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How Do I Test Internet Speed?

Data is downloaded to a computer as part of an internet speed test.
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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 June 2014
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Streaming online television and movies, podcasts and music, video and content-rich websites are all good reasons to have a fast Internet connection. As people are spending more time online working, playing, researching, and entertaining themselves, the value of a fast Internet connection is only becoming more important. To make sure your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is delivering promised bang for the buck, you can test Internet speed by visiting one of several websites.

The speed of an Internet connection is measured by how much data can be transferred from the Internet to a computer per second. Data is measured in quantifiable units of kilobits per second (kbps), and megabits per second (mbps). Since 1,000 kbps = 1 mbps, a plan offering speeds up to 1,500 kbps or 3,000 kbps might alternatively express this as 1.5 mbps or 3 mbps respectively. When you test Internet speed, note which data unit is being used, or you might wrongfully assume the connection is either much faster or much slower than expected.

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There are two data links created with every Internet connection: the downstream link and the upstream link. Anything downloaded from the Internet flows downstream from the network to your computer. Requests you make, such as clicking on a link, flow upstream. The needs of the upstream link aren’t nearly as demanding as the downstream link, so ISPs throttle back the bandwidth allocated to upstream connections. When you test Internet speed you’ll find the downstream speed is about four times faster than the upstream speed.

Before beginning a speed test, disable unnecessary background processes that might be running. While the test is in progress, avoid multitasking. To get accurate results, choose a server that is physically located close by, as using a server located halfway around the world can introduce latency issues unrelated to the speed of your connection. Data travels through the Internet in discreet packets, each taking a unique route, reuniting at your browser. The further those packets have to travel to reach your machine, the higher the risk of inaccurate results.

Luckily, the most popular sites that test Internet speed allow the visitor to either enter a zip code or click on a map to choose a nearby server. You might also be asked to supply information regarding the type of connection, (e.g. DSL or cable), and your provider. In this case, results will allow you to see your connection speed in relation to others who also use your provider. You can also see where you stand as compared to slower and faster plans, and different technologies. Results for both upstream and downstream speeds are provided.

For more accurate results it’s recommended to test Internet speed a few times, then switch to a different speed-testing website and test again. Average all results for a better idea of true performance.

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Discuss this Article

anon172461
Post 9

"I read somewhere that cable Internet shares its connection with everyone in the neighborhood, and so it slows down with more people hopping on. Does anyone know if that’s true?" Unfortunately, yes it is true. I use cable and that is what my provider told me.

anon172241
Post 8

Checking with the closest test site is ok, but we rarely end up that close doing what we normally do online. So testing near and far gives you a much better picture of the what and where you are dealing with. It doesn't matter how fast a speed you're paying for if the other end is still using a dial up connection or a 10 year old system.

anon172158
Post 6

DSL quality will degrade depending on how far you are from the central office, the farther away the slower. It has a max of, I believe, three miles distance. That's line length, not necessarily driving distance. Also, the age of your phone lines in your home will impact on the quality.

everetra
Post 5

@SkyWhisperer -- You could try Internet boosting software if you don’t want to switch services, but that’s not a silver bullet. I think that software just caches your HTML pages so that they load faster.

miriam98
Post 4

@SkyWhisperer - I’d check out DSL and then test your Internet speed with that to see if it makes a difference. Cable does slow down with increased usage. I don’t know if DSL has the same problem, but it’s worth a shot. A guy at work told me it’s more reliable since it comes straight through your phone line.

The typical advantage that cable has over DSL has to do with maximum throughput. Cable can pump more data down the pipeline than DSL can, but if you’re not looking for a 30 Mb/s download speed, then there is no real difference.

SkyWhisperer
Post 3

@anon34298 – I test my Internet speed using the same program, and as a result I’m thinking of cancelling my cable Internet service. Lately I’ve noticed my connection speed has been running about half of what I should be getting. I read somewhere that cable Internet shares its connection with everyone in the neighborhood, and so it slows down with more people hopping on. Does anyone know if that’s true? I’m about to switch to DSL, but I don’t know if that would be better.

anon34298
Post 1

It's nice. But i always check my broadband speed by using speed test.

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