What Determines Internet Speed?

By Tenisha Mercer

A computer's Internet speed is determined by several factors, not just the speed of the computer's processor. By knowing what determines Internet speed—and how you can improve it—you can boost the speed of your Internet connection so that it doesn't take hours for graphics-laden web pages to show up on your computer screen.

Your Workstation

Years ago, it was common for a dial-up Internet connection to take minutes, if not hours, to load web pages onto a computer. The bigger the file, the longer it took to download. As of 2011, Internet connections offered on high-speed networks such as an ISDN connection, a cable modem, a digital subscriber line (DSL) and Wi-Fi (mobile, public Internet) or secure corporate Internet connections make websites load almost instanteously, often in a matter of seconds. But what determines Internet speed? Many times, it's a variety of things, but the power of your workstation is an important component. This is determined by how fast your processor processes data or information. Simply put, the more "power" your workstation has, the faster it can process information. So, a computer built 10 years ago, with less processing power, generally will not compare, speedwise, to a computer built in 2011.

Connection to ISP

A dial-up connection is much slower than a DSL or a cable Internet connection. A dial-up is just that—a dial up that goes over telephone lines—while other Internet connections are much faster. Your connection speed also has a lot to do with your modem; a lower-level modem won't process information quickly. However, the ISP connection is only one piece of the Internet speed puzzle.

Internet Service Configuration

One often overlooked area is how the Internet service is configured. If it isn't configured correctly by the Internet service provider, it won't work quickly. Check the speed of an Internet connection from time to time to make sure that it is the speed the provider promised. Many times, providers have varying levels of service and faster Internet service is billed at a premium. Make sure the provider gives you the Internet speed for which you are paying.

Internet Traffic

Ever go onto a website and wait and wait for it to load? It may have less to do with your computer than with Internet traffic on the site you are trying to access. If a large number of people try to access the site at the same time, some will be able to access the site and others won't. Other factors affecting speed include the power of the server hosting the pages or files of the site that is being accessed.