What to Do When Your Home Internet Connection Underperforms

Tips for solving slow internet connections at home

Broadband router configuration errors, wireless interference, or any of several other technical problems adversely affect the speed and stability of your internet connection. Diagnose and fix the causes of your slow internet connection on your own, before you reach out for potentially expensive tech support.

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Stop Background Programs That Hog Bandwidth

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Some software applications, like Windows Update and other software updaters, run background processes that are hidden behind other apps or minimized to the system tray, where they quietly consume network resources. Unlike worms, these applications are designed to do useful work and should not be removed from the device.

Games and other programs that work with video require significant bandwidth and therefore, when running, will limit bandwidth that's available for other apps. It's easy to forget that things like these are running. Check your computer for background network activity as you troubleshoot the slow network.

But don't forget other network activity that could be impacting overall bandwidth. Even if they're not communicating directly with each other, things like a smart TV streaming movies, a camera constantly relaying HD video, and smart speakers playing music, can make everything on the network slow.

Many games automatically run downloaders that patch the game without additional intervention or approval by you. If your download speed suddenly seems slow, find out if your favorite game is downloading a few gigabytes of patch files.

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Avoid Signal Interference That Slows Your Internet Speed

Screenshots of Android operating system showing network connections and signal strength.

Wi-Fi and other types of wireless connections often perform poorly because of signal interference, which requires computers to continually resend messages to overcome signal overlap.

Household appliances and your neighbors' wireless networks can interfere with your computers. Reposition your router for better performance and change your Wi-Fi channel number. In general, the closer your device is to the router, the better the Wi-Fi connection.

To confirm if wireless interference is the reason for the slow internet connection, connect a computer to Wi-Fi to measure how well it performs. Then, connect the same computer to the wired network and note any changes in performance.

If the cable allows for a better connection, then the problem could lie in the wireless connection. Instead of moving the router, you could opt for a mesh network setup or a signal repeater.

Large, dense objects such as fireplaces block Wi-Fi signals more than walls. A device that is close to a router, but blocked by a barrier, may not successfully connect.

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Make Sure Your Router & Other Network Equipment Is Working

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When routers, modems, or cables malfunction, they don't properly support network traffic at full speeds. Certain technical glitches in network equipment negatively affect performance even though connections can still be made.

To troubleshoot potentially faulty equipment, temporarily rearrange and reconfigure your gear while experimenting with different configurations. Systematically try bypassing the router, swapping cables, and testing with multiple devices to isolate the slow performance to a specific component of the system. Then, decide if it can be upgraded, repaired, or replaced.

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Beware of Worms & Other Malware

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An internet worm is a malicious software program that spreads from device to device through computer networks. If any of your computers become infected by an internet worm or other malware, they may spontaneously generate network traffic without your knowledge, and cause your internet connection to appear slow.

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Check Your Router Settings to Speed Up Your Connection

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As the centerpiece of a network, a broadband router can be responsible for slow internet connections if it is configured improperly. For example, improperly setting the MTU of a router leads to performance problems if it's set too high or too low.

Ensure your router's settings remain consistent with the manufacturer's documentation and your internet service provider's recommendations.

Record any changes you make to the router's configuration so you can undo them later if necessary.

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Check Whether Your Network Speed Is Slow

screenshot of a CNET Bandwidth Meter Online Speed Test

Occasionally run speed tests to check the quality of your internet connection. These tests reveal whether your local computer's outbound connection is impaired. If you get decent throughput on a speed test but your computer's connection still seems slow, the problem may reside in your computer (e.g., active download sessions or you've maximized memory, disk, or CPU utilization on your device).

If your computer runs above 80 percent consistent utilization for system memory, disk input/output, or CPU cycling, the computer may struggle to maintain optimal performance. Network slowdowns follow — not because the network is problematic, but because the computer is overtaxed.

To check relative resource utilization to determine whether another component is affecting network performance in Windows 10, right-click the Start button, select Task Manager, and choose Performance. On a Linux computer, use the top command. On a Mac, open the Activity Monitor.

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Call Your Internet Service Provider

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Internet speed ultimately depends on the service provider. Your ISP may change its network configuration or suffer technical difficulties that inadvertently cause your internet connection to run slowly. ISPs may also intentionally install filters or controls on the network that lower your network performance.

Don't hesitate to contact your service provider if you suspect it is responsible for your slow internet connection.

Different types of internet connections offer different trade-offs. If you have a DSL connection and experience slowdowns during peak evening-and-weekend periods, it may be that many connected households are using the same access point in your neighborhood.