HOW high-speed Internet?
May 19, 2010 8:31 PM   Subscribe

How fast do I need my Internet connection to be?

Moving from a university-owned apartment with included 100Mbps coming out of the wall, now have to pick a service provider for the new place. I'm a bit bewildered by all the options. Do I need to pay extra to get 25Mbps? (Anything beyond that is too ridiculously expensive to consider.) Or can I get by with 16Mbps, 8Mpbs, or even less? My machine runs through a 54Mbps router, and doesn't download torrents or movies, or game on-line. I need to be able to use Skype and occasionally Hulu without too much hiccuping, and I would rather not have to wait an hour when my MacBook Pro wants to update software.

(Options here in Madison, WI seem to be Charter (cable company) or AT&T -- happy to hear about other local choices if there are some.)
posted by escabeche to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I recently moved from a dorm where I was getting about 2mbps to an apartment that I share with one other roommate. We had the same problem, and mostly because of the services we were offered, we decided to get 10mbps. It is fast. Much faster than the dorm was giving me and I was pretty satisfied with that. If I were alone, I would get 5 or 8 for myself.

Also, there are tools online to check how much internet you are using right now. Happy with the speed you have now (even if its a public machine)? You can use it to gauge what you'd like for the future.

try it here
posted by afterdark at 8:41 PM on May 19, 2010

My machine runs through a 54Mbps router, and doesn't download torrents or movies, or game on-line.

I download a lot, especially of HD content. While 25Mbps would be great to have, my 8Mbps is fine for everything I do (Hulu, YouTube, etc.). Even Vudu which does 1080p works without any hiccups, though don't expect to run Hulu and Vudu at the same time.
posted by geoff. at 8:43 PM on May 19, 2010

Response by poster: afterdark: interesting, that site clocks me (here in my university-owned apartment) at 13.5 Mbps down, 5Mbps up.
posted by escabeche at 8:46 PM on May 19, 2010

Best answer: As Burhanistan says, the 100Mb/s University connection would have been its LAN; there would probably have been a rather slower Internet connection somewhere upstream of that. You could find out how fast that was by running a speed test from inside a University apartment, if you still have access to one.

My home Internet connection is 8Mb/s down, 384kb/s up ADSL, and any time I find I'm waiting annoyingly long for something it's because it's being rate-limited at the other end. The biggest chunks I regularly download are Ubuntu CDs, and those take about 15 minutes.

Slowest connection you can use and still watch YouTube lag-free is 1.5Mb/s down, 256kb/s up ADSL. That's also about what you'd need for Skype with video. Don't know about Hulu. Skype voice-only works fine on 512kb/s down, 128kb/s up ADSL, as does standard (SIP+RTP) VoIP provided you pick a low-rate codec like G.729 (the upstream rates are the bottleneck for all the two-way telephony stuff).
posted by flabdablet at 8:51 PM on May 19, 2010

afterdark: interesting, that site clocks me (here in my university-owned apartment) at 13.5 Mbps down, 5Mbps up.

Sounds like your university was providing you with a 100Mbps connection from the wall to whatever the router connecting to the internet was. That connection to the internet? Who knows, but that's irrelevant.

If you're not gaming, not downloading HD content, and just care about Skype, surfing the web, and watching the occasional show off of Hulu, you don't need much.

DSL will (likely) be a cheaper option than cable internet for you. It's a safe bet than anything that's over 1.5Mbps will be sufficient, with the caveat that it might take a little longer for videos from Hulu to start streaming.
posted by swngnmonk at 8:55 PM on May 19, 2010

Best answer: ~5 Mbps cable worked fine for me with Hulu, youtube, skype etc. I recently upgraded to 15/5 verizon fios, and it's a bit faster for large downloads, but otherwise I can't tell the difference. It actually seems to have a few more hiccups - lag - than cable did, even if continuous download speed is consistently faster.
posted by slide at 8:57 PM on May 19, 2010

As long as your upstream connection is around 1Mbps, and the overall network is managed correctly - your minimum options are more than comfortable - the only thing you'd gain by increasing beyond 16mbps would be blazingly fast downloads......
posted by TravellingDen at 9:00 PM on May 19, 2010

Yeah, anything over 5 Mbps is fine for web surfing and watching video. Unless you do a lot of downloading or online gaming, you won't notice the difference.
posted by sophist at 9:04 PM on May 19, 2010

The speed of my cable connection can vary tremendously, while my connection was rock-solid (and blazing fast) when I had FiOS. (In fact, I noticed one or two occasions when it was *faster* than the rated speed)

Speaking of which, broadband connections are rated in megabits per second. Download speeds are typically measured in megabytes. There are 8 bits to a byte -- divide out to determine your connection's theoretical maximum.
posted by schmod at 9:05 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

FiOS is worth it if you can get it in your area. Cable vs DSL depends on the provider and location, but either one should suffice for your needs. The numbers they quote you for theoretical maximum bandwidth are often a poor indicator of actual results. When the tech comes for the install, I would recommend running a speedtest while they are still there. Sometimes you have older houses with bad cable wiring, or the singla it is has split somewhere on the line. If you don't catch it right away, they don't have much incentive to fix it.
posted by sophist at 9:23 PM on May 19, 2010

I am paying for 16/2 cable, and it's plenty fast for Skype and Hulu and heavy online gaming. You can probably do as low as 6/1 without issues at all, given your needs. Why not try the 6 or 8 tier, then upgrading if you feel like you need to?

