Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Having multiple websites open should have no impact on your internet bandwidth usage, unless those sites are actively uploading or downloading data.

My brother complains to my dad that his video games are slow because I have tabs open on my browser (formerly, Internet Explorer, now Firefox 4) and I am "chewing up the bandwidth". Usually, one is Facebook and others are miscellaneous blogs. I am not the most computer-savvy person, but I know from computer-savvy friends that bandwidth doesn't work that way. How can I explain to my dad that that's not how bandwidth works and therefore, I don't have to shut down tabs?

Usually, that's not how bandwidth works. I'll certainly agree that it's extremely unlikely that tabs in your browser have anything to do with your brother's video game speed.

But (and there's always a but), there are scenarios where what you're doing in your browser may have an impact.

It's more likely that other things are happening on your system or your network.

Most Web Pages and Bandwidth

Bandwidth is all about data transfer. Your internet connection can only transmit data at a certain rate, so if you're doing something, like playing a game, which requires continuous data transfer, other things which are also transferring data at the same time might impact it.

For the most part, once a web page has been shown in your browser, there's no more downloading going on. There are no file transfers, no ongoing internet activity - the page is just sitting there in your browser looking pretty, waiting for you to do something with it.

"... those multiple tabs of web pages aren't likely to be impacting anyone's gaming experience."

The act of browsing to a page and causing it to be displayed causes internet activity, but once it's displayed, that's over.

So, no, those multiple tabs of web pages aren't likely to be impacting anyone's gaming experience.

Some Web Pages and Bandwidth

Some web pages actually do maintain some small amount of data transfer while they're sitting there "doing nothing".

Facebook is actually a good example. Every so often, the web page re-connects to Facebook and looks for updates to whatever it is that you're displaying. It may then download updates to your wall, or just update the unread message count icon. Either way, the web page in the browser on your computer had to talk to the mothership - facebook.com - to ask it if there were any updates and get them if there were.

Other sites, mostly feature-laden sites and services, like Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook, Twitter, and others, will all do things like this to some degree.

And to be clear, it's a very small amount of bandwidth in comparison and it's not going to impact anyone's gaming experience.

Obvious Web Pages and Bandwidth

You probably already realize this, but if the tabs that you have open are all downloading files, or if you are viewing YouTube videos or streaming online video from sites like Hulu or Netflix, then yes, those are continuous uses of enough bandwidth that they may very well impact other users on your network.

Naturally, if you're playing an online game at the same time, that would also have an impact.

But these are obvious: they're transferring large amounts of data continuously.

What Else Might Impact Others

The trick, the key, to understanding what might impact others on your network, like your brother playing an online game, is that the impact must be an ongoing data transfer of some sort.

As we've seen, just having a lot of browser tabs open doesn't do that.

But other things might.

What tends to impact me the most often is Windows Update.

I have several computers that are all set to automatically download updates when they become available. That typically qualifies as a "large ongoing data transfer", and I've seen it impact other things that I'm doing. (Same for my Mac and Linux machines that also have an automatic update facility enabled.)

I'm certainly not saying that what your brother is experiencing is due to Windows Update (which could be his machine or yours), but simply use that as an example that other things which you might not be aware of could be using bandwidth that you hadn't expected.

And yes, that could slow a game down.

Article C4805 - April 28, 2011 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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12 Comments
Jeff
April 28, 2011 6:54 PM

On a sort of related note: Do flash videos have memory leaks? I've noticed that if I watch a youtube (or other video), things are OK. Then I click on next video, or somehow watch another video in the same tab, and my machine slows down a bit. By the third video, my PC is halting. If I watch a fourth video without restarting the browser (whichever browser I'm using: Chrome, IE, or FF), I might as well have a hung PC.

I have not methodically tested this out to be sure that's what's causing my PC to momentarily halt all the time, and I do keep many, many tabs open all the time.

The videos do not, but it's certainly possible that the flash player could. Fire up process explorer and watch memory usage over a few videos.

Leo
01-May-2011
Ken B
April 29, 2011 10:07 AM

Jeff,

Yes, all software is susceptible to memory leaks. And, with browsers including plugins from multiple sources, the odds increase that _some_ plugin will have a leak. (Some years back, the browser I was using at the time had some memory leak that caused it to "grow" by a few K every few seconds. Not usually a big deal, but since my machine would be up for days at a time, I actually had it crash my system more than once, when it grew to 2GB.) Whether or not the Flash plugin has any, I can't say for sure.

I can tell you that even today, with FireFox 4.0, it appears that something has a memory leak. After running for a few days, Process Explorer (www.sysinternals.com) will show that FireFox's "virtual size" may grow to over 1.5GB. Exiting and restarting (including restoring all open tabs) will show it back down to "only" a few hundred MB. (Which will, of course, grow over time.) I see similar results in Safari 5.

