Everywhere you look, Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, boast about lightning-fast download speeds.
Words like fiber, gigabyte speed, and bandwidth are tossed about like tempting morsels of candy, so you decide to jump on the bandwagon and choose an ISP with lightning-fast speeds.
You connect your device and boom!
Still slow download speed!
Why is your computer downloading so slow?
Why Is My Computer Downloading So Slow? (10 Reasons)
The first step when attempting to figure out why your computer is downloading so slow is to get a baseline download speed.
This baseline speed will act as a comparison point as different methods of increasing bandwidth and download speed are tried.
There are numerous free online tools which can measure download speeds and bandwidth such as Speed Test by Speedcheck – Test your internet speed, Speedtest by Ookla – The Global Broadband Speed Test, and TestMy.net Download Speed Test.
Now that we have a baseline, let’s look at some potential causes of slow download speed and how to fix them.
1. Older System
Older computer systems can be hampered with problems such as an overused CPU, not enough RAM, a bad hard drive, or incompatible internet protocols.
The CPU, or central processing unit, is the brain of the computer.
The CPU translates computer code into usable functions.
The processes which run through the CPU can overwhelm an older CPU with slower clock speeds.
This leads to slower download times as the download must wait its turn to speak with the CPU.
RAM, or random access memory, is the memory pool used by all programs running on the computer.
An older computer with less RAM may be overloaded, causing the computer to download slower.
The hard drive is the permanent memory of the computer and is tasked with the boot-up process and opening programs.
A full or slow hard drive may not have the capacity to handle the download, resulting in slower downloads.
Internet access can be either wireless through a wireless access card or hardwired through a NIC, or network interface card.
Either method depends on programmed protocols for internet connectivity. Older computers may have internet connection protocols which are not compatible with the internet connection protocol it is trying to access.
The most obvious fix for the old computer problem is to purchase a new computer.
However, if the cost of a new computer is prohibitive, individual components can be upgraded to increase the download speed of the device.
The task manager can be utilized to see CPU, RAM, and hard drive usage.
The network interface can be evaluated using the network connections tab on most devices.
2. Outdated OS
The OS, or operating system is the program that decides how a computer’s different components will function together.
Think of the operating system as the language which the computer speaks.
Operating systems, like computer components, can be older and outdated.
As newer versions of operating systems are released, the older versions may no longer be capable of handling the data processes necessary for fast downloads.
For example, the computer you are using has Windows 7 installed.
The data you are trying to download, however, is optimized for Windows 10.
Windows 7’s language is like an elementary schooler trying to read Windows 10’s college material.
Windows 7 will obviously be slower.
Luckily, upgrading the OS is simple.
If the computer meets the required specifications, the operating system can be upgraded with just a click.
For example, to upgrade to Windows 10, the computer is required to be running the latest version of their Windows OS, has a 1Ghz processor, 1 GB for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit or RAM, 16 GB for 32-bit, or 20 GB for 64-bit of hard disk space, and a compatible graphics card and display.
Upgrading the OS will increase download speeds.
3. A Sick Computer
A computer can become sick with malware or spyware.
Malware is a malicious piece of code which is designed to alter the way the computer functions.
This includes viruses, rootkits, and Trojan horses among others.
Malware such as a virus connects itself to a piece of data such as a file or image and spreads once installed on the victim machine.
A virus can use bandwidth by running programs in the background resulting in slower download speeds.
Spyware is like malware in that it installs and runs without the user’s knowledge.
However, spyware is designed to simply gather and pass along information rather than change how the computer operates, as malware does.
Sick computers can be diagnosed and treated using malware detection programs such as Norton Antivirus Plus and McAfee Antivirus Plus.
These programs are designed to evaluate the entire computer system including all files and running processes and find, quarantine, and remediate malicious code such as viruses and spyware.
Devices such as a firewall can also be used to prevent infection by evaluating all incoming data for suspicious code.
4. Background Programs
Download speed can be affected if a computer has too many programs running at once.
Some programs are designed to auto-launch at boot-up which can lead to excessive bandwidth usage.
The more programs are drawing from the available bandwidth, the slower downloads will be.
Fixing excessive background programs is arguably the simplest issue to remedy.
Open the task manager and view running programs.
If any programs are running which are not involved in the download process, simply close the program to free up bandwidth.
You can also go into the BIOS to set which programs auto-launch upon boot-up.
This will reduce the number of unnecessary programs running behind the scenes.
5. Busy Website
The website itself may be so busy that it is unable to handle the amount of data being transferred in a timely manner.
For example, your favorite streaming platform releases a highly anticipated movie on a specific day at a specific time.
Millions of users across the world are attempting to access the movie at the same time.
This increased demand will lead to slower download times no matter how great your bandwidth is or how fast your computer is.
The fix for this issue would be to attempt to download during non-peak times for the website.
Try to watch the new release a few days post-release to allow the demand to reduce, increasing download speeds.
6. Website Is Geographically Far
With the ease of accessing data from all over the world at the tip of your finger, it is hard to imagine that geography would play a role in slow download speeds.
However, geographical location plays a large role in download speeds.
Data that is pulled from websites is stored in a physical location.
The closer you are to the stored data, the quicker the download speeds.
For example, if you are in California and wish to download data which is housed in London, it will take longer for that data to travel from London to California than if that same data was stored in Arizona.
Fixing this issue can be more difficult.
To increase the speed of download from distant geographical locations, you can attempt to use the same services as the website or follow the same virtual paths as the website.
However, this can be highly complex and may not produce noticeable results.
The other option would be to find a website offering the download which is located closer to you geographically.
7. Router Problems
The router is the device which directs traffic within a network.
The modem translates signals received from the ISP into a usable internet connection.
The router takes this connection and disperses it to the appropriate devices on the network.
