Oh My Tech!: Troubleshooting a bad Internet connection
My Comcast connection seems awfully slow. How can I determine if my Internet service/equipment is to blame or if my router is at fault? My old router was designed for one or two computers. Now, the family has laptops, iPhones and iPod touch devices. How do I select a good router that will handle all these devices? Thanks, Ken.
As a general rule, whenever you have an electronics problem and it looks like there could be more than one cause for it, I find the best way to troubleshoot it is to use a process of elimination.
In the case of a bad Internet connection, that's easy enough to do.
First, record how fast your Internet is now. The way to do that is point your web browser to http://www.speedtest.net. It has a simple test that you can perform to measure the download and upload speeds of your connection to the nearest, fastest server. That should tell you how much slower you are compared to the speed you're supposed to get through Comcast.
If it is indeed much slower than it should be, first consider checking the cable modem, the box that's connected from the cable in the wall.
Unpower the cable modem by pulling the plug and waiting a couple of minutes. Then plug it back in and wait for a minute or two to boot up. After it's completely booted up, I would also restart your computer to make sure it's a clean restart as well. See if that fixed it by running the Speedtest.net test. Sometimes, there can be a glitch in the modem that requires a reboot. If the Internet works again, then we know the problem was with the modem.
If that didn't work, then look at the router. This is the box connected to the modem that takes the Internet signal from the modem and broadcasts it wirelessly for a wireless home network. Sometimes, the router is built into the modem depending on what box Comcast gave you.
Do the same thing with the router that you did with the modem unplug the power cord for a couple of minutes and then plug it back in to reboot it. Wait a couple of minutes to make sure it's completely on and try the Internet connection again and run the speed test.
If it works, then we know the problem was with the router and it just needed to be rebooted. If it still doesn't work then we need to investigate further.
Unhook the router from the modem and the computer and connect the modem directly to the computer. If the Internet works, then we know the problem was with the router, and it either needs to have its settings examined, or it's a bad router that needs to be replaced. If it doesn't work then we know that the problem is possibly a bad modem or, yes, it's a problem with the Internet provider.
At this point, I would call Comcast, CenturyLink or whomever is your Internet provider and see if there is a bad connection. They will ask that you have done all of the above steps anyway before giving you further help.
If they test your connection from their head office and insist that your connection is good, then it's possible the modem is bad. If you are renting the modem as part of your service, you then can return it to the provider to get a new one.
As for shopping for a modem, there are several good brands, including Netgear, Linksys and D-Link, that are worth getting. I've found my Netgear router to be very good, with a great range and speed.
A router doesn't really need to be set up to a desktop computer only to get into the settings. But if you have a computer in the room where the Internet cable comes into the home, it is best to hook that computer up to the router via an ethernet cable for the fastest possible connection and to access the router's settings whenever needed.
Otherwise, once the router is set up, all of your mobile devices can connect to it, regardless of how many you have. And one last piece of advice: Don't forget to set up a password for your wireless network so neighbors can't access it. You'd be surprised how many people don't take this security step.
If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he'll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to http://www.sltrib.com/Topics/ohmytech.