Broadband Speed Test Tips
Hints and tips to help make your broadband faster
About the Test
Is your broadband fast enough? Are you getting what you've paid for? Find out with our Broadband Speed Test. Just pick your location and wait a few seconds for the results.
For better results, run the test a few times. And you can compare your speeds with friends on other ISPs, or at different times of the day, to see whether you're getting the best value you can from your broadband subscription.
Make sure you have the latest firmware and/or driver in your router, modem and network adaptor.
Communications-hardware companies are constantly improving the software inside their devices, and regularly make updates available on their websites. Check your hardware manuals for details of how to upload new revisions – it normally involves finding the upgrade on the company's website, downloading it to your local computer, and then either selecting an option in the router or modem's own control software, or running a small utility on your own computer.
There is a risk involved with this as, if you pick the wrong software or there's an error in the process, you can end up with a dead piece of hardware. But the benefits are great: you can end up with more features and more security as well as better speeds so, if you don't fancy doing it yourself, it can be worth persuading – or even paying – a local expert to take on the job.
Tune your software, especially if you are using XP. When XP was first shipped, broadband was still almost science fiction and, although subsequent updates have helped, the software still sometimes thinks it should be optimised for dial-up modems. There is a wide variety of network-tuning tools out there – you can find a selection here. It's also worthwhile tuning your browser: Firefox users can use FireTune. Vista, Linux and most other modern operating systems don't need tweaking, as they are designed to work well with fast connections.
Tune your access point. If you get substantially higher speeds when you connect directly to your broadband instead of using wireless networking, this can be due to interference from other Wi-Fi installations nearby, especially if you are in a city. Find out if there is a problem by plugging the network output from your broadband moden directly into the Ethernet port on your laptop or desktop and seeing if speeds improve. If so, try changing the channel of your wireless network: there'll be a setting in its configuration screen, which you can get to via your browser. Check your handbook for details of your router.
If you're still getting slow results from your wireless, make sure that everything that uses it is set up to go as fast as possible. One slow machine – set up to go at 11Mbps with 802.11b – can slow down the transfer rates of faster 802.11g or 802.11n computers. Don't forget that lots of other gadgets – internet radios, media streamers, mobile phones – can have Wi-Fi these days, and they're all sharing the same airwaves.
Ask your ISP to run tests. You don't have to have a breakdown to call your tech support line. Your ISP will have a set of tests it can run at the press of a button, which will check for problems on the line or at either end of the connection. Remember: you are buying a service from them.
Try unplugging as much as possible at home, and see if the speed improves. Lots of modern equipment generates a lot of electrical interference at exactly the same frequencies as DSL uses to send data, both normally and when they have subtle faults you may not notice. If you see speeds improve when you have unplugged your television, microwave and other gizmos, then plug things back in one by one while checking to find the culprit. Also, mains wiring running alongside telephone or network wiring can exacerbate the problem.
Get your machine cleaned. Nearly all cases of slowdown – network and in general – are due to unwanted software, adware or malware, taking up resources to do things you don't know about and don't need. The usual advice about keeping your operating system, antivirus and application software up to date apply here, but a good sanity check is to burn a non-Windows live CD such as the latest Ubuntu, boot from that and run the online speed test. That is as good a way as any of finding out exactly what your hardware can do from a clean operating system, and letting you know whether there are problems that are worth professional attention.