September 19, 2021

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How Do I Resolve Inconsistent Download Speeds on My Household Network?

Tech 911Tech 911Do you have a tech problem trying to keep you up at night time? We might like to response it! Email [email protected] with “Tech 911” in the topic line.

It is time to roll up the shirt-sleeves and dive back again into my most loved topic: wireless networking. I understand we defeat this drum a great deal at Lifehacker, but that’s because wifi woes are a really normal supply of stress for readers who really do not be reluctant to give my Tech 911 inbox an earful.

This week, Lifehacker enthusiast Gareth writes:

I am a trainer in a lockdown doing work from property. My individual laptop has these kinds of unbelievably inconsistent speeds I could not use it to instruct. Fortunately get the job done have delivered me with a unique laptop computer which performs good. My laptop computer is quite new and I have in no way had difficulties with wifi prior to with it. My latest package is 125mb download and 10mb upload speeds. But some exams frequently coming in beneath 5mb. On top of this my ps4 is barely usable. Speeds of under 5mb are the norm. Sometimes significantly less than 1mb. I purchased a wifi extender and lan cable and still below 5mb irrespective of as u see in the shots, my cell finding around 100mb in the exact room as the ps4 which was on a lan relationship.

If you have any ideas i would be incredibly joyful to listen to then. I have experimented with transforming the dns to the recommended ones on the web and did port forwarding but it designed no change. The speeds seem to be readily available in the router as other gadgets are fine. I know the ps4 only has 2.4ghz but surely that doesn’t restrict the speeds as dramatically as it is?

It is probably time to go procuring for a new router

I’m going to commence by thanking you for sending alongside images of your networking nightmare, Gareth, which does ensure that your link pace is rubbish on equally your PlayStation 4 and older laptop (< 5Mbps downloads), but great on your phone (~110Mbps downloads). I thought I had a few great troubleshooting ideas in mind until I got to the point in your letter where you share that connecting devices via an Ethernet cable didn’t fix your speeds at all. That complicates things.

In general, there are three basic troubleshooting tips I like to suggest to people when they’re getting inconsistent speeds across their devices:

  • Reboot your router.
  • Update your router’s firmware.
  • Switch to Ethernet where possible, which should improve your connection.

I’m going to assume you already did the first suggestion so try the second, in case that helps address any bugs or other networking quirks. And after that, I might even recommend a general factory reset of your router. While you’ll have to set up your wifi again (which should take all of five minutes to do), this could fix the problem, as if by magic. As for the last suggestion, I’m also assuming you’re plugging your laptop directly into one of your router’s Ethernet ports (not your wifi extender’s, if applicable), and that you using a relatively modern Ethernet cable to do it (Cat 5E or Cat 6). Have you tried using a different Ethernet cable, just in case?

It really is strange that your PlayStation 4 is struggling so much on an Ethernet connection, and I’m assuming you’d see the same results if you connected your old laptop directly to the router via Ethernet. If you do get faster speeds, try connecting back to your PlayStation 4 if you’re still stuck with slower speeds, try connecting with your new laptop, et cetera. Basically, the goal here is to ascertain whether there’s something wrong with your router (which is where I’m thinking the problem lies) or if it’s your devices. While I’d normally expect a messed-up router to give bad performance for all connected devices, it’s possible that there are some variables that are making this hard to discern.

For example, it’s possible that your newer laptop is connecting over your router’s 5Ghz band, and somehow that’s giving you a solid connection, whereas your older laptop is only connecting via 2.4GHz and messing everything up. The Ethernet issue is perplexing, but it’s possible you might see a normal performance if you use a different Ethernet cable, as mentioned, or test out different Ethernet ports on your router itself.

If your “router” is actually the router/modem that your ISP has given you, I think now’s as good a time as any to call them up and ask for a replacement (or an upgrade). If they balk, or you don’t want to deal with it, ask if there are any firmware updates your devices needs that they can send your way. (Or unplug your cable modem, wait a few minutes, and plug it back in to see if that forces any updates.)

You can also try buying your own router—I recommend something cheap and simple, given your speeds—and setting your cable modem/router into bridge mode. Basically, you want to turn it into a “dumb” cable modem and let your new router do all the heavy lifting.

If you already have this kind of a setup, I think you’re at the point of troubleshooting where it’s worth exploring a new router. Again, go for something speedy and simple, like the $60 TP-Link Archer A7, and swap it with whatever you’re currently using. That should fix your issues completely—and you probably won’t even need your wireless extender to get a decent signal throughout your house.

Generally speaking, I don’t like using wireless extenders if I can avoid them. They’ll do a number on your speeds if you aren’t precise about where you’ve placed them (around halfway between where your router is and where your router’s coverage terminates), and if the extenders themselves don’t support a dedicated backhaul connection to your router. You’ll want one that either uses 5Ghz to connect to your router and outputs a 2.4GHz network, or one that uses 2.4GHz to connect to your router and outputs a 5GHz network. If your extender is set to transmit to your devices and to your router on the same band, you’ll cut your maximum potential speeds in half—at minimum.

I applaud the steps you’ve taken to troubleshoot your router so far—switching to a faster DNS is a great, general thing you can do in any situation. However, you don’t need to mess with port forwarding, as that doesn’t have any impact on your download/upload speeds, but more so your overall connection (if you’re attempting to entry an on the web gaming services, for instance).

My only other thought, if you seriously want to adhere with this router, is to break up your wifi into individual networks for the 2.4GHz and 5Ghz bands. That could at minimum let you to squeak by in the interim with units that can accessibility what ever band provides you fair outcomes (if any). However, this is genuinely just a band-support. If all the things I have suggested doesn’t function, I actually believe it’s time to go purchasing for a new router. And that’s typical! Routers mess up for the weirdest reasons.


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