Try to imagine not having an internet connection in the modern world. Chances are you would have difficulties communicating with loved ones, working at your most effective, and even paying your bills. There is a reason that the UN considers an internet connection a human right.
Yet, in many cases having a fast internet connection is just as important as having an internet connection at all. Video calls are becoming the norm, as is streaming content that requires more and more bandwidth. The COVID-19 pandemic only showcased the need further, and more of us are adapting to digital life than ever before. The world is moving forward under the assumption of faster internet, and your household better keeps up by getting a good service.
Therefore, you need to get the internet speeds you were promised by your ISP and ensure no interference with your connection. To help you do this, there are speed tests that can help. Yet which one (there are countless) should you use, and what are the best ways to use them? Keep on reading to learn everything you need to know.
Why Should You Test Your Speed?
Why is a speed test so helpful? People use them for many reasons. The most common reasons you may want to use one are:
- You want to make sure that you are getting precisely what you paid for from your ISP and that you are not being throttled in any way.
- To determine whether your household needs an upgrade. The average internet speed in an American home was 5 Mbps in 2009. Last year that number grew to 99.3 Mbps, and it is only expected to continue growing. Every household will need to change its plan; eventually, it is just a matter of when.
- You wonder whether a device or receiver works properly or whether you might need a fix or a peripheral.
- You are concerned there is too much stress currently on the network with the number of devices.
- You need to check on an additional metric such as upload speed or ping rate, likely for work or gaming purposes. This can help prevent you from wasting money on devices you cannot get the most out of.
Naturally, there are other reasons and uses for a speed test, and perhaps you have one in mind already. They all boil down to needing more information about your home (or business) internet situation and what you will need for the future. Information, as long as it's accurate and you know how to interpret it, will never steer you wrong. Below you will find some information regarding how to best test your internet speed as well as our top picks for which site you should use.
Speed Test Best Practices
How do you make the most of a speed test? We recommend the following best practices to ensure an accurate reading and to help you more easily determine the cause of a problem if there is one:
- Try a speed test (ideally the same speed test) from multiple devices in the same general location. This will help determine if a problem is device-specific.
- Test under normal working conditions and ideal conditions. If there are a few devices that will always use a bit of bandwidth, do not turn them off for your first test, but do turn them off for another. You may want to know your speed in both conditions, depending on whether you are concerned about your ISP or just whether you have enough bandwidth to do something.
- Double-check ahead of time what your download and upload speeds should be. Make sure there are no misunderstandings about your plan.
- Perform several tests over the day. Depending on your internet service type, there will be hours when your internet is not as fast due to usage elsewhere in your neighborhood. This should be measured and taken into account when making decisions.
What to Look for in a Testing Site
While we will shortly be talking about the best options, first you should know what is essential in a speed test, with all the key facets listed below:
Accuracy: If a speed test is not as accurate as possible, what is the point in using it?
Ease-of-Use: A speed test site should never confuse the user. At most, you should need to input a few bits of information and press the start button, perhaps with some options available on the side for specialized use.
Information Provided: While the download speed is probably most important to most users, there are other metrics (particularly upload speed and ping rate) that are important as well—the more information, the better, as long as it is presented clearly and concisely.
Ability to Simulate Real World Conditions: The way a speed test is conducted can affect the results. While some tests might be best for a neutral measurement of the data, most people use the internet for a few things, such as streaming movies, video calls, and playing games online. The more a speed test can simulate these kinds of situations, the better.
Good Design: A well-designed speed test site should showcase all the information easily, be easy to read and understand, and be well-organized. Anything superfluous is a detriment to the test. Complicated designs and setups from a site can potentially interfere with results.
Servers in Multiple Areas: Ideally, you should be using a speed test with servers near your area. Otherwise, the results (especially your ping rate) will be affected by your region. The best speed test sites have servers across the country (or the world) to allow for the most accurate readings.
Freedom from Bias: Many speed tests are run by ISPs, but can you be certain that those tests do not have an agenda? Surely they would want to make their own services look good, and others look lacking. While certain ISPs would not engage in this type of behavior, the question is necessary, and potential biases are noted.
The 7 Best Speed Test Sites
Without further wait, here are our top choices. Please read each selection to make sure you pick out the best test for your needs to get the best results.
