How Fast Is Your Network?

speedYou finally did it and you’re proud of yourself. The old internet connection is gone. The new one runs at 50Mb or better. It cost a little more but you deserve it. The old wire coming in ran at 25Mb. Maybe later you’ll take your ISP up on a bundling deal and get a free upgrade to over 100Mb. Life is good.

I’m terribly sorry to be the bearer of possible unhappiness, but you may be paying for an internet service upgrade that’s barely better than the one you just upgraded from. No, your ISP is great. They’re delivering everything they promised, and sometimes more, at a price that is a fraction of what the same service would have cost a few years ago. Chances are they will improve it more as time passes and not charge you for it.

The problem I’m referring to is the speed of your internal home network. Or, more specifically, the speed of its slowest link. Depending on what you do with your network, in general, it’s only as fast as the most commonly used link. This is usually the wireless-n component of most home networks.

To come to the point, if your wireless-n is slower than your incoming internet speeds, then you might be wasting money.

Testing Your Home Network Speed

We’ve all read network speed test articles that must have been written by electrical engineers. They make it look complicated. It’s not, unless you want the equivalent of a site survey that identifies speeds and quality of service from many points within a given range of service. Most people can’t do that and you don’t need that level of analysis for normal home networks.

If you just want to know the speed of data from point A to point B, just download a free program called LAN Speed Test (lite) from TotuSoft. It couldn’t be easier to use. If you find it useful and you’re still curious, TotuSoft offers a fully powered version with more features for, at this time, $6.00.

This software will tell you, in easy to understand terms, how fast your test connection reads and writes data. You can control how big the test data package is.

Testing Your Home Network Speed – Examples

These first three pictures document a wired gigabit connection from my laptop to a QNAP external disk drive.

This is entry screen. You select the point you wish to write the test data file to. The program makes up the test data file.

netspeed01

Next, you decide how big of a test data file to use. Then you press <OK>.

netspeed02

Finally, you evaluate your results.

netspeed03

***

This ends the formal instruction on how to use LAN Speed Test (lite).

 Some Other Examples

This is from a wireless-n connection through my main home router. At this time it’s a Netgear R6300 V1 manufacturer refurb with DD-WRT firmware. The PC at the sending end is a business class laptop with a Sandy Bridge class i5 processor. The laptop was close to the router.

This test tells me that, on a light-duty home network,  an incoming speed from my ISP in excess of about 35Mb is potentially wasted unless a wired gigabit connection or a wireless-ac connection is in common use.

If, on the other hand, several PCs frequently pound away on the internet at the same time, then a faster inbound connection from your ISP makes a lot more sense.

 

netspeed24h***

 This is a quick test to see how fast my PC reads from and writes to an old SATA drive re-purposed as a USB 3.0 desktop drive.

netspeed-usb3desktop

***

This is the same test using a Toshiba 1GB USB 3.0 portable drive.

netspeed-usb3portable

 Other Things To Consider

Everyone has different networking needs. At one end there are one or two person households who watch a little Netflix, shop on-line, and keep on top of what’s happening in the part of the world they follow. They’re incoming speed needs to be about as fast as the slowest network component that’s most commonly used.

If, on the other hand, you have a big family and the kids are doing things on the internet you don’t want to know about, then your need to consider an incoming wire that’s a multiple of the speed of the simultaneous use of the most commonly used links. Maybe you could put that 100Mb line to good use.

The quality of your home router also makes big difference. In general, if you have a great internet connection, you shouldn’t cheap out on an elderly but still functional router. The router keeps track of all the connections that run through it. It regulates the wireless speeds using various protocols; for example wireless-n and wireless-ac. An internal processor coordinates everything. Gigabit wired connections (using Cat5e or, preferably, Cat6 cables – please throw out the Cat5 wires) are still useful if the router is physically close to the device, and quite reliable.

What should you buy? I don’t know. I read the same reviews you do when I need a new one. Then I still cross my fingers. My personal criteria is lots of reviews; lots of stars; far more 5 star reviews than 1 or 2 star reviews. I’ve had a lot of luck with inexpensive refurbished routers that I load with DD-WRT, but that adds considerably to the complexity level and isn’t suitable for the average home network administrator.

Also, and this may sound obvious, but you can’t get wireless-ac performance if your PC and router don’t support wireless-ac. Wireless-ac is much faster than wireless-n. While more and more new computers come with wireless-ac installed, you’re more likely to not have it at this time. You can buy a USB wireless-ac attachment or replace your laptop wireless card with one that supports wireless-ac. Both options aren’t too costly, but the laptop card installation takes a little research to find the correct one for your laptop model. Almost all new routers coming out today support wireless-ac at differing speed levels (some are faster than others).

Wireless-ac uses the 5GHz radio. Besides being faster, it moves some traffic from the 2.4GHz radio. In general, the more people using a given radio at the same time, the more congestion your are likely to encounter. If several people on a given frequency press <ENTER> at the same time, congestion will result and performance will suffer. Everyone could run noticeably slower. Your objective should be to balance the workload among wired, 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

And now you know how to figure out the speed of your advanced home network.



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