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Why your internet is slow (and how to fix it)

BY Nicole George | Wed Mar 13, 2019
Why your internet is slow (and how to fix it)

A variety of factors could be the reason your Netflix is always buffering or the reason loading a new email takes five times too long. From your router being in a less-than-optimal spot to your internet provider throttling speeds, here are 6 reasons your internet could be so slow and how to fix them.

1. Your router isn’t in the best spot

Routers aren’t exactly an interior design focal point, but hiding your router in the basement could mean that your Wi-Fi connection will be slower than you like. Your router placement is important because of the variety of internet interferences that are in your home.

How to troubleshoot router placement

  • Check if your router’s near your microwave or a radio-based device which can interfere with your signal.
  • Check if your router’s too close to dense walls or other signal-blocking structures in your home.
  • Check if your router’s sitting on the floor where signals will travel along the floor.

The ideal place to put an internet router or Wi-Fi Gateway is the middle of your home in an elevated, clear spot where walls and other devices are less likely to interfere with your connection.

2. Your router settings could use optimization

Your router settings could be slowing down data transfer to and from your connected devices. This is more technical, but if you want to dive into the world of router settings, here are some potential issues you can troubleshoot to see if you can make your internet faster:

  • Your router may be on a busy 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi channel.
  • Your router’s Request To Send (RTS) threshold settings may be too low.
  • Your router may have data packet size settings that limit how much data can be sent or received at once.

How to troubleshoot different router settings

Router Wi-Fi channel

Check if your router uses the 2.4 GHz band. If it does, check to see what channel it uses. Certain 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi channels overlap with other channels leading to interference. If other people are using overlapping channels, bandwidth gets eaten up and your connection slows down. You’ll want to switch to channel 1, 6 or 11 because they don’t overlap with each other.

RTS threshold

Check the RTS threshold value in your router’s configuration settings. The maximum is 2346. If you have lots of users at home, adjusting the threshold could help your network become more stable because it tells your router to send data packets more often. Try lowering the RTS threshold to 2304 bytes at first since it’s best to test small changes.

Router packet sizes

Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) sizes that are too small could be making the data you send break up into lots of little data packets. This slows down your connection because it takes time to break up the packets. Most routers have a default MTU setting of 1500, the maximum packet size for an Ethernet connection. Try raising the MTU setting to 1500 if it’s set lower. One exception is if you work from home using a VPN, then you’ll want to keep a lower setting.

3. You have internet malware

There are all sorts of malware that can infect your computer’s hardware, software or applications. Using smart internet strategies can help prevent malware from infecting your devices.

One specific type of malware is internet malware that infects computer applications such as web browsers. Web browser malware can open multiple browsers in the background without your knowledge and slow down your internet speeds.

How to troubleshoot internet malware

Check for background applications on a Windows computer by using “Ctrl + Alt + Delete” to open your task manager. There, you can check for hidden programs by clicking on “Processes.” View “Background processes” to check for hidden processes and right-click on any questionable looking ones to see their details. If you don’t know what it is, look up the process online, and if it’s sketchy, right click again to “End process.”

Check for background applications on a Mac by opening the “Activity Monitor.” You can find it by using “Command + Spacebar” and typing “Activity.” Look at “All Processes” to see if there are any questionable applications running on your computer. If you don’t know what any of the applications are, look them up and remove ones that shouldn’t be there.

4. Your internet service provider’s throttling your speeds

Some internet service providers throttle internet speeds when you exceed your plan’s data limit, and some have even been accused of throttling internet speeds for certain websites or activities.

How to troubleshoot throttling

You can check to see if your being throttled by running a couple of different internet speed tests.

  • Run a speed test during non-peak hours (outside of the 7-11 p.m. window).
  • Install a VPN and run the same speed test using the VPN.
  • Compare your speeds; if they’re similar, you’re probably not getting throttled. If they’re drastically different, you might be getting throttled.

If you think your internet’s getting throttled, you might want to call your provider to see if you’ve exceeded a data limit or ask them about your speeds.

5. Peak hour traffic is eating up bandwidth

Peak traffic time, or internet rush hour, is 7-11 p.m. For cable users who share their internet connection with others in the neighborhood, more people using the internet at night can eat up bandwidth and lower your speeds. DSL and fiber-optic internet subscribers are less likely to have this problem since the lines aren’t shared.

How to troubleshoot night traffic slowness

You can’t necessarily get your neighbors to stop using the internet at night, but you can troubleshoot the number of users and devices in your own home. See how many devices in your home use bandwidth during peak hours. To maintain fast internet speeds, you may need to use fewer devices at night, ask someone at home to change their habits or upgrade your internet plan.

The FCC recommends a minimum of 12-25 Mbps to any home with two users streaming at the same time. So if you use more devices, you’ll probably need more bandwidth.

6. Device network problems

Device issues that slow down internet speeds tend to be isolated to computers. You might’ve maxed out your memory or your hard drive’s input/output.

How to troubleshoot device network issues

If you took the speed test earlier and had normal speeds, but your computer still seems slow, your computer could be working too hard.

Windows troubleshooting

  • On Windows, run a memory diagnostics test to see if you’re using up too much RAM.
  • Remove unnecessary programs from your computer using your Task Manager and close programs that you don’t use.
  • Disable startup programs using your Task Manager and the Startup tab.
  • Defragment your hard drive using your Control Panel to navigate to “Defragment your hard drive.”

Mac troubleshooting

  • On a Mac OS 10.7 or later, open your “Activity Monitor.”
  • Click on the “Memory” tab and view your “Memory Pressure” graph.
  • Remove or close apps if the “Memory Pressure” graph shows memory is getting depleted.

Other issues could also be slowing down your internet connection such as internet service provider issues, having really old devices or needing to get a long-range router that can broadcast Wi-Fi through your home more effectively. Start by troubleshooting the common problems we’ve listed above, and if needed, consider upgrading your devices or your internet plan to get the speeds you need.

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