What to Do When Your Home Internet Connection Underperforms

Tips for solving slow internet connections at home

close up of a Router with a plant on top of it
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Broadband router configuration errors, wireless interference, or any of several other technical problems will 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.

Check Your Router Settings

Example - Router Administrative Console Home Page - Linksys WRK54G

 

Jason Gillikin

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 your router will lead 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 your router's configuration so that you can undo them later if necessary.

Avoid Wireless Signal Interference

Screenshots of iOS and Android Wi-Fi strength settings
Mobile devices will show you signal strength, too.

 

Jason Gillikin

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 even 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.

Large, dense objects (e.g., fireplaces) block Wi-Fi signals more effectively than normal walls. Even a device positioned very close to a router, if it's blocked line-of-sight by such a barrier, won't successfully connect.

Beware of Worms & Other Malware

Jotti's Malware Scan - Free Online Virus Scanner
Jotti's Malware Scan. © Jotti

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 begin spontaneously generating network traffic without your knowledge, causing your internet connection to appear slow. Keep up-to-date anti-virus software running to catch and remove worms and malware from your devices.

Stop Background Programs That Hog Bandwidth

Photo of monitor while downloading a file from the 'Internet to My Computer'. Visible RGB cells, custom screen written in VB.

 

spxChrome/Getty Images

Some software applications 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 are not the kind that a person wants to remove from a device normally. Games and programs that work with videos, in particular, require significant bandwidth and therefore limit bandwidth for other foreground apps. It's easy to forget these applications are running. Check your computers for any programs that are running in the background when you troubleshoot a slow network.

Many games automatically run downloaders that patch the game without additional intervention or approval by you. If your download speed suddenly seems slow, verify that your favorite game isn't downloading a few gigabytes of patch files.

Make Sure Your Router & Other Network Equipment Is Working

Teenage girl adjusting equipment mounted on wall at home

 

Maskot/Getty Images 

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 themselves 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.

Run a Speed Test

screenshot of a CNET Bandwidth Meter Online Speed Test
CNET Bandwidth Meter Online Speed Test.

 

Jason Gillikin

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 mushy, it's likely that the problem resides 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, your computer may struggle to maintain optimal performance. Network slowdowns follow — not because the network is problematic, but because your computer is overtaxed.

In Windows 10, right-click the Start button and select Task Manager. Select the Performance tab. You'll be able to check relative resource utilization to determine whether some other component might be adversely affecting network performance.

You can get similar results by running the top command on a Linux computer or by opening the Activity Monitor on a Mac.

Call Your Internet Service Provider

Technician using digital tablet in server room
Getty Images/Erik Isakson/Blend Images

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 connection offer different trade-offs. For example, a DSL connection will sometimes experience slowdowns during peak evening-and-weekend periods, because many connected households are using the same access point in your neighborhood. If you see similar slowdowns or errors at peak traffic times, and you're on DSL, the problem may have nothing to do with your computer, network, or configuration.