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How fast is my Internet connection?

Posted By : Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on June 2, 2006 2:18 PM

Question

My ISP makes claims about my high-speed Internet service, but it sure doesn't seem that fast all the time. How can I tell exactly how fast my connection is?

- Josh

Answer

This question was answered on June 2, 2006. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

When it comes to your Internet connection speed, there are a host of variables that can change from moment to moment that are completely unpredictable which can have a dramatic impact on your actual performance.

Let's start with your computer and work out from there.

If your computer is not running properly (is full of pop-ups, spyware, adware and viruses) or is below the minimum hardware standards that the high-speed provider recommends, then the speed that you actually experience can be diminished.

If you know that your computer is in good shape and the hardware is above the minimum requirements, you can move on to testing the "bandwidth" from your computer to a specific site.

Bandwidth (also referred to as 'throughput') refers to the transmission speed of your connection to the Internet.

Measuring bandwidth, however, can be very tricky because of all of the variables that come into play. Your effective speed is only as fast as the slowest connecting point between you and your desired destination.

To demonstrate how many different connecting points are involved in connecting to a website, do the following:

Click on the Start button, then on Run, then type 'cmd' (for Windows XP &

2000) or 'command' (for Windows 95, 98, ME) and click on the OK button.

This will open up a black window with white letters. Type 'tracert datadoctors.com' which will run a small utility in Windows that will trace the route between your computer and our website (or substitute any site that you want to test for.)

Each item listed is known as a 'hop' because it has to hop from one Internet connection (or router) to the next to get from your computer to our website.

The more hops between you and the website AND the more time it takes to get from one hop to another (measured in ms - milliseconds), the longer it takes for a website to appear on your screen.

If you trace the same route over time, not only can the number of hops change, so can the time that it takes between each hop. The congestion created by others that use the same Internet provider and the number of folks that are requesting pages from the same site at the same time as you can have an impact (which is why some sites load quicker than others, even though your actual Internet connection speed has not changed.)

It's actually quite a bit more complicated than that, but hopefully you understand some of the basics of getting around the Internet.

There are number of sites that offer bandwidth speed tests that will check your connection speed at any given moment, but remember it only means that it was that fast at that moment. It's best to run these speed test many times at different times of the day to better understand your overall average download speeds.

Bandwidth testing sites include PCPitstop (www.pcpitstop.com/internet - but ignore all the ads that offer to optimize your speed), Cnet's Bandwidth Meter (datadr.com/redir.cfm/speed) and Speakeasy's speedtest (www.speakeasy.net/speedtest).

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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on June 2, 2006

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