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  1. #1
    iNET Interactive
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    How to measure your true Internet speed




    TOP STORY

    How to measure your true Internet speed


    By Woody Leonhard

    Curious about your Internet speed? Most Internet service providers (ISPs) offer some sort of throughput test tool on their sites — just click, and you'll get a couple of often-impressive numbers. It's in an ISP's interest to provide the best speed numbers possible; your actual throughput is probably something quite different.

    The full text of this column is posted at WindowsSecrets.com/top-story/how-to-measure-your-true-internet-speed/ (opens in a new window/tab).

    Columnists typically cannot reply to comments here, but do incorporate the best tips into future columns.

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  3. #2
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    I think Woody made some calculation errors here. Speed of light is 300.000km/s (roughly). Thats 300km/ms. With an outer span of the earth of around 40.000km, you need 133ms to go completely around. Only problem is, 300.000km/s is only reachable in vacuum. Down here on earth, the speed of light will reach about 200.000km/s in fiber. That's 200km/ms and takes 200ms for a round trip.
    I haven't seen a stretch of 40.000km fiber yet, and any switching equipment in the mix, however fast, will introduce extra latency. In addition, fibers aren't taking the birds path, but "slither" along the ground. 250-300ms is an extremely good result for a roundtrip.

    So a perfect internet connection, takes 200ms for a roundtrip. Real connections, at least 300ms. And thats when everyone on the planet is asleep, or doing things we used to do back 30 years ago.
    Cheers!

  4. #3
    Administrator Woody's Avatar
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    GACK! You're absolutely right. I didn't want to get into a discussion of the speed of light in copper or fiber cable, much less in the atmosphere, but in a vacuum it'd take 134 ms for a circumnavigation. Er, my slide rule slipped...
    Woody

    For Dummies book author, Senior Editor at Windows Secrets Newsletter, Senior Contributing Editor for InfoWorld, and long-suffering Windows victim. Check out the latest at AskWoody.com.

  5. #4
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    Internet speed means nothing

    I remember a few years ago when dial-up was how we got on the internet I had a problem with "internet speed" and called Bell South to send a tech out to check on the problem. He connected his instruments and checked my internet speed and then he checked on a couple of online speed tests and my speed was quite within the advertised range. (Was 600 to 800KB or Kb per second good internet speed then? I forget that number.) BUT! My "data transfer speed" was like 12 to 25 KB/s (or was it Kb/s). The end of that story was that my ISP claimed that their service was normal and you cannot expect an internet download speed to transfer to your computer harddrive at that rate. The point of all of this history is to indicate that your data transfer rate is the only thing that tells you how good your internet connection/service is. BellSouth was delivering to me at the same speed that Verizon was delivering to my computer through my tethered cell phone. As soon as I switched to cable internet with a 1 MB/s (Mb/s) download speed my transfer rate jumped to 300 to 500 KB/s. In the end, internet speed means nothing to how many seconds or minutes it takes to download a given file. Transfer rate is the only measure that has concrete meaning. Why don't authors who report on internet speed include transfer rates with internet speed when they are comparing numbers? If I have a 500 KB/s transfer rate, I can know that a 10 MB file will take 20 seconds plus a few seconds connection time to download. Can you comment on this aspect of "internet speed"?
    Last edited by john3347; 2012-12-13 at 20:55. Reason: Corrected Mb instead of Kb typo error.

  6. #5
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    Sorry for the pedantry but the A in ADSL is for asymmetric rather than asynchronous. Asymmetric = differing upload/download speeds.

    David

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  8. #6
    Gold Lounger Roderunner's Avatar
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    I always thought looking at your router status was the easiest way to find your speeds.

    RR.JPG
    George's PC Specs. / Laptop. Desktop.

  9. #7
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    I've been using testmy.net. (It is often recommended on DSLReports.com.)
    They make a good case for why their tests are different here: http://testmy.net/legit-speed-test.php

    Some fo it may be marketing, but I do know this: I get consistently lower results from this test than from anywhere else. (Also, I get consistent results).

    - Chris
    Last edited by caa100; 2012-12-06 at 07:03.

  10. #8
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    Wink Fiber to the home!

    Years ago about a dozen cities got together and formed a 'fiber to the home' entity. Their philosophy is the city provides pipes for water and sewer, why not a pipe for all communications? After many battles with the local 'copper to the home' telco they just succeeded in building out our city with fiber to your home if you want to sign up. The city owns the fiber and any company can sign up to provide services. The city is not the ISP. UTOPIA is the entity and the city of Centerville is where I call home in Utah.

    I have a single fiber strand that terminates inside my home. It provides full symmetrical 100 meg ethernet! I also cut my phone over to the fiber and have free LD and about every phone feature you can imagine and then some! I also have a block of 16 static IP addresses. The cost of the 100 meg ethernet, phone, and IP addresses is around $88 a month!

    I don't use any of the copper or my local phone company anymore and will never look back. For $300 a month I can get a full 1 gig ethernet both up and down - full speed in both directions.

    With a 100 meg pipe to my house for uploads and downloads, speed is essentially governed by the remote server I'm connecting to. I downloaded over 5 gig of data faster then it took to copy the data from a thumbdrive to a PC! I have empathy for the rest of you with your DSL, cable, and other service providers. As for me - I'll take glass any day!!!

  11. #9
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    What measurement is important?

