Google recently started a new service called Google Public DNS to help speed up your web browsing. This is an alternative to the DNS provided by your ISP, and other public DNS services like Open DNS, that we covered previously on MakeUseOf. Which of these options best optimize your internet speed? The good news is that you can test this yourself, and don’t need to be misled by anyone’s marketing pitch.
DNS: A Backgrounder
In simplified terms, Domain Name Servers (DNS) are translators that convert website names to IP Addresses. When you click on a bookmark, hyper-link, or enter an address like www.makeuseof.com in your browser, the browser sends that name to a DNS Server that helps route the request to the appropriate IP Address of that URL. Think of this as your letter for “John Doe” being sent to his correct home address.
When your ISP configures your Internet connection, it is set to use the ISP’s DNS service. However, you are free to use other alternatives, as Karl explained in Open DNS Works Great As A Free Web Content Filtering Solution. Thus, you can use Open DNS or the new Google Public DNS, to replace your ISP’s DNS.
Why should you use something other than what your ISP gives you for free? As you can see, Open DNS offers rich content-filtering options for privacy and family safety. Google Public DNS has been engineered by Google for faster performance and better security. However, because of the complex variables involved, no single option can be said to be the best for all when it comes to speed. So how do you find out which DNS is the fastest for you? Enter NameBench, a free tool to help you find the fastest DNS for you.
NameBench is a portable application (no installation!) that works across the Windows, Mac, or Linux platforms. It runs a benchmark test on your computer, using either your web browser’s history or a standardized test data set to find out which DNS service returns the fastest results for your location. Download and run the application from the Google Code repository here.
Starting the NameBench Test
Before you run NameBench, make sure you have closed all applications using the Internet. This will ensure that the results are not distorted by interference from other programs using your network bandwidth. Then, launch the application, and you will see a screen like this:
The Nameservers at the top shows the DNS servers you are currently using. If you are not interested in technical details, simply click “Start Benchmark”. The test takes between 10-20 minutes, so you can take a coffee break while it runs.
After the test is complete, your browser launches to show you the results. At the very top are the main results (in this case, showing that my ISP’s DNS is hopelessly slow):
At the right, you can see which DNS service works the fastest for you. To change your DNS configuration, you can follow the instructions at the Google Public DNS site, using the recommended configuration from the test, instead of Google’s Public DNS.
NameBench Options Explained
NameBench includes public DNS providers like OpenDNS and UltraDNS in its test via the first checkbox. The “Include best available regional DNS services“ option tests the health and response time of over 1000 DNS servers worldwide so that it can include those that are close to you and may be the fastest. Leave both options checked for best results.
The “Benchmark Data Source” drop-down will give you the option of choosing your browser history or a standardized data set of the top 10,000 Internet websites. Many of those websites would be foreign-language ones that you never visit, so keep the default option and use your browser history for the test.
Using the “Benchmark Data Selection“ mode, you can choose a random or sequential set of websites from your browser history. The default “Weighted“ mode uses more of your recent browser history and is the best option for most users. Finally, the Number of tests represents how many requests will be sent to the servers, and should be kept over 100, preferably 150-200. Running the test more than once with “Number of runs“ > 1, will result in DNS caching being used for subsequent runs if you want to test performance with and without caching.
NameBench Results In Detail
The Tested DNS Servers table shows a list of the DNS Servers that were used for the test, with the corresponding response times, notes, and errors if any. NameBench allows a maximum of 10 DNS servers at a time.
This graph shows the average and fastest response times for the top 5 servers.
Finally, this pretty graph shows the percentage of times a response was received from a server within the first 200 milliseconds.
Grab your free download of NameBench and run the test. You may be surprised by the results! Did you change your DNS servers after using it? Is your web browsing faster as a result? Tell us in the comments!