Why is my internet so sluggish and choppy?
March 23, 2015 11:58 AM   Subscribe

My internet browsing is very slow and choppy, and I can't quite figure out why. Speed tests report my connection is average or above average.

Streaming music (NPR First Listen, Soundcloud) constantly produces glitching / a series of microsecond interruptions when pages are loading, which has never been a problem in the years I've been streaming. Also, simply scrolling down pages, such as Facebook which loads from your feed as you scroll down, is choppy and not a smooth scrolling experience as it should be. Even loading google.com takes several seconds, and that's always been the benchmark for near-instantaneous loading for me.

The speed test I just took reported a Ping of 11 ms, a Download Speed of 11.49 Mbps, and an Upload Speed of 11.00 Mbps. From what I've read that's pretty decent, enough for several machines to work simultaneously with no problems. I just have one computer and two smartphones connected at any time.

I'm on a 2011 Macbook Pro, OS X Yosemite 10.10.1, Chrome Version 41.0.2272.101 (64-bit). I also have a 2013 Macbook Air I use for work, and it doesn't have any internet sluggishness on the same connection.

It's not just the internet, it seems. Everything else seems somewhat slow too, though it's most noticeable when I'm browsing. This might have started when I upgraded to Yosemite, but I'm not sure.

I thought maybe there's some virus or malware that's dragging down my computer somehow, but I ran some programs and came away with nothing. I also thought maybe there was some hard drive fragmentation, but I freed up my hard drive space to around 150 GB so it shouldn't be in any crisis mode (and Macs defragment without running any special program). In any case, I wouldn't think simply browsing the internet is so heavy on processing that it destroys a fairly recent computer.

Help me out! What could this be?
posted by naju to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)
Response by poster: Also the memory for this computer is 4 GB (the same amount as my Macbook Air, and should be more than enough to run a browser with a dozen tabs.)
posted by naju at 12:07 PM on March 23, 2015

How long have you been having the problem?

Is your Macbook's fan running more frequently than usual?
posted by deludingmyself at 12:19 PM on March 23, 2015

Response by poster: I'm not really sure when it started. I've mostly used my work computer for the past year and avoided this computer, but I'm moving to another job so I'm using it more and noticing it. It's been a problem for a few months, at least.

I don't know how to check how frequently my fan runs, but I haven't heard it whirring much, and it's not whirring now. Physically the laptop is warm but not running overly hot.
posted by naju at 12:23 PM on March 23, 2015

I wonder if the hard drive is failing? I've had performance problems (though not exactly like this) when I had a failing hard drive in a MacBook Pro. The machine you have should be able to easily handle the kind of stuff you're talking about.
posted by primethyme at 12:24 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've recently switched back to Safari after having some performance issues with chrome... apparently it's become a pretty bad memory hog, especially with multiple tabs open. I just opened it for the first time in a while and activity monitor is going crazy with google chrome helper... like 1G of memory used for 4 tabs.

If you're set on using it, you might want to try resetting chrome:

Google Chrome gives you the option to reset your browser settings in one easy click. In some cases, programs that you install can change your Chrome settings without your knowledge. You may see additional extensions and toolbars or a different search engine. Resetting your browser settings will reset the unwanted changes caused by installing other programs. However, your saved bookmarks and passwords will not be cleared or changed.

Reset your browser settings

In the top-right corner of the browser window, click the Chrome menu Chrome menu
Select Settings.
At the bottom, click Show advanced settings.
Under the section "Reset settings,” click Reset settings.
In the dialog that appears, click Reset.

posted by Huck500 at 12:24 PM on March 23, 2015

Streaming music (NPR First Listen, Soundcloud) constantly produces glitching / a series of microsecond interruptions when pages are loading

The very short interruptions sounds to me like it's not a network problem but a computer problem - internet related stuttering tends to be longer gaps, IME. Plus the fact that your network diagnostics look good, and the MacBook Air works fine on the same connection.

So first thing I'd check would be the activity monitor. Is something running away with all your CPU, are you out of memory (and thus swapping), is your disk super busy?
posted by aubilenon at 12:24 PM on March 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

You might also try unplugging your modem and router if you haven't done that... I never had a problem with an airport, but non-apple gear I have to reset once a month or so.
posted by Huck500 at 12:26 PM on March 23, 2015

I have a very asymmetric connection (~7mbps down, 1.2 or so up), and nephew recently came to live with us for a while. Internet connection went to hell. We started turning off his devices.

Turns out that AdBlock Plus on his Android phone was pushing data up to somewhere as fast as humanly possible, all the time. Like gigabytes of it, any time the phone was on WiFi. This was causing downloads to be choppy because the acknowledgement packets couldn't get out with the upstream clogged.

Removed AdBlock Plus from his S5, Internet went back to normal.