Note, too, that Flash is used all over the place. Many banner ads are Flash-based. Even my kids' middle-school website uses Flash to put "cute" little animations om the page. In fact, my daughter's teacher's homework page has three(!) Flash animations running on it. I don't know how the plugin handles having possibly dozens of references across many tabs.

Finally, note that there is a Safari extension "ClickToFlash" which disables all Flash on a page until you actually click on it, or whitelist the page/site. It's a real timesaver for me. I see similar extensions available for FireFox (such as "Flashblock"), though I haven't used any of them.

KC
May 2, 2011 8:27 PM

Thank you! That helps a lot. Also, if Facebook is up, will that likely affect anyone else or is it unlikely? From the information given, it sounds like it would not but that is the usual "it's chewing bandwidth" argument, so it would be helpful to have a definite "probably not" or "it's semi-probable."

And thank you so much for answering my question.

Probably not. Smile
Leo
03-May-2011

Alex Dow
May 3, 2011 9:07 AM

Have you tried switching your own PC OFF and also disconnecting it physically and totally from the Internet (including any WiFi and similar connections, then have your brother run his games.

If as is likely, his PC is still slow, then the problem is with his PC or the Internet connection or BOTH.

Try switching your Router OFF for at least 60 seconds then switch ON, waiting five to ten minutes for it to sysnchronise.

Have you checked the working speed of your Internet connection, with each PC separately and simultaneously?

Games, video and other detailed, rapidly-changing graphics are very demanding on all parts of the extended system, from the remote Server, through your ISP, phone line etc to the actual PC employed.

Has your brother done any "HOUSEKEEPING" on his PC, such as Defrag, Chklinks, Registry tidies and the like?

If not recently on a weekly basis, then his PC will be like an extremely UNTIDY room, where he has great difficulty in finding anything, clothes, diary, cell-phone etc.

Or does he have an auto and never fill it, check the oil levels, tire wear etc, yet expect it to start and run smoothly without such housekeeping?

PCs are just the same, they need a regular, rigorous process of tidying, cleaning etc, to keep them in fine fettle and "fit to run".

Does he switch his PC OFF "gracefully" or just throw the mains supply wall outlet switch?

Has he deleted any out-dated files, programs etc from the HDD?

ALL of those HOUSEKEEPING actions IMPROVES the PERFORMANCE of ANY PC, YOUNG or OLD.

Alex Dow

Reid
May 3, 2011 9:08 AM

@KC: Leaving a standard Facebook page open in your web browser will definitely NOT chew up any significant bandwidth. It will simply poll the server at intervals to retrieve any updates, which is very quick and very low bandwidth. However, I say "standard" because one *can* chew up a lot of bandwidth if you're running Facebook apps like Farmville or Cafe World. I reject *all* apps and all is well.

hzm1016
May 3, 2011 9:10 AM

Since the original question did not specify, I wonder if the two siblings are sharing one computer (not two computers sharing an internet connection). If they are taking turns on a single computer, the problem would very likely be the browser memory leak issue.

I have the same experience as both Jeff and KenB: all browsers seem to have massive memory leak problems, and that seems to increase with multiple tabs and windows. After a while, I notice my system getting gradually, or suddenly, more sluggish. Task manager (or Process Explorer) shows very large memory usage by the browser, and closing all of its windows and tabs (not just some) and restarting is the only reliable solution. Note that MSIE will often have several processes. I think these are related to multiple "security zones" rather than to the number of windows or tabs. At this moment, Process Explorer is showing four iexplore.exe processes, with 225M+170M+140M+30M of "privatebytes" and "working sets" of 93M+156M+130M+27M, respectively.

So, even if the browser windows are minimized while the brother plays games, the game performance could be severely impacted by the lack of available memory once a browser has gobbled up a lot of memory.

Jim H
May 3, 2011 5:14 PM

I had a similar slowdown problem caused by an Internet Security Suite once. I was getting tired of Norton's product being such a resource hog so I tried two other brands of security suites. One had some sort of issues where whatever it learned in teach mode was screwing up and causing horrendous slowdowns that grew worse over time. They were straight across the board and not confined to just certain actions. I was glad when Norton got their act together and improved their product so I could start using it again.

That being said I would ask if the slow down is really connection speed and if anything else is slowing down, too? If not is it possible it may be server traffic causing the data to slow such as playing at peak times? Is it certain that it isn't the game itself or what is being processed on the local machine running slow? I wish the symptoms would have been described better.

