The Internet, rather like many of the world's large and wonderful cities, is a wonderful place to spend time in -- unless you're stuck in traffic. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to stop your browsing experience becoming slower than a hedgehog wading through treacle.
To start off, it helps to understand just what slows you down in the first place. There is a misconception that your Internet connection needs oodles of megabits per second (Mbps) to browse websites quickly. It doesn't -- despite modern websites being more complex than ever, with Flash, HTML5 and other plug-ins generally increasing site loading times, a downstream connection speed of 1-2Mbps is sufficient for smooth, quick browsing.
More important is the quality and stability of your connection. It's possible for your router to lose connection to your ISP (known as packet loss) many times in a minute without you even noticing. You don't see the disconnection because the router reconnects in time to prevent a 'page not found' error -- a 404. It just takes much longer to load the page.
Using the video above and the guide below, learn how to run a quick stability check, before finding the quickest DNS servers with a program called namebench.
Checking the stability of your connection
Connecting your computer to your router via an Ethernet cable will rule out any inconsistencies you may face being on a wireless connection. If you want to use Wi-Fi, it's worth checking this guide first to make sure you're on the best possible frequency.
1. Click on Start and type 'CMD' (without the apostrophes) into the search bar. Click on the CMD icon in the programs list. Type in the black box 'ping –t google.co.uk' and hit enter. This will run a continuous ping to Google and back. Any latency (shown next to time=) averaging less than 30ms is generally regarded as a quality connection. When looking for a stable connection, we want to see something like this, with no time outs between the pings.
2. This is what you don't want to see. 'Request timed out' means something is interrupting the communication between your router and Google -- it could be disconnections on your line. If you get this, give your ISP's technical helpdesk a call and ask them to check the line for disconnections -- they could be slowing down your Internet speed considerably.
Mac OS X
1. Go into Applications > Utilities > Network Utility. Click on Ping and type google.co.uk under 'Enter the network address to ping'. Keep the radio button on 'Send an unlimited number of pings' and click Ping. This is an example of a stable connection:
2. Again, this is an example of possible disconnections. If you get this on your Mac it would be worth calling your ISP's technical help desk to check it out.
Using namebench to find your fastest DNS server
When you go on the Internet, by default, your computer will use a set of Domain Name Server (DNS) records to connect to the Internet. Sometimes they're the fastest ones available, but often they aren't. We're going to use the free program namebench to search for the quickest DNS records available -- click here for Windows and here for the Mac version.
1. Run namebench and make sure everything is set to the ones shown in the picture below, bar the Query Data Source option -- you can switch that to the browser of your choice. Click Start Benchmark. The benchmark needs to run an initial check before searching for servers, so it's normal for the process to take at least a couple of minutes.
2. When the benchmark finishes, you'll be presented with a results screen in your browser. If it tells you that you already have the fastest DNS servers, you can either try running the benchmark again (just to make sure) or change the browser -- one DNS isn't necessarily the fastest for all browsers. If the benchmark reports that it's found a faster set of DNS servers you should see something like the following picture. Make a note of the Primary and Secondary servers.
Changing your DNS servers on Windows
1. If you're using Windows, click on Start, type Network into the search box and click on Network at the top of the window under Programs. Click Network and Sharing Center. Click Change adapter settings on the left-hand side. If you access the Internet by plugging an Ethernet cable from your router into your computer, right click on Local Area Connection and left click on Properties. If you're on a wireless connection, right click on the Wireless Network Connection icon and left click Properties.
2. Click on Internet Protocol Version 4 and click on Properties.
3. In the lower half of the screen, put the radio button into Use the following DNS server addresses. Enter the figures that you noted down earlier from the namebench benchmark (not necessarily the ones in the picture below). Click OK. Give your browser a test drive -- you should notice the difference immediately, although this will vary in accordance to how much 'faster' the benchmark DNS servers were.
Changing your DNS servers on a Mac
1. Click on the Apple logo on your Mac's menu bar and click on System Preferences. Click Network. Click on the network adaptor that your computer connects to the Internet with in the left hand menu and then click Advanced in the bottom right hand corner.
2. Click on DNS, click on one of the numbers under DNS Servers on the left hand side of the window and then click on the minus symbol to the left of 'Ipv4 or Ipv6 addresses'. That will get rid of the DNS server -- repeat the action to get rid of the other one. Click on the plus symbol next to the minus one and enter the Primary DNS number that you noted down earlier. Click on the plus symbol again and enter the Secondary DNS number that you also noted down earlier. Click OK.
3. Give your browser a test drive and see if you can notice the difference.
Which browser is the quickest?
A few years ago, we gave a few browsers a test drive and found Google's Chrome browser to be the quickest. If you Google 'What is the quickest browser?' the general consensus on the Internet is that Chrome is still generally the best for speed overall.
It's not always the case though -- legitreviews.com conducted several tests with a range of browsers back in May, and found different browsers rendered different aspects of the web quicker than others. If you're not keen on Chrome, most of them are free, so see what the other browsers have to offer. Safari, naturally, looks great on a Mac. Firefox has a huge range of plug-ins and a neat sidebar for bookmarks and Opera ranks among the best-looking browsers for Windows.