So: Do you have any new phones or other devices on your local network?
posted by straw at 1:12 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Casting a vote for bad hard drive or something like this.

The microstutters scream either a drive issue or something chomping up all the cpu, as was suggested above. I've seen both issues cause this numerous times.
posted by emptythought at 1:21 PM on March 23, 2015

Response by poster: Here's a screenshot of my Activity Monitor for really simple browser usage - 2 tabs open, plus some streaming music. In case it helps diagnosing anything.
posted by naju at 1:56 PM on March 23, 2015

If I'm parsing that chart correctly, the CPU hog theory looks totally plausible. You're doing relatively light web usage, with the right edge of the graph being a low point at 30% CPU use, with that peak in the middle being on the order of 80-100% use. Moreover, it's unlikely to be disk problems, because waiting for a disk (at least on most unix type OSes, as I recall) is accounted to system (the red part of the graph) not the user (the blue part of the graph).

My computer (2014 rMBP) is not that much faster, except for having a bit more memory and an SSD, has about a dozen tabs open over two windows (admittedly mostly metafilter and wikipedia), several other active programs, and is running at 5-7% CPU with iTunes music streaming pushing it up by 1-5% from there.

I say you try Safari for a while and see if that helps.
posted by wotsac at 3:49 PM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

While I'd love to see the 'Memory' tab of your Activity Monitor, googling the one problem I see from that screenshot led me to this, which seems to suggest that disabling Hardware Acceleration, or disabling then enabling it, would help.
posted by destructive cactus at 4:40 PM on March 23, 2015

Response by poster: Just on really preliminary tests, running Safari looks only slightly better and more stable from a CPU standpoint - but it's worlds different from a performance perspective. Smooth scrolling, no audio glitches from streaming music, no issues I can see.

I like Chrome and it has some exclusive extensions that I rely on, so it's sad that I might have to switch. But Safari appears to be drastically better.
posted by naju at 4:45 PM on March 23, 2015

I generally expect Safari to be more efficient than Chrome, but this seems a little extreme. You could check if it's any of the Chrome extensions that are going haywire with Chrome's task manager (hot dog menu -> More tools -> Task manager).
posted by aubilenon at 5:05 PM on March 23, 2015

Response by poster: I hit the "Reset Settings" button for Chrome as suggested upthread, so there shouldn't be anything too weird going on. I dunno, I'll have to experiment some more. At least I have some idea of how to diagnose my problems now!
posted by naju at 5:18 PM on March 23, 2015

Are you using Adblock or Adblock pro? Those have now become malware of their own, down to charging to bypass their own filters. (On mobile or I'd link.) At least switch to Mublock.
Also Chrome on OS X has generally been going to the dogs. I've been very happy with Firefox though. Have you tried it lately?
posted by RedOrGreen at 5:32 PM on March 23, 2015

I usually get a ton of pushback on this, but chrome is just a gigantic hunk of poop on recent versions of OSX. It's not so much that it got worse, but that a lot of efficiency improvements and provisions were made in various APIs that chrome just completely ignores, and google insists on doing everything Their Way.

Somehow i glossed over the fact you were using chrome in the first post. I would have crapped on it right then and there.

I have a 2012 macbook pro, and it gets VERY hot running chrome, doesn't scroll smoothly, and just generally hogs up ram and works like crap. I've tried all the "recommended" things to make it better including completely nuking and reinstalling a bare latest version to no effect. Safari on the other hand, runs smooth and cool.

It's also just flat out depressing on yosemite with a mechanical hard drive. I have an older imac and a lot of the same behavior is even worse, it's basically useless with more than 2 or 3 tabs open(on a system with 4gb of ram! it's not THAT old/underpowered).

Other than plugins, a random incognito issue, or silly tricks like the 360 youtube videos i never open chrome anymore. It's weirdly become a huge system hog, whereas it's still totally fine on windows. Somehow it just heats up the CPU and even the integrated GPU(much less perpetually kicking on the dedicated GPU unless i disable it) despite not showing that much higher load. I feel like it's rendering way more stuff without hardware acceleration or... something. I never really figured out why it's such a hunk of crap in any definitive way.

I really wish google would stop trying to do every damn thing their own special way. Chrome actually makes my macbook hotter than any other application that isn't a game with only maybe 6 tabs open. Including stuff like photoshop that requires the dedicated GPU full stop.
posted by emptythought at 7:28 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: UPDATE: I was still having major problems with slowness all around, but following these tips ended up improving things considerably. I'm now convinced Yosemite is to blame. Things are still not as fast as they used to be, but my computer is at least fairly usable. I've determined that it's not hard drive failure either. Ultimately getting a more recent macbook might simply be the only option left if I want things to run super smoothly. Or downgrading to Mavericks, but that's a short-term solution.
posted by naju at 11:19 AM on April 6, 2015

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