A bandwidth tester is an online service that will gauge the speed of your Internet connection for you. It does this by passing blocks of data to your computer, calculating the time it takes to complete the transfers. By reporting how many kilobits or megabits of data were successfully transferred per second, you can get an idea of your true connection speed.
Internet packages are sold based on allotted bandwidth. The more bandwidth, the greater the speed. Internet service providers (ISPs) typically advertise packages using the language, “speeds up to…” with the bandwidth cap expressed in kilobits per second (kbps) or megabits per second (mbps). There is a lower limit to each package as well, and most people will not see the uppermost limit of the range delivered consistently, if at all. This is due to many factors that affect speed, making the bandwidth tester a handy tool.
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) customers see speeds closest to the top cap when they happen to live extremely close to the local DSL Access Multiplexer (DSLAM or dee-slam). DSLAMs can be thought of as community routers for DSL service, with lines that branch out into neighborhoods to serve local residents. Since signal strength degrades over distance, if you happen to live at the outer edge of the serviceable area, you will experience speeds in the lower range of your subscribed package. All else being equal, jumping on a bandwidth tester can give you a pretty good idea of how close or far you are from your DSLAM.
Cable customers who get Internet service though the TV cable company are not affected by physical location. However, cable Internet has its own issues that can affect online speed. There is a limited amount of bandwidth available to every neighborhood, and if many people are using the Internet simultaneously, speed can decay. Conversely, when there are fewer neighbors using the service, more bandwidth is available and speeds are closer to the advertised cap. If you’re surfing and feel your computer is running particularly fast or slow, a bandwidth tester will let you know if you’re imagining things or not.
The most obvious time to measure your online speed is when you’ve upgraded your Internet connection or changed Internet providers. Tips for tweaking your Internet connection are also available online, and a bandwidth tester will let you know if the tweaks worked.
Before testing your connection, close unnecessary programs, leaving only your essential processes running like firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware. If your computer seems to have slowed down or if you know it has from using a bandwidth tester previously, you could have problems unrelated to your ISP, particularly if it’s a persistent condition.
A slow computer might be hardware-related. When a hard drive becomes too full or when there is insufficient memory, system processes can slow to a crawl. If hardware is not the problem, you could have a spybot, virus, Trojan or rootkit using your computer behind your back, sucking up valuable system resources. Run a deep-scan analysis with an up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware program, and check for rootkits with a rootkit finder. Once the problem is squared away, revisit the bandwidth tester. You should see the benefits expressed in better results.
A bandwidth tester might ask for a little information including your zip code and the type of Internet connection you are using. Knowing your general location can help reduce “hops” between the chosen Web server and your computer, eliminating possible delays that are not accountable to your connection, but to computers that lie between the Web server and your computer. Knowing the type of service you have will allow the site to categorize the results properly, showing how your connection compares to others using the same type of service.