Our top choice is Ookla's Speedtest.net, which happens to be one of the oldest and most popular speed tests on the market. Despite its age (or more likely in part due to it), we find that it is the best test for most people and one you should try first.
It has practically everything you could want in a speed test, with all of the basic information readily available and a vast list of servers across the country, ensuring an accurate reading no matter where you are.
Furthermore, if you make an account, you can keep records of your previous tests. This can be particularly helpful if you want to measure changes, keep different devices in mind, or track improvements after changing plans or making changes to your setup. It allows for optimization with less effort on your end.
The main downside we found with the site is the fact that ads appear. While we understand that the site needs to support itself, the ads could potentially interfere with the measurements, depending on the nature of the ads and your connection.
If you are looking for a good measure of your connection's consistency, then Speedof.me is a test you should try. They show you not only the final results but also how consistent your connection is throughout the test, which is crucial if you are testing for purposes related to video calls or online gaming.
However, more data can mean that said data is a bit harder to interpret. You might need to spend a little more time analyzing the results, which is not ideal if you need to do a test right away or in a hurry.
The test is also different between mobile and desktop. The mobile version is a bit more accessible (without even needing to use an app), and for that reason, speedof.me can be a great choice for mobile users of all sorts.
A comprehensive option people looking for accuracy (and everyone should be) will love, TestMy.net is a test that runs on HTML5 and is independent of any sources of bias. It focuses on function above all else, and it functions wonderfully.
It can be a little harder to look at compared to the other testing sites, and you might have to click through a few more pages. Still, they provide some of the most in-depth data available from a speed test and allow you to compare your results to the averages of your city, your host, and more.
Like some other speed test sites, you can create an account to track results over time. This, combined with a wide array of data provided, is an excellent combination.
Simple and easy to use, the Xfinity Speed Test is not flashy by any means, but that is precisely what some people are looking for. It provides you with the standard information, is reliable, and has a nice if somewhat cluttered on some devices, design to it.
What is different about Xfinity is that it provides contextual information about your internet speed, making it a helpful tool for those who might not know what all the numbers mean. For example, the speed test will provide some bullet points on what you can do with your current download speed and provide a few tips about making sure the test runs as accurately as possible. This makes it one of the most user-friendly tests for those who do not use technology too often.
Xfinity provides this speed test. While we consider that a point of concern, there was no bias we could detect in the test, you do not need to be a subscriber of any kind to their services, and readings were accurate compared with other tests. There is no way to save tests, and the screen might feel too cluttered for some, but we are generally happy with what it can provide people.
From what we can determine, this is a variation of Ookla's Speedtest.net. Internet Health test is a great way to quickly get more data than you would from the other "fast" testing sites available. Yet it is not only fast and simple but a bit more versatile than the competition as well. You can select your host from a range of places, allowing you to tailor your test. You get to see how stable the connection is over time, letting you know if consistency will be an issue. All of the basic information is there.
We did not find some of the data logging features found in other speed tests, but you can share your results on social media (although why would you), and you can email them to yourself for record-keeping.
Overall, we recommend this service to those looking for more information on how their connection would work in various situations and for those looking for a secondary test to act as a point of comparison.
Our next recommendation is Speedsmart, which is easy to use, based on HTML5, and accessible from a wide variety of devices. They put great effort into making sure that you get the most accurate readings possible, allowing for more data to be sent and received to ensure quality results, including ping results for those who need them.
If you need to access records of previous tests and none of the other options look acceptable to you, then Speedsmart has you covered, no matter what device you are using. You can use an account to keep track of everything and let yourself compare the data, whether for a network or a location.
There are a few extra bits of information on the testing page, and we would like to see some more servers (although this is not a dealbreaker in their case.) Speedsmart is a strong option for people obsessed with accuracy.
When you first load Fast.com, all you will see is a large and simple display of your download speed, easy to read with no confusion. If that is all you are looking for, then fast.com will allow you to get the info and get out. After a few seconds, you will also be able to determine your ping rate and your upload speed in simple terms. There isn't even a start button; it just goes.
What is interesting about Fast.com is that the site is owned by Netflix, which utilizes a massive amount of internet bandwidth around the world. They have a vested interest in knowing how much data they are using and making sure their customers can use their service effectively. The investment makes sense for them, given the company's history of dealing with throttled connections.