If it's the game itself there are other issues that can affect gaming speed. The main culprit is usually hardware followed by the software that supports the hardware. My recently retired PC was a butt kicker in its prime. In regards to gaming it struggled with almost every game that had come out in the past several years. Many games are written for multi-core processors and while they may run on a lesser processor, they will not run well. Some won't run at all and others are choppy and start and stop. Some will not even install. I had a Pentium 4 @ 2.3 GHz and some games that called for at least a dual core would play, but poorly. RAM is another issue. If you don't have a lot of RAM to begin with gaming is tough. If you are running a lot of background programs it can be worse because you don't always have a lot left over to run programs like games. My old PC had 2 GB of RAM of which almost half was used by Windows and background tasks. My new PC has 24 GB of DDR3. Serious gamers say 12 GB is good (provided your operating system can use it and your motherboard can support it) but 24 is best. Then there's the most important piece: the video card. My old PC had an ATI x1950 Pro with 512 MB memory. It was a beast in its day but has been all but useless for any modern games. The last modern game I could run satisfactorily albeit tuned down to middling settings was Fallout 3 and STALKER: Call of Pripyat. Games like Metro 2033, Crysis, Far Cry 2, Call of Duty World at War wouldn't even play. Anything requiring DX 10 or above was a no-go. My new PC has a pair of SLIed GeForce GTX 580 Fermi Black Ops with 1536 MB memory each. I use DX 11. Gaming hardware loses ground quickly. Even though my video cards are less than 3 months old, they have been released in faster and more powerful versions twice already! But, even so, my PC chews through the most demanding games on maximum settings and the video runs as smoothly as watching a movie.

Games, more than any other software tend to take advantage of newer hardware and the increased power of computers. That's why PC gaming is supposed to be so much better than console gaming although many new games are console games ported to the PC. As part of that superior experience a gaming computer will show its age faster than a computer used for almost anything else. Gamers demand it and the technology drives the games forward and this includes online gaming. Nobody wants a game that looks like an old 8 bit Nintendo game when it's possible to have almost nearly photographic cinematic quality.

It's very important to keep up with video card drivers as well. Sometimes older drivers may end up having problems when used with certain games. These bugs are often repaired and the repairs released as new drivers. Sometimes the opposite happens. A new driver will have issues that don't show up until they are used in the field. In those cases it will be recommended to reinstall an older driver.

Every game has a forum somewhere and often a half dozen or more. Every problem you can imagine has been experienced by somebody and it has been discussed and often resolved in a forum. It really does pay to check if for no other reason than you always learn something even if it wasn't what you were looking for.

I heard it said once and attributed to Sherlock Holmes: "Once you have eliminated the impossible, what ever is left, no matter how improbable, is the answer." I think there is a whole lot of impossible that still needs to be eliminated here.

Doug Harding
May 4, 2011 9:03 AM

Can the source of the bandwidth be an issue? I understand cable TV source can be slowed by the number of users on line. I use to notice this with my old cable provider, about the time kids got home from school or when late TV news was over the internet seemed to slow to a crawl. Where as DSL is based upon distance from the relay station. The further away the slower the speed. Don't know if this is an issue anymore.

Dan
May 6, 2011 8:44 AM

Can't he open his Task Manager and click on the Network tab and see if he is eating up network bandwidth? Also - I tried running a neat little program that created 2-D cars that tried to travel down roads, and they would evolve and be able to travel farther and farther. Simple little program that I thought wouldn't take much of my computer's resources. After running it for a few hours (to watch what they evolved into), my computer started really dragging. As soon as I got out of I-explorer, my system perked back up to normal. Some of those little programs can really bog down one's system if you keep tabs open. But check your Task Manager - that is what it is for, and it will show you if anything is happening. You can take a snapshot of the bandwidth used with 2 tabs open, and then show with many tabs open (but look back periodically to see if you have one of those "the longer I leave it open the more resources it takes" type of tabs open.

Eric Brightwell
June 3, 2011 4:15 AM

First step would be to get your brother to run a connection speed test, such as speedtest.net, and log the results. Then you can all see if this is the root of the problem.

Having said that, Windows and Security software updates are essential functions which can slow down internet speed, but which should be left on if possible. However, a browser can easily be set to start up with all of your favourite sites loaded, so why not reach a deal with your brother to close it when you are not actually using it? Seems to be the diplomatic solution.

AC
January 24, 2012 4:20 PM

Thanks for this article now my brother can stop anoying me about leaving tabs open...

Kah Cheong
October 17, 2012 6:38 AM

What if you open a streaming website, and it has already finished buffering. Like as in the bar is completed. Will it slow down the internet?

The slowness comes from the data transfer, so if the data transfer is done that no longer impacts anything.
Leo
17-Oct-2012

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