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Your download speed might not be the culprit that is slowing down your internet connection. We'll take a look at several possibilities.

Leo, I've got an older desktop – about 10 years old which I maintain well. As I'm 89, I can't see buying another one. I have 2 GB of memory, running XP 3, Pentium 4 motherboard, 80 GB hard drive, only 45% use. Using Firefox as my browser. Verizon is selling me speeds of 15 down and 5 up. Lately, I'm getting only 4 down and 3.5 up which means I can't do Skype or watch streaming video without getting unbearably irritated. Verizon sent in a tech and he demonstrated that the problem was in my computer. He eliminated the router or Ethernet card as the problem and went away. Prior to his arrival, I did a virus scan, a malware scan, a Spybot scan and a defrag; no problems showed up. So what do I do now? I can't Skype my granddaughter in France.

In this excerpt from Answercast #28, I look at a computer that is acting slow running online resources, look at its download speed, and suggest a few ways to analyze what is taking up the resources.

Download speeds

My initial reaction here is that the Skype issue and the streaming video issue may not be related to your download speeds at all. I have a 3 MB connection, so I'm actually quite jealous of your 15 down and 5 up.

Using that 3 MB connection, I Skype just fine. I've done video chats on Skype; I've done Google hangouts and I fairly regularly stream video; I stream standard definition television programs from Amazon.com while I'm exercising and it actually works really, really well. I've been fairly impressed with the result.

So even at getting 4 down and 3.5 up, things should be working.

Slow computer

Now, you're right. There's a big bandwidth difference. If they're selling you 15 and you're only getting 4, and they've eliminated everything else, then yes, it could be a problem on your computer.

My suggestion (it's really difficult to know exactly what might be going on)... but:

  • I suggest you start with Process Explorer. It's a free download, a tool that will examine and display what's running on your system.

  • There's also a tool called Process Monitor, which will also do a nice job of summarizing what's running on your system.

Between the two of them, these tools will help you understand if there's one program that's taking up all of your CPU.

Find out what's running

It's possible that a program may, in fact, be misbehaving and not allowing your CPU to run fast enough to do all of the other things that we're asking it to do. The same thing applies to disk activity. It's very possible that some program is accessing your disk at such a heavy rate as to slow down your entire system.

The same thing could be true for memory.

Do you have enough memory?

Now, as I say all this, two gigs memory on an XP 3 sounds fine, it really does. But, it's on the borderline.

Ten years ago, that was a great machine; it really was. Even if you haven't changed a lot of the software on the machine, per say, the demands we've been putting on our computers have only increased over the last 10 years.

It's possible that you have slowly accumulated a number of pieces of software (updates to software perhaps) that are slowly putting more and more of a demand on your system... and as a result, slowing the entire system down.

Prioritize the attack

What I would do is I would prioritize the attack. I would take a look with a program like Process Monitor.

I'll start you off with an article called, "Who's using all my CPU?" (I think is what it's titled), which will walk you through downloading Process Explorer, firing it up, and seeing exactly which processes are running on your machine; and who's using the CPU.

Like I said, I really suspect that there's just an accumulation of things that are working too hard; they're taking up too much of your computer's resources. Once you discover what those are, there are two possibilities:

  • One is there may be an obvious culprit.

There may be a specific program that's doing too much and you'll turn it off. When you turn that program off (or uninstall it or whatever), then life gets better.

  • The other possibility is that the software on your machine as a whole has gotten to the point where it all needs more resources than your computer has.

If that's the case, you're going to have to take a look at the software running on your machine and see if you can't turn some of those things off... to decrease the amount of resources required.

Article C5497 - June 21, 2012 « »

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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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2 Comments
Kevin
June 23, 2012 2:28 AM

Can verify completely that Skype works perfectly on a fraction of your speeds. I regularly Skype to the other side of the world (not that distance makes much difference) on speeds as low as 1.5 down and 2 up. Usually all works great.

James
June 25, 2012 6:27 PM

I would concur. And I doubt that the memory would be the issue either. I am also running XP SP3, but I only have 1 GB RAM. I have no issues with Skype. My download speed is 5.2 and upload at 0.65 (according to http://speedtest.net). So I would agree that something else must be gobbling up the processors time making Skype unusable.

One thing that Leo didn't really seem to address is the fact that you can't get the 15 that you are promised. That seems to be a common complaint (the internet and cell phone companies always advertise the speed if you have the perfect setup and you are in the perfect location). However, if you are only getting a third, that seems to me that something is very wrong.

My suggestion is that perhaps your ethernet card is going bad. I was getting no where near 56k on my modem (back when we had dial-up). Tried a new modem and I was up in the 40k range. Ethernet cards are fairly inexpensive, so you might want to give that a try to see if that fixes the speed issue.

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