5 Rules for a More Accurate Internet Speed Test

Follow These Tips for an Internet Speed Test You Can Rely On

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Most of us are familiar with those popular Internet speed test services out there.

You've probably seen some of these sites before, like Speedtest.net, Speakeasy, etc.

What these sites do is let you test your upload and download bandwidth, giving you some idea about the quality of your connection to the Internet... but how accurate are they, really?

Sadly, they're often not at all accurate. Sometimes an Internet speed test isn't accurate because the method the service uses isn't great, but often times it's because you haven't done things on your end to make sure the numbers aren't skewed.

Below are the 5 things you should do to make sure the test of your Internet speed is as accurate as possible:

Important: Please read through my How to Test Your Internet Speed tutorial if you haven't already. Internet speed test sites are often great but aren't always the best way to test your bandwidth.

Always Restart Your Modem & Router

Yes, I know, restarting is the standard first step advice for just about every tech problem out there, but it's also a great proactive step to take as well, especially with routers and high-speed digital modems.

The modem and router that work together to give your computers and other devices access to the Internet is, itself, a tiny computer. A tiny computer with several really big jobs, like properly navigating all sorts of traffic around your connected home.

Just like your computer or smartphone, various things keep it from working quite as well over time.

With modems and routers, those issues sometimes manifest as sluggish web browsing and movie-streaming.

Since we're after a really accurate Internet speed test, and restarting your modem and router often helps return them both to full working status, doing just that makes a lot of sense.

See How to Properly Restart a Router & Modem for the right way to do this.

(Yes, there is a wrong way!)

Don't Use the Internet for Anything Else

While you probably already thought of this one, it's maybe the most important rule to remember when testing your Internet speed: don't use the Internet while you're testing it!

Obviously, this means that you shouldn't have a dozen other windows open on your computer, but be sure to check on other things that you might take for granted that use the Internet a lot.

A few things that come to mind include streaming music services that run in the background, patches downloading via Windows Update, Netflix streaming on a TV in another room, etc.

Don't forget mobile devices, too. Most smartphones auto-connect to your wireless network when they're within range so turning on airplane mode is probably a smart idea during your test... assuming you're not testing from your phone, of course.

If you're not sure if something might be using the Internet, turning it off is a safe bet during your test.

Always Restart Your Computer or Device Before Testing

I know... here I go again with the restarting stuff, but restarting really does help out a lot.

Yes, just like with the router and modem, restarting the computer (or smartphone, etc.) that you're testing your Internet from is a very easy thing to do that might have a real impact on the accuracy of your Internet test.

See my How to Restart a Windows Computer tutorial if you're one of those power-button-off folks (yeah... don't do that).

It might seem strange to restart your device when what you're testing is the Internet connection, but parts of the test rely on your hardware to work properly.

Don't Forget to Clear Your Browser's Cache

On that note, another smart thing to do prior to testing your Internet speed is to clear your browser's cache. You should do this before each subsequent test, assuming you plan on testing several times in a row.

Most Internet speed tests work by downloading and uploading one or more files of specific sizes and then using the time those files take to do that to calculate your Internet speed.

If you're testing several times in a row, test results after the initial test may be impacted by the fact that those files already exist on your computer (i.e. they're cached). A good Internet speed test should compensate for that but you'd be surprised how often I see issues because they don't.

See How Do I Clear My Browser's Cache? if you're not sure how to do that in whatever browser you're using to test from.

Note: While probably obvious, you can skip this step if you're using an app to test Internet speed or are some other non-browser method.

Choose an HTML5 Internet Speed Test Instead

Last, but certainly not least, I highly recommend that you test your bandwidth with an HTML5 based test, not a Flash based one.

SpeedOf.Me, TestMy.net, and Bandwidth Place are all HTML5 based Internet speed tests that I've looked closely at and are happy to recommend.

It's estimated that Flash-based tests, like those from the very popular Speedtest.net, Speakeasy, as well as most ISP-hosted tests, have to make adjustments, by as much as 40%, to compensate for the fact that their tests use Flash!

See my HTML5 vs Flash Internet Speed Tests: Which is Better? for a lot more on this topic.

Remember That No Speed Test is Perfect

Minimizing the "noise" during an Internet speed test, which is what the several tips above help you do, certainly contributes to a more accurate speed test result.

Keep in mind, however, that all you're testing with an Internet speed test is how well your current connection works between your computer or device and the testing server itself.

While this is great for a general idea of how fast (or slow) your Internet connection is, it doesn't necessarily mean that this is the bandwidth you should always expect between you and anywhere else.