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Helping users optimize their Internet connection speed

With users becoming more reliant on a speedy Internet connection, including file downloads and e-mail attachments, it might be worthwhile to test their connection speed and make upgrades accordingly.

After a recent network infrastructure upgrade (router and switches), I was pleasantly surprised to see an increase in my Internet connection speed — especially the download speed — on one of my file servers. According to a test I performed at www.speedtest.net, I increased the download speed almost four times, going from about 2,650 kbps to almost 10,000. I also realized an increase in speed on my own computer as well, and although it wasn't as drastic, it was quite significant and very noticeable.

Realizing that any number of factors could affect a user's Internet connection speed and knowing that the slowest link in the connection chain would ultimately determine the speed, I decided to do some random tests on about a dozen of my computers (well, my users' computers) to compare the results. The range of speed was both very revealing and, in a way, kind of confusing.

I know that components like the network interface card, network cable, and such, would definitely influence the speed; and I suspected that processor speed, memory, and other factors would probably have an effect as well. And, of course, the number of people using up available bandwidth (both inside and outside the office) would have an effect. But my mixed results made me wonder about all the different factors. I access the Internet by way of Comcast Broadband, so any download speed below the 9,000 to 10,000 kbps range would have to be attributed to something inside my own network, at least to the largest degree. I tested this theory by plugging directly in to the modem with a couple of different computers, and both were faster as a result.

The upload speed on these dozen computers was pretty consistent, ranging from 2,182 to 2,717 kbps, but with one exception. A Windows 2000 Server that's dangerously low on available disk space clocked in at only 1,041 kbps. That computer also recorded the slowest download speed of only 4,670 kbps. What I take from this is that hard disk space is definitely a factor. Two other Windows 2000 Servers were measured at speeds of 7,800 and 8,700. That's not too bad, and I would have thought that my Vista machines with Quad Core processors, loads of memory, and lots of available hard drive space would be among the fastest, but that wasn't the case at all. Those recorded speeds of between 5,400 and 8,500 kbps. The fastest computer was a Vista machine with only a P4 3.0 GHz processor. It clocked a download speed of almost 9,400 kbps. And one of my old PIIIs even rated higher than many of my Vista Quad Cores, scoring a download speed of 6,700 kbps.

After I return from my three-day vacation (five days counting the weekend), I might do some more testing, eliminating links along the way. Taking a computer that scored only 5,400 kbps, for example, and plugging it directly in to the modem, should be revealing. Anyway, even after the latest round of upgrading some of my network infrastructure, a few more upgrades might be in order. If I can significantly improve my users' connection speed, I'll post an update.

Do you often — or have you ever — tested your users' Internet connection speed? Does it vary significantly between users? Give www.speedtest.net a try, and share your results. Do you have any other tips for checking such things?

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