Get what you’re paying for.
Netflix was dropping out constantly, and that was the final straw.
Like many of you, Netflix has become the focal point of entertainment in our house. It’s what the kids watch when they need a play break. It’s how we get our Friends-fix to wind down at night. It’s our instant-gratification digital oasis, and it was becoming unreliable enough to raise my blood-pressure to frightening levels.
Our home’s internet connection was a complete train wreck, and it was time to figure it out once and for all.
At first, I assumed it had to be some stereotypically terrible service from Comcast. We’re paying for 25Mbps down, but we live in a large neighborhood where folks are constantly complaining about service outages and sluggish download speeds. What began as tolerable 5-8Mbps real world speeds (I pay for 25Mbps) a few years ago slowly crept down to 1-2Mbps on a regular basis. “Maybe Comcast is having trouble keeping up with our jam-packed rural neighborhood,” I thought.
The inexplicable thing was the few folks down the street who have Comcast and no issues whatsoever. While I fantasized about taking a hammer to my Apple TV, an acquaintance only a few doors down was happily gaming online and downloading movies to his heart’s content. Something was wrong at my house, so I began to take a closer look at my hardware.
As a nerd who loves to use the latest tech (enough to blog about it), I was pretty confident my equipment was up to snuff. We upgraded to a well-regarded mid-range Linksys Wireless-N router a few years ago, which was definitely configured correctly. I even began power-cycling (unplugging and plugging back in) all of my networking equipment 4 or 5 times a week to try to alleviate the problem when things became particularly slow. This seemed to goose my connection slightly every time, but it always cratered out again a few hours later.
I realized I’ve been using the same cable modem for almost 10 years (an item which has seen a lot of improvement in recent years), so I decided that maybe that was the weak link. I sprung for a top-of-the-line Motorola DOCSIS 3.0 modem, and that seemed to help for a short time, but sure enough we were back to slowville a few weeks later. Maybe I experienced some sort of digital placebo effect.
I got busy with other projects at the start of this year and resigned to my digital fate until last week. I realized I had made a habit of tethering to my iPhone’s LTE connection to get work done from home, which is just ridiculous when that data is so expensive and I’m paying $70/mo for a home service I can’t even use.
Before calling Comcast to yell at them, I decided to plug straight into my new modem with a Ethernet cable (skipping the wireless router altogether) and I was immediately astounded at the results. My 1-2Mbps wireless connection was instantly 30Mbps straight from the modem. It turns out my router just couldn’t keep up.
Since a wireless router will be the backbone of our new smart home (still under construction at the time of this post), I decided to splurge past the $50 most of us spend on equipment like this and get one of the best “prosumer” models on the market. I landed on the Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 (~$180), and I’m mad at myself for waiting this long to do it. I’m not even using the wireless ac speeds (yet), but I’m getting a rock-solid 30Mbps down constantly all throughout the house. YouTube videos load instantly. Dropbox files download in seconds. Heck, I haven’t seen a buffering screen on Netflix for over a week.
I feel like the grandpa on those terrible HughesNet satellite commercials… “I can finally watch the funny video clips all of my kids keep talking about!”
If you’re in the same boat as we were, go check the speed from your modem right away. You may be only a small purchase away from a dramatic improvement in your digital lifestyle.
A Few Notes:
- Want to test the speed at your place? Plug a computer directly to your modem with an ethernet cable, turn off WiFi, and make sure you have an internet connection. Once you do, open a browser and visit speedcheck.org to run a test. Visit the same site when you’re just using WiFi, and see if you notice a discrepancy. Mine was obviously huge, but results may vary.
- IT friends: Calm down… I can feel you rolling your eyes and preparing to comment as I type this. I did check the speed directly from my modem a few times previously, which led to the purchase of the new one. That first week or two with the new modem seemed to speed things up a bit, and it just didn’t occur to me to check the new one until things slowed down to a crawl again. Just assumed our neighborhood connection was poor no matter the modem. Lesson learned… don’t assume.
- I’m not sure why the old router performed so badly; It was a decently ranked mid-range model from Linksys. Maybe I had too many devices pulling from it. Maybe it was a lemon. Who knows.
- That Nighthawk router is bad-to-the-bone. It’s dual-core, runs two simultaneous wireless networks (for old devices and new ones), and has a bunch of cool admin features that can be managed from a smart phone. I’ve seen it on sale as low as $100 on Slick Deals, so keep an eye out for it and snatch it up for cheap if you can. As more and more devices in our home want access to our WiFi network, I wanted a rock-solid backbone.
- I’m generally no fan of Comcast (we’ve had billing issues with them out the wazoo), but I’m actually getting 30Mbps down vs the 25Mbps I’m paying for. That’s an unusually pleasant surprise from them.
- A side note: please don’t pay money to your ISP to lease their modems/router. It’s a rip off. Buy your own equipment, which should pay for itself in about 9 months.