Bad internet connectivity=modem bad?
December 21, 2010 1:37 AM   Subscribe

Could poor internet connectivity be due to 'chips' in my modem?

Comcast 12 mbps service, Motorola Surfboard 5120, Linksys nice router with options set by user.

Internet is great, nice and fast even for bittorrent use, but every time we use Netflix it craps out and stops. Resetting the modem and restarting the computer will work; sometimes one of these works and sometimes I need to do both.

Tonight I spoke with a nice guy who seemed to be working from Mexico. He said that my modem was working at 60% because of 'chips' in the modem. I've never seen a computer work at 60%. They work, or they don't. It's not like a bathtub drain or a failing car engine, especially when the problem occurs for months at a time. I suspect Comcast.

Can anyone confirm or deny? tia.
posted by biwa-shu to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)

I'd probably switch providers.
posted by clearly at 1:56 AM on December 21, 2010

Basically, everything you've mentioned about your Comcast internet connection working properly except in respect to Netflix indicates that the problem is likely derived from the ongoing Comcast/Level 3 battle for high bandwidth video streaming. Another provider not currently in a legal spat with Level 3 will likely provide better Netflix streaming.
posted by clearly at 2:04 AM on December 21, 2010

There is no reason to think that court filings would have anything to do with Netflix-over-Comcast. They aren't going to go and reconfigure a bunch of routers to "work for a little while".

That said, I really don't know what he was trying to say.

What probably is happening, though, is that your connection could be dropping packets. This could be your modem, but it can also be the line between the modem and Comcast, or a piece of equipment on Comcast's end. (This happened to me; service would get intermittent when it was really cold out.) Especially if the modem is owned by you, they will tell you to replace it first.

They might be throttling your speed for the Bittorrent usage too, but that's unlikely.
posted by gjc at 2:26 AM on December 21, 2010

The Motorola 5120 is certified as DOCSIS 1.1 and 2.0 compatible, which should be good for most Comcast residential applications, but will not be fast enough for DOCSIS 3.0 compatible speeds, which Comcast and other U.S. cable providers running mixed fiber/copper networks are going to, in an effort to stay speed compatible with pure fiber-to-the-home providers, and fiber-to-the-neighborhood providers. You will need a different modem, with different internal chipset, to get DOCSIS 3.0 data speeds and multi-channel data features.

And if it has been awhile since you bought your computer, you could be going into a USB 1.1 port, instead of a USB 2.0 or 3.0 port, which will also slow things down, and you'd have to upgrade to faster USB hardware to get full throughput. Moreover, you should check to see that you're running the latest driver and firmware for the cable modem.
posted by paulsc at 4:56 AM on December 21, 2010

Re: The "chips" in your modem...What he CS guy may be trying to say (in the typical, under-informed CS way) is that your Surfboard modem is old. Comcast is rolling-out DOCSIS3 gradually all over the country, and your area may have it now. Unfortunately, your old Surfboard modem (I still use the same modem) is a DOCSIS2 modem and will not be able to reap the speed benefits of DOCSIS3. This is probably what the CS person was trying to say in such a ham-handed manner.

Of course, the truth is that Netflix should stream perfectly well on your Surfboard modem, regardless.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:00 AM on December 21, 2010

Is it possible you misheard? Maybe he was trying to say this is a known problem with the chipset used by your modem.

Equipment made by different manufacturers may actually be using the same bunch of third party components under the hood, collectively referred to as a chipset. It might be that your modem uses a chipset that is known to not play nice with their equipment. This kind of thing sometimes happens with stuff that is close enough to the specification to work most of the time, but can't handle some specific issue correctly.
posted by Dr Dracator at 6:07 AM on December 21, 2010

Best answer: Huh.

I don't really agree with the other posters -- having an old but serviceable modem might mean that netflix is slow or choppy, but not that your internet locks up every time you try to use it. I mean, a new modem might fix the issue but not because of the DOCSIS standard.

As for the weird tech support explanation -- having worked in tech support, people demand explanations as to why their whatever isn't working, but a lot of people who ask don't really have the capacity to understand, so people tend to dumb down their answers to the point where they are unintelligible.

I think the first step I would try is borrowing a modem and/or router and seeing if that fixes the problem. I wonder if there's something special about the netflix packets that is making your modem or router choke.

On the other hand, it could be comcast. They are certainly known for evil BS like throttling connections. But it should just get flaky, not freeze.
posted by zug at 6:12 AM on December 21, 2010

Didn't see Dr. Dracator's post. That's certainly a possibility, in which case a new and different brand modem would fix it.
posted by zug at 6:13 AM on December 21, 2010

Yeah, the problem with tier 1 tech support is that they don't know that much about the technology, or they wouldn't be in tier 1, and the people they're dealing with know even less than they do, so whatever explanation you get from them might as well be 'pixies and fairy dust'.

You might want to rule out your router as being the problem and plug your computer directly into the modem and see if you have the same problem with netflix.
posted by empath at 6:32 AM on December 21, 2010

I use Netflix regularly on Comcast's network and it works fine, I actually get your issue when I do torrents. Torrents however can handle network hiccups where Netflix can't

If in doubt I'd do what empath suggests and try Netflix directly through your cable modem to see if you can isolate your problem. If your problem persists when directly connected and you have a local Comcast "store" I'd just take the modem in and see if they will replace it.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:34 AM on December 21, 2010

If your connection craps out when streaming netflix, i.e. it also stops allowing normal website traffic without a reboot, that does point to a hardware issue.

Netflix uses udp streaming; bittorrent downloading, and normal websites use tcp packets, though I think utorrent also has support for udp. Bittorrent and websites are 'bursty'; they can hande dropouts and lost packets and keep working, whereas streaming video does not.

It's entirely possible the specific chipset in your modem or router are not up to handling continuous udp streams for any length of time; some routers have additional code to handle that type of traffic specifically, especially over wireless, in order to try and make it work it better. In your case, it might be making it worse!

Given restarting the modem seems to do the trick, trying a different modem (borrow one?) would seem to be the first step, rather than swapping the router, though that's probably the 2nd step.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:07 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

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