I just upgraded my internet service from 1.5 mbps to 7.0 mbps. I
called tech support because I felt my computer is still running slow.
The tech support says I may need a get new computer to be compatible
with the 7.0 mbps.
I purchased my computer in July 2004. How often should one buy a new
I heard that company A’s service is faster than company B’s. What do
you think about that?
With all due respect to tech support – they’re wrong.
Your four year old computer should be able to keep up just fine with
a 7 megabit connection. Heck, 10 or 15 years ago it wasn’t uncommon for
slower computers to run on a faster 10 megabit Ethernet connection without
Let’s look at what might really be happening.
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Start by running a speed test. I tend to use the test out at
SpeakEasy, but there are
other suitable alternatives as well.
Remember that due to overhead and other small issues, you’ll
never actually get your fully rated speed. For example, my
connection, which is 1.544 megabits up and down, tests out at 1.455
down and 1.450 up. 95% of rated speed is acceptable – particularly when
I have seven other computers that might have been doing small things on
the internet at the same time.
And that brings us to the first point: for an accurate reading you
should turn off everything that uses your internet connection.
Disconnect other computers, if you can, turn off services that might
use the ‘net (I had to turn off the streaming audio I was playing, for
example), and basically try and set things up so that the speed test
is the only thing accessing the network.
issues, you’ll never actually get your fully rated speed.”
(As an aside, I’ve also found that for some reason some versions of
FireFox reported incorrect results for upload tests, and Internet
Explorer was more accurate. This may have been fixed, as the numbers I
list above are using FireFox 3, but it’s something to be aware of if
you’re not getting the numbers you think you should.)
If your download speed isn’t what you expect (say less than 1.3-1.4
mbps for your 1.5 connection or less than 6.4-6.6 for your 7 mbps
connection), and you’re positive that there’s absolutely no other
network activity on your network and/or internet connection, then the
next place to look before blaming the ISP is your computer.
And in your case it’s not your computer’s age we’ll care about.
The issue is frequently that there’s simply too much other “stuff”
running on your machine. That can easily impact your computers ability
to “keep up” with faster internet speeds. Certainly for the test you
should make sure to exit all other programs, turn off any unnecessary
services and just generally try to ensure that aside from required
software the browser running the test is the only software running on
Now this leads to a really common question: What’s
the minimum set of processes needed to run Windows XP? Sadly
there’s no easy answer, since it depends on the machine, the software
you use, the hardware you have installed, and much more. If you suspect
that there’s too much, only some research on what’s running on your
machine can lead you to some safe choices.
Once you know there’s no network activity, and your machine is doing
nothing but the test, it’s time to move on to other things. If you use
a router your ISP will of course tell you to remove that from the
equation by connecting a single computer directly to your internet
connection (turn on your firewall first!). That’s certainly something
worth doing once to rule out a router problem. (On successive calls to
my former ISP diagnosing a problem they had me do this – every – single
– time. That’s why they’re my former ISP.)
If, at this point, with a clean machine, on a clean local network
(or no local network at all, by connecting directly) you’re still not
getting the speeds you expect, it’s time to complain to your ISP.
But, in all honesty, most apparent speed issues are related to other
machines on your local network trying to use the internet as the same
time as you, or by other software on your machine impacting the
software you’re using from reacting fast enough to network traffic.
And yes, that’s where a new machine might help – but it’s overkill.
You’re better off spending a little time cleaning up the clutter on
your own machine.
There’s one last thing we do need to mention: the ability of your
ISP to deliver on its bandwidth promise.
Regardless of how you connect to your ISP, at some point you share
your ISP’s upstream connection to the internet with some or all of your
ISP’s other customers. In the case of cable internet connections, you
may be sharing with your physical neighbors as soon as the connection
leaves your house. In the case of DSL, you may be sharing with other
customers that happen to land on the same networking equipment at the
But in any case, you’re sharing.
And if all those other customers happen to all start using the
internet heavily at the same time that can impact your ISP’s ability to
deliver the bandwidth they promise. The 7 mbps connection is probably
sold as your “maximum” bandwidth, but your actual available speed could
be less due to many other factors you don’t control. Like your ISP’s
capacity, and how quickly that capacity is impacted by other
How much capacity do they have? How many other customers will it
take to impact you? There’s no way to know.
But that’s the kind of thing (along with customer service) that can
make ISP A better or worse than ISP B. And even that can vary from
location to location, or even neighborhood to neighborhood.