If you have a wired or wireless home network, chances are you’ll be looking for ways to optimise it so that it is running as fast as possible.
There are several things you can do, from making minor software tweaks to installing new hardware. In this guide, we’ll take a look a few simple adjustments you can make to speed up your home network.
Find the Right Spot for Your Router
The starting point for any wireless network is to ensure the router is positioned properly.
A wireless signal is diminished by distance and penetration when travelling through floors and walls. Ideally, your router would be positioned in the center of all the devices connected to it, with direct line of sight to each one. In reality, this probably won’t be convenient.
Instead, you need to work on minimising the obstructions that will affect the performance of your wireless network. Try and position the router somewhere near the center of your home, raised on a shelf if possible, and not hemmed in by walls.
Experiment with placing the router in different positions to ensure you don’t have any blackspots in your house. A blackspot is an area where a device is unable to connect to the wireless router. It can be caused by an excess of obstructions blocking the signal, or even simply by the device being located beyond the router’s range.
There are many apps to help identify Wi-Fi blackspots, including NetSpot on Mac, or NetStumbler on Windows. If you cannot solve the problem of blackspots simply by repositioning the router, then a Wi-Fi extender, such as a TP-LINK TL-WA850RE N300 can boost your wireless network’s power and range.
Does Cable Length Matter?
If you’re using a wired network, the length of the cables you use theoretically can have an impact on speed, although in practice it’s unlikely to be an issue in your home network.
Optimise Your Wireless Router
Once you have your wireless router in the best possible location, you need to work on minimizing interference to the signal.
Interference can come from everyday electronic devices in your home, including your cordless phone and microwave. Many old routers run on the 2.4GHz frequency, as do these other gadgets. It’s a good idea to place your wireless router as far away as possible from any device which may emit interference.
The channel your router is set to can also invite interference. Every router chooses a “channel” to send and receive data. If your neighbors have a router that is set to the same channel, the two can interfere with each other, degrade the signal, and finally hamper the network speed. If you live in an apartment block with lots of neighbors, channel congestion can become a serious problem.
Some routers will be set to automatically select a channel, but if you want to use the least congested channel in your area, you can use a program such as WifiInfoView on Windows to find it. This app scans for, and displays a list of information on, all the networks in your area.
If you sort this list of networks by the channel they are using, you’ll be able to see which channels are most congested and which are least used (many routers will default to channel 6). Just pick any channel that isn’t being used, or at least one that is being used less than the others, log into your router settings, and change the channel manually.
Get Up to Speed
While wireless 802.11ac supports speeds of up to 1.3 gigabits per second, which amounts to 166 megabytes per second, network cables e.g. Cat 5, Cat 5e and Cat 6 top out at 100Mbps, 1000Mbps, and 10,000Mbps respectively.
Whether your network is wired or wireless, your hardware will need to support the standards at each end to benefit from the speed boosts. Wired devices will require Gigabit ethernet ports at both ends (computer and router), and wireless devices must support the 802.11ac standard.
In both cases, the maximum transfer speeds will be dramatically faster than your Internet connection, so you probably won’t notice any performance difference there. But local file transfers within your network will be considerably quicker.
Get Everything Up to Date
One of the simplest ways to ensure you’re getting maximum performance from your network — or any hardware, for that matter — is to make sure it is fully up to date.
Routinely check for firmware updates for your router, driver updates for components such as network cards, and operating system updates for your computers.
Disable Network Throttling
Network throttling is used in some versions of Windows (including Vista and Windows 7) to give priority to multimedia applications, but can have an adverse effect on other tasks, such as transferring large files.
To disable Network Throttling:
- Go into the Registry
- Navigate your way to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Multimedia\SystemProfile
- Locate the entry named NetworkThrottlingIndex
- To turn the feature off completely, change the value to FFFFFFFF (hexadecimal)
Watch Out For Network Hogs
Network hogs can be a significant problem, where one device or application is using lots of bandwidth at the expense of everything else.
With NetBalancer you can view and analyse the network traffic on a Windows computer. You can see which programs are using the most bandwidth, and limit them if you need to.
For a more detailed picture of bandwidth usage on your network, you can try WireShark. This enables you to browse all of the traffic on the network, not just a specific machine, to identify what is slowing it down.
Both of these programs are free to download.
Shape Your Traffic
Many modern routers comes with a feature called Quality of Service, or QoS. QoS enables you to “shape” the traffic that passes through your network, and prioritize certain applications.
You can use QoS to allocate more bandwidth to things like streaming media, Skype or anything else that needs a fast, reliable connection. Lower priority traffic, such as downloads or email will use less bandwidth when these other services are in use.
The method of setting up QoS differs from one router manufacturer to the next. In most cases, you will need to log in to your router’s configuration page from a connected web browser.
Qualcomm’s StreamBoost technology, which is implemented in several routers from D-Link and NetGear, automatically analyses traffic and adjusts the bandwidth allocation to suit each application without you needing to do anything.
Combine Wired and Wireless
Most people prefer a wireless setup for their home network. It’s easier to install, leaves no clutter around your house, and is more flexible in terms of which devices you can add to it.
But a wireless network isn’t always better for performance, and in some cases you’ll get noticeable improvements by switching certain devices to a cable.
Gaming, for example, benefits from a fast, stable connection, and this is likely to be offered more reliably via ethernet than wireless. Also, a network between two computers in the same room is probably easier to manage if they are physically connected.
All wireless routers now come with multiple ethernet ports, so connecting devices via cables is straightforward.
Use Powerline Networking
If you choose to add wires to your wireless network, or if you find you’ve got Wi-Fi blackspots in your house, then powerline networking may be the perfect compromise solution. This uses electrical wiring in your home as a wired data network, with ethernet ports attached to the power sockets. Starter kits with two adapters — like this TP-LINK TL-PA4010KIT AV500 Nano Powerline Adapter Starter Kit — are generally quite affordable, and are available from around $30.
The speed of a powerline adapter varies based on the model. Some support speeds of up to 1Gb/s, although the real world speeds will often be somewhat lower. Even so, they are fast enough for gaming, or for connecting up a smart TV for streaming.
Installing them is easy. You connect an adapter via ethernet cable to a device, and then plug it into a nearby power supply. You need one adapter for each device you’re using. So, you’d have one connected to your router, one for your PC, one for your games console, and so on.
Over to You
A home network need not require too much management, but there are always ways you can tweak it to keep it running smoothly. Especially as you add more devices or upgrade components.
And now it’s over to you. Have you set up a home network? What tweaks have you made to get it working at maximum speed? Leave your tips and questions in the comments below.