Open Those Ports!
Your first step how to speed up torrent downloads is to ensure you can actually be connected to from other peers. The latest version of uTorrent is able to test this for you, so launch the Setup Guide from the Options menu. If you have an older uTorrent, you can test specific ports using this tool.
By default, uTorrent will attempt to auto-configure your router using uPnP, which solves so many problems. If your router isn’t compatible, this will fail – but you can perform the following steps to forward the ports correctly.
Open up a command prompt from Windows, and type ipconfig. Find the IPv4 address of the form 192.168.x.x and note it down.
Open up uTorrent Options-> Preferences -> Connection , and choose your own port or note down the one it has chosen for you. Make sure “randomise port each start” is not checked.
Open up your router config page and look for PORT FORWARDING. Yours may be different, but they are all basically similar. Name the forwarding rule, add the first and last port you want forwarded (just enter the same value in this case), and the IP address or the machine you want forwarded to.
Note that if your network is running an automatic addressing scheme, you may need to reconfigure this if you shut down and are given a new address. You can read my previous tutorial here on how to reserve a permanent IP address from your router.
Be sure to re-test when you’re done, though you may need to restart your router.
ISP Throttling & Traffic Shaping
Assuming you’ve gone through all the other steps in this guide and your torrents are still slow, then it’s quite possible that your ISP is shaping your traffic somehow.
This tool from Glasnost can help you tell if your ISP is throttling your speed and specifically tests torrent protocol.
If you find you’re being restricted, you have two possible courses of action. The first is to switch your ISP to one less draconic. In the UK at least, I know Virgin Media are very open about their traffic policies, and do perform some outright speed restrictions (not just on your torrent traffic) if your download/upload goes beyond a certain point during peak times. In general though, they have the least restrictive of any UK ISP.
Your second option is to use a VPN to encrypt your traffic, making it impossible for your ISP to inspect what you are actually doing. Bear in mind this only works if they are “shaping” your traffic for specific protocols, rather than placing general restrictions on the total amount of traffic you can use. We covered some free solutions before, and you can read a complete explanation of what a VPN is here – but when choosing a service for you it’s important to note that most VPN services explicitly DON’T allow torrent traffic, and certainly not any that are free. The best two paid services I know of that do allow unlimited torrent traffic are vpntunnel.se and torrentsecurity.com
Enable DHT Or Join A Private Tracker
I extolled the virtues of private trackers with their ridiculously fast download speeds and high quality torrents last week in my 9 Easy Ways To Never Get A Virus article, but be aware that private trackers generally don’t allow peer exchange and DHT to be enabled because it prevents the system from counting your ratio correctly, effectively letting certain users “cheat”. So personally, I would recommend you DISABLE DHT and join a good private tracker or two, but if you can’t find your way into one…
Make sure DHT and peer exchange is enabled from the connections screen. This will have the fortunate side effect of meaning you can still find peers even when the tracker is down.
Make sure the firewall exception is on, or turn off the Windows firewall entirely. Again, do this from the connections screen of uTorrent options if you wish to add an exception.
In my opinion it’s another of those unnecessary security precautions like anti-virus that ends up causing far more problems that it’s worth. To turn off the firewall completely, click Start and type “firewall“. Open the first option in the Control Panel results, and you’ll see a link on the sidebar to completely disable it.
Don’t Be A Leech
If you set your torrent client to severely restrict the amount of uploading it can do, and basically just leech the files, most private trackers will restrict the amount you can download too. Make sure you are fully able and willing to give back to the community.
What kind of speeds do you get for torrents, and is that your ISPs fault? Do you have a restrictive ISP and would like to shame them in the comments? Do you still use public trackers? Go ahead and tell the world in the comments! Alternatively, ask for ISP specific advice in the ever growing tech questions community we have here at MakeUseOf.