There are not many additional settings, which makes us hesitant to recommend it for general purposes or get the most specific readings, but content streamers can and should come to Fast.com first.
One last note is that while we did rank these and think some will help more people than others, everyone has different priorities. Which one of these is best for you will depend on what you are looking for. Think about your needs before settling with one, or try out several (it will not cost you anything)
What Causes Slow Internet?
To diagnose your slow internet or know whether you have the issue in the first place, you will need to know some of the causes. While there are longer guides on the subject, if you have a complicated problem or need to get into the nuts and bolts of the matter, you can start by looking into the following potential causes:
- Network Interference: Is there anything that might be interfering with the network? Additional abnormal signals? Some radio frequencies can cause problems. If you remove or turn off these devices and your internet speed picks up, you have found the culprit.
- Inadequate Equipment: How old is your equipment, and is it capable of handling your internet plan? While generally not an issue for those renting equipment, it's still a problem for many households. Ensure that you check for these issues both in terms of your modem/router and any receivers you use. If your router can transmit gigabit internet speeds, but your USB receiver can only handle 100 Mbps, that is a considerable drop-off.
- Poor Equipment Placement: Alternatively, your equipment might be working just fine; it is just that it is in a place where the signal cannot be transmitted or received easily. Ensure that devices are close enough to a router (or just connected via ethernet cable) and in a place where they can send signals effectively.
- Background Programs: Sometimes, you can have many programs or apps running in the background, eating up bandwidth without you even knowing it. Depending on your usage habits, you might be able to turn some off without any difference in your online life. Check for default apps and programs that might be running in the background.
- Too Many Users: Your internet connection can seem slow if there are too many users on the network, or more specifically, too many devices jockeying for bandwidth. If you have many devices going at once, you may want to consider turning some off, upgrading your plan, or upgrading your equipment.
- Network Outage or Overuse: There might be a storm outside, or a traffic accident could have involved a telephone pole. Depending on your service type, lines may be damaged or downed, which can cause problems (either a complete outage or a slowdown as the information gets rerouted).
- ISP Throttling: If your speeds are slower than anticipated and there is no other obvious answer, your ISP might be throttling your connection. They might do this in response to a perceived slight, going over your monthly data limit (if there is one), or another reason. Check to see why this may happen and if the throttling is fair.
- Computer Issues or Malware: Malware can also cause slow internet speeds. Make sure that you are practicing good cybersecurity and perform a scan at regular intervals. A damaged device might also lead to a poor connection and will likely have other symptoms as well.
There are other causes, but one of the above will likely be the culprit if your speed test shows a slower speed than usual or anticipated. Be sure to check every once in a while, as new issues and causes for slow internet can come up regularly.
What to Do With the Speed Test Information
Now that you have your findings, you might have some decisions to make. If you have tested your connection multiple times and even with a few different tests, and things are not as you would like, you should not hesitate to take one of the following actions:
- If you find that your ISP is not performing as promised, call them and see if they can explain the problem. While most ISPs have a range where they might dip below their advertised rates, any significant deviations should be noted and not be tolerated, especially if there is a solid competitor in your area. However, there might be a temporary problem due to damaged equipment, which you can expect to be solved shortly.
- You may want to upgrade your plan or change providers. This can be costly, so make sure to do your research ahead of time, but you can also likely get a good deal or have your new ISP buy out your old contract. Make sure to read all the fine print.
- You may want to use the test results as a negotiating chip. If you appear to have done your research, your provider will take your threats to switch more seriously.
- You may wish to change your internet set up in your home, mostly regarding the equipment you use and its placement. A wired connection is always better than a wireless one and keeps your router away from devices or places that might cause interference. Alternatively, you may wish to invest in a range extender.
- You can move forward with the plans that you performed the speed test for in the first place. For example, smart home upgrades can be costly and require constant bandwidth, but they can be worth it if you can rely on your connection.
Performing an occasional speed test on your connection is a great way to ensure that you are getting the services you are paying for and can help you figure out the source of any interference. We hope that one of the above speed test sites can help you learn what you need to and get an accurate reading. Whatever you wind up doing, we wish you the best of luck and a swift resolution to any problems.