If you go with cable, I agree with sophist. Make sure to ask them to run a speed test right then and there when they hook you up. I moved into a new apartment earlier this year. When the tech checked the speed, I was getting less than half what I would be paying for. He exchanged a few wires and connectors, and it made all the difference. In contrast, in my old apartment it took numerous phone calls and almost 6 months for them to fix the outside cables.
posted by gemmy at 9:43 PM on May 19, 2010

I get over 10 MPS at home and it is ok for wireless. At work I get over 50 MPS (we could get 100 MPS but it is scaled back for some reason). Of course 50 is much faster, but 10 MPS is quite adequate.
posted by fifilaru at 9:57 PM on May 19, 2010

Best answer: It really depends on your use.

Afterdark's linked test shows me at 18.6k down and 1k up, (which does more local testing) gives me a 24k down and 1k up.

In "real world" application, I can be sucking down a steady 22k from a premium usenet server (that's about 500 megabytes - MB - in under 5 minutes, a gigabyte in under 10, or a DVD in under 45) and still stream video from or from a 900k sopcast/ or even close-to-HD video from during the olympics without a hiccough.

Currently on residential cable, paying $60 CDN/month. My connection at the university lab is about 50k down, and I can't remember what the average up is.

Also, cable speed depends on whether your company throttles and how many other users are close to you and what their habits are. If they're downloading exactly the same thing, sometimes you can get blazing 100Mps-like speed since its cached locally (I think, but the effect is real), or you can be paying for premium speeds and get crappy service because some douche (maybe like me) is sucking down 22k while streaming video seamlessly.
posted by porpoise at 10:08 PM on May 19, 2010

Besides the speed choice, the company choice matters too. From some personal experience, and the experience of some friends, comcast=evil. I haven't had any experience with AT&T, so I have no basis for comparison.
posted by mcarlson85 at 10:22 PM on May 19, 2010

Just to comment on the university internet thing - Back in 2002-2003 I was a network admin and even back then we had some blazing fast internet transfer speeds at college, so I wouldn't at all be surprised at 100mbps ethernet being saturated today. I recall one file downloading at 50mbps at least in a speed test we ran, and that was in 2003...


That being said, based on your usage, you can just get the cheapest option (8mbps, which I am using) and be totally fine. You can stream 1080p video on that just fine, and you'll see downloads at 1 megabyte per second, and Skype, would easily work on bandwidth 1/10th of that.

That's just for one person though, and the people who're buying the 25mbps lines are the ones who're sharing the house with a couple of other people who use the internet heavily.
posted by xdvesper at 10:38 PM on May 19, 2010

8 Mbps is generally a fast enough where the bottleneck won't be on your end (ie, you will max out transfer rates from most sites).
posted by wongcorgi at 11:17 PM on May 19, 2010

Best answer: I have 1.5 Mbps on DSL and it is just enough for streaming video at the lowest rate. I used to have 768 kbps: YouTube was difficult, Netflix was a joke and Hulu had to be buffered.

Five dollars more a month will double the cap to 3 Mbps.

However, I just downloaded a game with Steam and it felt like 1996 again - took five hours with the line completely saturated, ie: any other internet usage is hopeless.
posted by meowzilla at 12:02 AM on May 20, 2010

In South Africa, the ADSL packages currently offered are between 384Kbps and 4 Mbps.

Enjoy the 8Mbps!
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 12:52 AM on May 20, 2010

8Mbps is more than adequate for the needs you have outlined. Obviously more is better but there's no point in forking out for it.
posted by nthdegx at 2:06 AM on May 20, 2010

My ISP has, over the years, gradually upgraded my cable connection speed. It was 2Mb/s in 2002. It's now 20Mb/s. To be honest, unless I'm doing something like downloading a lot of files of the 4.7Gb variety, I'd be perfectly happy with an 8-10Mb/s connection. I haven't noticed any real improvement in my ability to view streaming video.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:08 AM on May 20, 2010

Burhanistan: "> Burhanistan, he was living at his university. It is very likely he indeed did have internet that was faster than his 100Mb ethernet jack, saturating it completely and therefore 100Mb, I know mine is.

Unless you're getting your internet from some kind of advanced test lab, there's no way it's that fast. Do you have any links to prove that?

It's clear that he wasn't actually getting 100 Mbps as stated in the question but all the universities I've been to provided students with a huge connection. For example, 500 Mbps:
posted by turkeyphant at 6:28 AM on May 20, 2010

I'm in Milwaukee. You don't have RoadRunner in Madison? We're very happy with them. 19 Mbps down here according to
posted by desjardins at 7:50 AM on May 20, 2010

I still have 3Mbps down 640kbps up DSL (curse you, Qwest) and while there are times I wish it were faster for downloads and uploads it is just fine for browsing and/or watching a single stream of Hulu and Netflix.
posted by Good Brain at 10:11 AM on May 20, 2010

Response by poster: Hi all -- discovered that AT&T offers not only DSL but U-verse (over fiberoptic) here, so I can stick with them for my phone service and get 12MBps for less than it would cost me from the cable company. So that's what I decided to do -- will report back about how it went!
posted by escabeche at 2:47 PM on June 9, 2010

Response by poster: U-Verse hooked up: ran a speed test as suggested by afterdark and porpoise and am getting 10-11 MBps downstream, close enough to the advertised 12. It's plenty fast enough for everything I do, and was not ruinously expensive.
posted by escabeche at 10:54 AM on June 28, 2010

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