A step-by-step guide to getting faster InternetPosted April 23rd, 2012 by Tanner
You know, deep down in your bones, that your Internet can be faster.
You may be sick of buffering videos or stuttering in multiplayer games. You may finally have the income to indulge on something more than dial-up. You may have a spiffy new PC and you’re wondering why web pages still take a minute or so to load.
Whatever the case, there are three major steps to getting faster Internet — each one consisting of several smaller steps. They basically break down into your ISP, your hardware, and your software.
1. Upgrading or changing Internet service
There are usually higher-bandwidth options out there; if you’re on dial-up, almost anything will improve your speeds. If you’re on DSL or cable, you may be intrigued by the possibility of the new fiber optic service that just became available in your neighborhood. Or you may be simply considering upgrading from 1.5Mbps to 3, 5, or 10 Mbps (or whatever tiers your provider offers).
Keep in mind that higher bandwidth capabilities don’t automatically translate to faster internet. The factors that come into play are many, and depend upon the specific type of connection, but common elements that influence speeds include things like:
- Distance and condition of wires — from the central node to your address, from the street to your wall jack, etc. Long and/or corroded wiring can seriously decrease the real-world performance of even the fastest connections (see hardware and cabling’ below)
- Others who use your service — neighborhood congestion can sometimes make even higher-capacity cable connections perform consistently slower’ at peak times than comparably-rated DSL connections, for example.
- Speed caps — providers have been known to place limits on the available bandwidth (and/or monthly amount of data that you can transfer). Sometimes you’ll never know unless you look into it.
2. Making your own personal hardware faster
If you have a state-of-the-art PC and shiny new networking components (modem, router, cabling, etc.), there’s probably not much that you can do to improve it. But you might be surprised how much older or poorly-matched hardware is really holding you back.
- Modems — cable and DSL modems may not evolve as swiftly as CPUs and smartphones, but many people can get real improvements by replacing that box’ that they’ve had for a year or two (or more). Electronic components naturally age and degrade, and upgrades on the ISP’s end may not play well with existing modems.
- Routers — if you go from the wall to the modem to the PC, skip ahead. However, if you use a wired or wireless router, there may be several things that you can do to get faster Internet speeds. As with modems, you may be limiting yourself by continuing to use hardware that has degraded over time, or simply doesn’t take advantage of more recent technologies. Simply upgrading from (for example) 802.11g to 802.11n WiFi can seriously improve your wireless performance. Even the placement of wireless routers and antenna tweaks can also make a big difference.
- Cabling — it’s a simple thing, and easily missed, but problems with the physical connections have been known to wreak havoc on internet speeds. Your coaxial or Ethernet cables might be damaged, or poorly shielded, or simply too long. Your plugs/ jacks/ sockets might be worn or corroded. You might be getting noise on a DSL line that could use some help from a filter.
3. Ways to upgrade and tweak your software to improve internet speeds
A lot of this is very specific to your operating system and the applications that you have installed, so I’ll have to avoid making any specific recommendations. But websites such as DSLReports.com are a great place to start, as are the FAQ and other support pages for your OS, browser, or individual apps.
- However, on the specific subject of browsers, a number of people have seen dramatic differences switching from one to another, or making sure that you have the latest updated version.
- Checking for updates to internet apps and driver files for hardware (especially routers and network cards) is another good way to potentially coax a little extra speed from your online experience. It may be a long shot, but you know you’ll feel silly if you’ve been missing out on a boost simply because you’ve kept clicking “remind me later” on the update prompt!