Is your link fast enough? Check it!

Question: I don’t think my PC is connecting to the Internet as fast as my provider said it would. Is there a way to test this? – R.A.

Answer: Yes – in fact, there’s more than one way to test this.

If you use dial-up to get to your Internet provider and use an analog modem that actually dials a phone number, the connection dialogue box that opens up will tell you the approximate speed of your connection each time you log on.

If your ISP uses its own program to connect to their service, look for a button called something like Details or More to tell you this information. In Windows, you can see the connection speed by double-clicking on the modem icon that appears at the bottom right of your screen once you’re connected.

This won’t provide moment-to-moment connection speeds. It’s the maximum speed possible during the session between you and the Internet provider.

If you want an actual connection speed calculation on a modem or if you have a digital Internet connection (such as the ones offered by the cable and phone companies), try this page on CNet:
It’s a speed test that will show you the speed with which you are really connecting. The server that the web page exists on calculates how fast the connection is between you and it. Then it presents the information in kilobits per second and kilobytes per second measurements.

You will also want to check this site for an easy way to check your connection speed. Speakeasy

(By the way, a “bit” is short for “binary digit”. It’s the smallest unit of information on a computer. There are eight bits in a byte.)

The speed test also places your speed rating on a graph to show you how your connection speed compares to analog modems, ISDN connections (a slow digital connection service), and DSL (or digital subscriber lines).

This was an interesting test for me, because I am on a supposedly high-speed digital service called Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) provided by the Bell Sympatico service in Toronto. It’s supposed to connect me at up to speeds of one megabit per second. The service showed that, at the time of the test, I was connecting at a little over a quarter of that speed. In subsequent tests, I have connected at speeds of up to one third of the promised speed.

The reading will vary depending on the time of day, due to traffic between your computer and the test server, but over a period of time it will give you a good idea of how fast your Internet service is. The speed test works with Mac and PC computers running an up-to-date web browser.

For your reference, a 56K modem will never connect at 56 Kbps, because of limitations built into the modem. Normal connection speeds on 56K modem will typically hit between 40Kbps and 50Kbps, but never more than 54Kbps.

Cable Internet services, like Rogers @ Home, promise speeds over 2 Mbps. Once again, this can vary based on Internet traffic and how many people are on the service in your neighborhood. My mom got nearly three Kbps speeds on her cable modem service in suburban Toronto.

Another user I know got 1.9 Mbps when I called him late in the day, although he did grumble that that’s the speed “when it works”.

If this hasn’t sated your curiosity and you want an even more powerful tool, consider downloading the free Naviscope utility from naviscope download. This is a little program that runs quietly in the background until you make a request via your web browser. It then pops open and shows you real-time connections speeds. It also keeps track of the maximum speed ever attained by your PC’s web connection since the program was started.

There are a variety of advanced Internet tools built into Naviscope. Some of the more useful ones include a web ad-filtering feature as well as a utility that corrects your PC’s time and date against an atomic clock. Naviscope works on most Windows 95 and Windows NT-based PCs. There are no Mac or Linux versions of the software, although the company’s web page said those are being considered.