How can I test my Internet speed?

Posted By : Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on November 19, 2010 5:59 PM

Question

I’m paying for an internet service that’s supposed to give me higher than normal speeds, but it just doesn’t seem to be that fast. How do I know what I am getting?

- Jon

Answer

This question was answered on November 19, 2010. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The importance of a fast internet connection in today’s multimedia world goes without saying, but understanding all of the variables that can impact your actual user experience is vital.

The first thing you must understand is that consumer grade internet services are on ‘shared pipes’ meaning that others in your neighborhood or others on the same service can have an impact on your overall speeds (DSL and Cable share in different ways).

Think of it like you would water pressure; if everyone gets home at 6pm and turns on the sprinklers at the same time, you will notice a difference in the water pressure.

Consumer grade internet speeds are generally sold as ‘UP TO’ speeds, which is a clever way of saying “you aren’t likely to ever see those speeds”.

Most internet providers tier their packages, so as long as your speed is within the range of the tiered package, they have provided the service that’s in their fine print.

For instance, Cox High Speed Internet’s first tier is their Essential (up to 3 Mbps) offering, while their second tier is called Preferred (up to 15 Mbps with ‘PowerBoost’ or 12 Mbps without).

If you choose the second tier assuming that you will get 12-15 Mbps of service on a regular basis, you are likely going to be disappointed. The reality is that as long as they are delivering more than 3 Mbps (the upper limit of the first tier), they have a compelling case for charging you more.

Unless you are willing to pay for a substantially more expensive business grade service which has a tighter guarantee of speeds, your actual speed on their ‘Preferred’ package at any given moment will range from 3-12 Mbps.

Another very important factor for anyone that wants to upload pictures and video to YouTube or Facebook or for those that want to remotely access their computers is the ‘upload’ speed.

In our various tests, the upload speeds were generally the biggest problem with what was perceived as a slow connection (ex: it takes forever to upload a video to Youtube.)

There are a number of speed tests that you can run to check the average speed between your internet connection and a remote Internet server, however, understanding how to use these tools is essential.

Running a speed test on one site, one time is absolutely useless as it simply gives you the speed for that one moment.

Since we know speeds will vary throughout the day, you should use at least 3 different test sites (running each 3 times in a row) at 3 different times of the day.

Taking the average of all of those tests will determine what you can generally expect as your actual internet speeds.

Cnet.com offers a simple ‘bandwidth meter’ ( http://bit.ly/7t9WaS ) that will test the download speed only.

Speedtest.net offers both upload and download tests, but you must be careful not to be confused by all their advertisements (this link limits the ads displayed http://bit.ly/czdLsg ). Look for the aqua marine ‘Begin Test’ button just above the map graphic.

PCPitstop.com has a good bandwidth speed test (upload and download) buried within their ad laden website as well (the direct link is http://bit.ly/1nHmGj ) so be careful to avoid the ads that prompt you to download optimizers; they aren’t necessary.

The FCC has a speed test at Broadband.gov ( http://bit.ly/cuHpnF ) that’s a program designed to collect data for a mapping project, so you will be required to put your location information in before running all of their tests.

If it seems to take forever to get anything on the internet but your speed tests come up pretty decent, the problem could be one of the many malicious programs that can infect your browser.

Most of today’s malware is designed to work silently in the background of your computer (as a process) and jump into action when you launch your internet browser.

The quickest way to see if you have excessive processes running in the background (a possible indicator of infection) is to launch the Windows Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Del) and look in the bottom left corner for ‘Processes’.

With nothing running, we like to see it in the high 30’s for desktops and the low 40’s for laptops. If you have 60+ processes running, you should consider having a qualified technical person take a deeper look at what the extra processes are to play it safe.

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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on November 19, 2010

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