    Woody Leonhard's column in internet speed is interesting and valid. However, I suspect that he's measuring too many events in one measurement.

    For me, there are only two important speed measurements.
    1. What is my speed (upload and download separately) to my ISP, which is controlled by my hardware, the ISP's modem, and the ISP's lines to my broader internet connection.
    2. The second is the speed with which my ISP contacts the backbone in my area. All else is out of my ISP's control. Yes the other speeds are interesting, and affect me, but I have found great differences in, for example, servers, particularly during busy times.

    To summarize, I'm paying my ISP to connect me to the backbone. Anything from there is my issue. I can choose to have different DNS servers, etc. to optimize my information processing times, but, basically, I can control only these two issues (by changing my hardware, and/or changing my ISP). The rest is only open to praise or complaint.

  12. #10
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    A Better Speed Test

    Woody, you left out a good, non-biased, test set that has existed for some years: Argonne (Illinois) National Laboratory Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT)

    http://ndt.anl.gov:7123/

    Which also has links to other NDTs in the US & Switzerland.

    Yes, it is Java & based on one file up & one file down, but at least it's not run by an ISP that may make the results look more favorable for itself & less so for its competitors. Always found it to be pretty consistent.

    Bill

  13. #11
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    Measuring Internet speed depends on many variables, such as traffic at source and traffic ad destination, so it is difficult to get an accurate figure. With that said, a possible alternative not discussed in Woody's article is to try downloading a fairly large file from a web site that has fast servers. I daily download multimedia files from a commercial company that has its own software including a download manager. My computer has a 15MB/s connection. I normally get anywhere from 1200 KB/s to 1700 KB/s per download. The speed is measured over 10-20 minutes. I have two desktop gadgets which I use as a second source to compare download speed. However, you don't need a commercial source. All you need is a download manager that shows download speed and any site that provides downloads via good servers. I use Speedtest and the results there closely correspond to my download and gadget figures. You can also manually measure download speed, by noting the file size, time used to download the file and dividing the size by the time.

  14. #12
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    Lots of good points here. I'll add mine.

    Years ago, when cable internet was still fairly new and unstable, I would ftp files from my ISP using the command line. I turned on hash marks to see the progress. I could then "show" the cable tech how there were "pauses" during the transfer. So small files transferred quite quickly but large files would incur speed bumps thus bringing down the overall speed. Since this was direct to the ISP it really was what they were delivering to the house. No browser interference either.

    Everyone else is right about the external affects. It doesn't matter what your ISP gives you. If you're going to busy servers somewhere down the line you mileage will vary.

    Ric

  15. #13
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    I concur with the observations that different tests provide different answers. The Ookla test at speedtest.net has been the most consistent for me. It will also provide different results if you choose different servers, so check around a little bit to see which is the fastest. That will be, after, the best test of YOUR downstream bandwidth. Anything less is not measuring YOUR bandwidth, but rather choke points somewhere upstream of your ISP. The Comcast server in Chicago is fast if Chicago has a fast backbone to your city. It easily provides >40Mbps downloads to St. Louis. A cable user in St. Louis reports that the Charter server in Olivette delivered >90Mbps.

    "Accelerators" in browsers appear to be merely caches. They should not affect your measured download speed because the speed tests ignore them. If the caching takes place at your ISP, the bandwidth of the loop from your ISP to you is still the limiting factor. Ditto "multiple streams" -- they still have to share that local loop.

    Some antivirus implementations will affect the apparent bandwidth because they may not release the file back to Windows until it has been scanned. Try testing with A-V turned off to see if that is true in your case. In one case a defective speed test was reporting the speed of the transfer from the A-V program to Windows! Wow, 50Mbps on a 6Mbps DSL line!

    Once you have determined your FASTEST download speed (mine is 5.2Mbps on a 6Mbps-rated DSL line), you may be assured that anything lower in the same time frame is the result of being tested by a slower server, a slower backbone path to your ISP, or a defective test.

    This whole topic points out how deficient the US is in providing broadband to the public. My 5.2Mbps used to be considered fast. Two years ago in a cheap hotel room in Copenhagen, Denmark, I tested the FREE Ethernet and received >7Mbps. At speedtest.net review the speeds reported by users in other countries. You may be ready to emigrate!

  16. #14
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    I've used a variety of the speed test sites, especially when I was on DSL and suffering terrible performance. But as a day-in-day-out measure I find it much more effective to simply (running Windows 7) open Windows Task Manager to the Networking tab*. Right now my local network connection is 100 Mbps, and my internet service is advertised as 12Mbps. That means when the graph approaches 12% I am getting all the performance available. When I stream a basketball game in HD I can see that it runs in short bursts to the limit alternating with intervals of no activity. Downloads by Windows Update pretty much stay right up there near the 12% level. I start Task Manager manually after logging in. I find the Network tab doesn't seem to start tracking until I have opened it the first time. Of course this only shows the activity of my computer, so if the TV is streaming Netflix my performance would take a hit.

    *I don't know if it makes any difference, but I always check the "Show processes from all users" option on the Processes tab.

    RH in CT

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    An alternative option

    Two years ago I came across somewhere that mentioned "Sam Knows" an FCC sponsored program that included free speed monitoring and a free Netgear router. I have had it installed for 2 yrs and every month I get an e mail with graphs of the last months performance.
    I don't have worry about third party ratings as it is continously monitored.

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