De Ieso
    December 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    Thanks for these tips. I use cables cat-5e.

  24. Jason Papapanagiotakis
    December 16, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Nice overview, still need to find a way to make things work in my house, cant stream a 3D movie yet..!

  25. Doc
    December 16, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    "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." Where are you getting 50MB? That's 400Mbits/sec (Capital B is "bytes," not "bits.")
    I've got one of the higher RoadRunner packages, and it's only 15Mb/s peak, with lots of sites markedly slower because of bottlenecks. With 802.11n giving me a shared speed of 150Mb/s, there's no way I can saturate my Internet connection with WiFi.

    "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?"

    Unless you're on Gigabit Ethernet (and gigabit routers are still a good deal more expensive than their 10/100 brethren), *and* you're moving gigabytes of files from PC to PC, then your WiFi connection should be more than sufficient...and yes, I've got Cat5 cables hooked where I don't have room (or sufficient cards) for WiFi...I've yet to find a low-profile WiFi card for my mini-PC home media server. And *yes,* they're an eyesore.

  26. jasray
    December 16, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    What I typically find is the customer's wireless card is outdated. I rarely see tech sites recommend installing/upgrading a wireless card or using something such as the Alfa antenna and driver on the laptop/desktop needing faster performance.

    Even with DDWRT installed on a router with increased output performance, I've yet to see a dramatic change in connection speeds or reliability in the connection until the adapter card was changed.

  27. MP H
    December 16, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Good read - Easy for new home networkers to understand...

  28. Alex Slutsky
    December 16, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Thanks for the info, will try some of those on the home router.