Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Will buying a new modem/router increase my internet speed?

Question: I run a laptop with Vista SP2, Home Premium, with IE 9 on a wireless home network. I contract with my ISP for a DSL throughput of 1.2 to 1.5 megabits per second. We live in a rural area and that’s the fastest service available. Recently, using various speed tests, my speed has been falling below 1.2 megabits for considerable periods of time.

Monitoring my modem/router, the connect speed that it displays varies: 640/640, 1024/640, 1596/800. In addressing my slow speeds, my ISP insists that my three-year old modem/router needs replacement. I’m willing to do it if that will correct the problem, but my thinking is there’s nothing wrong with my existing modem/router. Aren’t the connection speeds that it displays a result of the line configuration settings originating with my ISP? Am I going to the expense of buying a newer modem/router they recommend only to end up with the situation unchanged?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to confirm what is happening. It could be the router, the line configuration, or other things like wire deterioration (which actually happened to me).

Let’s begin by looking at a few things.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Minimize your connections

When running a speed test, try to connect to only one computer. For instance, if you have a home network of multiple computers, disconnect all of them except the computer that you’re testing.

That can be frustrating. In my case, I have many devices connect to my line. But if you contact your ISP about the problem, the first thing that they’ll ask you to do is disconnect everything and only connect a single computer. That’s a pain, but it can be an important step in diagnosing the problem.

You should also shut down as much software on that computer as you can. Software can use resources on the computer, possibly including the internet, during your test which can adversely impact the test results.

Router BacksideConnect directly to the modem

For anyone whose modems are separate devices from routers (and my guess is that’s not your scenario, but just in case), turn on the firewall and connect your computer directly to the modem.

In other words, take the router out of the equation. That way, whatever speed you get on this test is completely about your computer’s ability to connect only through the modem and on to the line upstream. (Note that you need to reboot the computer to connect to this reconfiguration.)

Could it be line configuration?

It is possible that it is a line configuration issue, but that’s unlikely in my opinion. They don’t change line configurations for the fun of it. They usually have reasons and they only set up the configuration of your line when your device is initially connected.

DSL is a signal that accompanies your telephone line. In other words, it’s actually placed on the same copper wires that come into your house to deliver your land-line phone. If you’ve ever picked up the phone, dialed a single digit, and just listened to the background noise, the sounds (like the static and pops that you hear) can actually impact the DSL signal if they’re loud enough.

I had this experience myself some years ago. Somewhere along the line, the underground wiring casing that leads to my house cracked and some moisture got into it. That was enough to cause electrical interference and the DSL speeds plummeted.

The telephone company came out. They diagnosed the lines and switched to a different pair of copper wires that were not cracked and the DSL speeds picked up instantly.

Try the new modem

If you can’t determine what’s wrong with your computer after running some of these basic diagnoses on your problem, try a new modem. See if you can work out a deal with the ISP. If the results are better, you’ll take the modem. If they aren’t, ask your ISP if they’ll refund it. I don’t know if they’ll go for it, but it’s worth a try.

The realities of line speed

Let me close with one last clarification on this concept of line speed. When you run something like say a 1.5 megabits per second line, your speed test takes overhead into account.

Nobody gets a full 1.5 megabits out of a 1.5 megabit line. If you’re getting 1.2 or 1.3, I wouldn’t be looking for problems at that point.

On the other hand, if you’re getting 640 kilobits (i.e. 0.640 megabits) at times, then you need to diagnose the problem.

Just know that the maximum speeds are usually either theoretical maximums (that are never encountered) or actual maximums released by the ISP that don’t take into account overhead on the line.

Practical speeds are usually somewhat less than the published speed.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

7 comments on “Will buying a new modem/router increase my internet speed?”

  1. I asked why I couldn’t open my hotmail email letters and received an answer about reasons for internet speed,so still don’t have an answer.Thanks.

    • But David… maybe you can’t open the Hotmail because your internet speed is too slow. Everything that happens between your computer and the Hotmail servers happens online… over your internet connection.

  2. The time of the day is also critical. During the day I get over 5 megabits /second.
    At night when all the locals are on line it often drops down to 1 megabit /second or even less.

  3. Not always is it so easy to connect the computer directly to the modem.
    The modem may have to be unbridged, and the ISP username and password put into the modem or set up on the computer

  4. Why is it doing this? I have the same plan and company as my neighbor, yet while he gets at least 20 Mps daily, I only get 1 mps. I’ve checked the modem, the router, and they’ve sent a technician to my house as well.

  5. I am using Linksys ea7500 router, I also suffered from this in day time speed was low but in the night it will reach to double or maybe triple from expecting.

    • That seems to imply that the problem isn’t on your end. Internet usage is higher during the day when businesses are using the Internet.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.