Unlimited bandwidth is the dream of every geek, but unfortunately, it’s not always available. Caps are one way for service providers to squeeze extra money out of existing services, so there have been many attempts to introduce them, some of which have stuck.
If you’re on a cap, it’s important to know how much bandwidth you’re using. Sometimes a provider will give you a meter for free, but if that’s not the case, you’ll need to check out a few freeware computer bandwidth usage management tools.
Keeping Up With Downloads
Monitoring bandwidth manually is virtually impossible. Individual webpages don’t report their size readily, and even if they did, there are many variables such as streaming content, automatically refreshing news feeds, and more. Software downloads are not much better. Yes, you can usually see the file size, but sometimes those files are just downloaders rather than full installers, and even if it is the full software, it may need to download an update. How do you keep track of that?
The only way is to use a bandwidth meter that works by detecting everything, from every application, process and service on your computer.
For Windows users, I suggest NetWorx. This free software offers a wide variety of features that will help you keep tabs on your Internet usage. It can report and graph your bandwidth usage by day, week, month, year, or a custom time period.
Also included is a bandwidth speed test and, perhaps most useful of all, a quota feature. This lets you set a daily, weekly or month allowance for bandwidth. An alert can be configured to appear when a certain percentage so you know when you need to back off the download button.
Mac Can Do It, Too
Mac OS X users can use SkoobySoft’s SurplusMeter [No longer available]. It’s a more basic tool than NetWorx, as the reporting options are less flexible and it doesn’t have an automatic quota alert, but it does its job and, like NetWorx, it is entirely free. Please note that SurplusMeter is not on the Mac App Store at the time of this writing. This utility has been around for a while, but it seems to work fine on my MacBook with OS X Lion installed.
Although these are very useful tools, I wasn’t able to find one that reports bandwidth for all computers in a home network collectively. Tools with this capability are available, but they’re focused on an enterprise environment rather than a home network.
Respecting Your Limits
Now that you have a bandwidth meter, you may be wondering what you can do to reduce the amount that you use. I do have a few tips.
- Don’t Watch HD Video – pixel count in an image goes up exponentially as resolution increases. A video at 360p has 194,400 pixels, but one at 720p has 921,600 pixels, and 1080p is a jaw-dropping 2,073,600 pixels. Compression techniques do reduce bandwidth consumption, but there’s no getting around the fact that low-resolution video is more efficient.
- Buy Retail Versions Of Software In-Store Whenever Possible – yes, it’s convenient to purchase a new title of Steam, but a game with modern 3D graphics can easily weigh in at over 10GB.
- Use A Firewall – and don’t provide software with permission to automatically bypass it. This will prevent programs from downloading automatic updates without your knowledge.
One tactic that doesn’t provide much benefit is Flash-blocking, script-blocking, or ad-blocking. Using browser extensions to stop this content often does not prevent the content from being sent to your computer. It just simply isn’t displayed. In addition, the amount of bandwidth used by Flash and its competitors is typically small unless it is being used to display high-definition video or play an online game.
Do you have any top computer bandwidth usage management tips? Well, that’s what the comments section is for! I quite like the software discussed in this article – particularly NetWorx – but readers are welcome to provide their own suggestions.