Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
This article shows you how to measure your internet speed and it sheds some light on all the different factors that affect your internet performance. I propose a host of possible remedies that are easy to apply.
First I would like to recommend a ‘Technology Explained’ article that explains why measured and experienced speed are not necessarily the same: Understanding The Internet Speed.
Test Your Internet Speed
For accurate results, you should go with an internet speed test tool that provides a local server. Otherwise your result may be flawed, simply because the test has to travel great distances.
With Speedtest.net you can connect to a test server that is physically close to you. Open the > Settings (top right menu) to change your > Preferred Server location and > Save your changes.
When you’re done click > Begin test and wait for the result.
My result is 6.17 Mb/s download and 6.32 Mb/s upload. Other tests that did not match me with a local server returned somewhat different results. Speed.io [No Longer Available] for example determined 5 Mb/s for the download and BandwidthPlace only had me at 3.88 Mb/s for the download. The upload for both was at around 6 Mb/s.
For a more comprehensive speed test, try MyConnection PC Lite, a Windows tool that we introduced here: Check Internet Connection Speed with MyConnectionPC
Now you’re probably wondering what a bad result is and whether there is anything you can do to improve your internet bandwidth. I would say upload / download speeds that are 30-50% below the theoretical optimum you pay for constitute a bad result, especially when measured during non peak hours. Contact your ISP and discuss how you can improve this situation. And yes, you can do something, too.
But first let’s look at what is beyond your reach.
What You Cannot Change
Many factors have an impact on how fast or slow your internet connection is. Unfortunately, there are several that you have no direct influence on.
- Bandwidth Throttling
Your ISP can throttle your bandwidth, for example when you’re using Torrents.
- Distance to Exchange
The further you live from the next telephone exchange, the slower your speed.
- Cable Internet
If you and the majority of your neighborhood have a cable internet connection, note that all of you share the bandwidth, which can lead to reduced speed.
To test whether your ISP shapes your traffic you can use a tool developed by the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems. Glasnost simulates BitTorrent downloads on your computer.
What You Can Do To Speed Up Your Internet
The bottleneck could be your hardware. Your modem has a cache, which can impact its performance. To empty the cache, unplug the modem from the power for a few seconds. Make sure your modem supports the output speed your network requires and that cables are properly connected and intact. To find out whether your own network might be at fault in the first place, refer to this article: How To Test Your Home Network Speed (And Decipher The Results)
- Wired vs. Wireless
A wired connection is faster than a wireless connection. You may also experience signal interference when using WiFi. To fix this you can either re-position your router or change your WiFi channel number. Also check out our article 8 Tips To Effectively Boost Your Wireless Router Signal.
- DNS Server
The DNS servers from most ISPs are not very fast and can thus reduce your bandwidth. However, you can get free and rather fast DNS server addresses from OpenDNS: Find Fastest DNS and Optimize Your Internet Speed
- LAN Cable
Although a length of up to 50 m should be ok, try to keep the cable as short as possible. If you depend on a long cable, go with a gigabit rated shielded network cable (STP Cat5e or STP Cat6). In any case, avoid bending or stretching as both affect performance.
- Running Processes
Many programs use your connection to transfer data, monitor status, or download updates. You can control which programs access the internet and eat up your bandwidth by using a Firewall. If you use Windows 7, have a look at this article: Manage The Windows Firewall Better With Windows 7 Firewall Control
- Limit Reservable Bandwidth
Per default, Windows reserves 20% of your bandwidth for automatic updates. You can reduce the amount and prevent Windows processes from receiving ‘special treatment’. Enter > GPEDIT.MSC in the Windows Vista or 7 > Start menu or enter it into the > Run dialog in Windows XP. Under > Computer Policy expand > Administrative Templates, click > Network > Qos Packet Scheduler and double-click > Limit reservable bandwidth. Per default it’s not configured. Click > Enabled and set the > Bandwidth limit (%) to 0. Finally > Apply and reboot.
- Malware Protection
Scan for malware and make sure your computer has not been hijacked. Worms can use your network to replicate and thus will slow down your internet connection. Use up to date anti virus and anti malware tools to prevent future infections. Protect yourself with 7 Essential Security Downloads You MUST Have Installed or refer to our Best Of Windows Software page for alternative tools.
For more tips and tricks on how to speed up your internet, consult these resources:
- Top 5 Vista Tweaks to Increase Internet Speed by Ryan
- Autobahn Accelerator – Faster Streaming Video and Downloads for Free? by Ryan
- Faster Internet & Anonymous Net Surfing Through Toonel by Jeffry
- Answers: How can I use my full internet bandwidth?
- Answers: Why does my internet slow down all of a sudden?
- Answers: How can I speed up my wireless internet?
How fast is your internet connection and did any of the tips above result in a significantly enhanced performance? Did I miss a factor or hack that could have a major impact? Please give your feedback in the comments below!