A router acts like an air traffic controller, telling data where to go and by what route.
Routers can cause download problems through a bad physical location, an old router, or an overworked router.
Router issues can be simple to resolve.
Wireless routers transmit frequencies through the air, so placement can affect connectivity and download speeds.
Routers should be placed in a central location with no significant blockages such as being placed in a cabinet or a concrete basement.
Older routers may not be powerful enough to handle the internet speed the modem supplies.
This can lead to bottlenecking where information gets jammed behind the slow router, reducing download speeds.
Also, older routers may be running older protocols that are not compatible with updated protocols, slowing download speed.
Finally, a router should be restarted periodically.
A router is not designed to run constantly, which can cause the router to bog down.
Turning off the router for a few minutes will let the router refresh and clear unneeded information from its system.
8. Bad Wi-Fi signal
The Wi-Fi signal itself can cause slow download speeds.
Wi-Fi signals travel through the air, and their strength dissipates the farther the device is from the wireless access point.
Like wireless routers, a Wi-Fi access point’s signal can be affected by physical impediments such as walls and doors.
Wi-Fi access points can also slow download speeds when there are too many people on the access point at the same time.
This leads to the available bandwidth being shared between every device on the access point.
The first thing to evaluate when fixing a bad Wi-Fi signal is to evaluate the positioning of the access point.
Make sure the access point is in a central location with minimal physical impediments to the signal.
A Wi-Fi booster can also be strategically placed to increase the efficiency of the access point.
This booster simply receives the Wi-Fi signal and increases its power from the booster point.
Wi-Fi boosters can help to cover locations farther from the original access point with minimal signal loss.
To fix the number of devices on the access point, a couple of methods can be used.
The first would be to create a private access point which can only be accessed by allowed devices.
Another method would be to evaluate who is using the access point when and schedule large downloads for periods of less usage.
9. Low Bandwidth Cap
A bandwidth cap can be placed on your bandwidth by the ISP.
A bandwidth cap reduces the amount of bandwidth that can be used by an internet connection.
Service providers may place bandwidth caps on internet connections when usage limits have been met.
This is where the fine print of the unlimited data plan comes into play.
An ISP may promote unlimited usage but could impose a cap after a set amount of data has been used.
This cap can significantly slow download speeds.
There are two ways to go about fixing a bandwidth cap.
The first is to find a provider with either no bandwidth cap or a high bandwidth cap.
This will allow for as much usage as you desire without suffering from reduced bandwidth.
The second option is to monitor data usage.
Mobile devices such as smartphones are particularly prone to bandwidth caps.
To reduce the likelihood of reaching the bandwidth cap, monitor data usage, close unneeded programs, turn off constant location services, and connect to Wi-Fi whenever available.
10. ISP Issues
Slow download speeds may be the result of the ISP itself.
As discussed earlier, different delivery methods offer different bandwidths.
Choosing an ISP with higher bandwidth will result in faster downloads.
Some ISPs may offer high bandwidth and still result in slow download speeds.
This could be due to the configuration of the ISP within the area.
For example, in a neighborhood, it is common for numerous houses to run off a single connection point.
This means that all the houses are pulling from the same bandwidth at once, reducing the amount of total bandwidth which you receive.
Another factor with the ISP is tricky wording.
An ISP may offer fiber to your neighborhood.
Fiber is the fastest method to transmit data.
However, if the ISP offers fiber “to the pole,” it means that the fiber only runs as far as the pole which is by your house.
The connection from the pole to your house may be a coaxial cable.
In this case, the data can only transmit as fast as its slowest component.
Even though the data reaches the pole at 2 Gbps, it only transmits into your house at 800 Mbps.
The best way to fix the ISP problem is to educate yourself and ask questions.
See if your service provider runs the entire neighborhood off a single connection.
See if the fiber runs only to the pole or all the way into the house.
If you really want to be thorough, talk to your neighbors to see what ISPs they use.
You can also ask to test their connection to see who offers the best connection in your immediate area.
Slow download speeds can be frustrating, but you have the power to remedy many of the most common issues causing slow download speeds.
What Is Bandwidth?
Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be transmitted during a set period and directly correlates to download speed.
Bandwidth is typically measured in bitrates which are bites per second.
Bitrates are commonly expressed as kilo-, mega-, and gigabytes per second or Kbps, Mbps, and Gbps with Gbps being the largest.
The larger the bitrate or bandwidth, the more data can be transmitted at one time.
Think of bandwidth as a pipe.
A bigger pipe can transport more than a smaller pipe.
The bandwidth offered by ISPs can range from as little as 500 Kbps to as much as 2 Gbps.
How Is Bandwidth Delivered?
The amount of bandwidth offered by an ISP is directly affected by the mode of transmission.
When the internet first started, it used a dial-up connection to transmit data.
Dial-up connections are notoriously slow and clog phone lines.
Today, internet delivery options have progressed and include satellite, DSL, cable, and fiber.
A satellite connection uses a receiver satellite to communicate with a satellite in orbit.
The satellites use radio frequencies to transfer data from one point to another.
Once the radio frequency is received, it is translated into an internet signal by a modem.
The sheer distance the signal must travel limits the potential bandwidth a satellite connection can offer.
The average bandwidth of a satellite internet connection is around 30 Mbps.
Digital subscriber line, or DSL, utilizes existing copper phone lines to deliver connectivity.
DSL, unlike dial-up, uses a dual-line method that does not clog up phone lines and increases bandwidth.
DSL can offer bandwidth speeds of 500 Mbps, significantly more than satellite.
DSL is, however, affected by distance with slower bandwidth resulting from longer distances to the central hub.
Cable internet uses the coaxial cables already installed by television providers to deliver high bandwidth.
The coaxial cable is connected to a modem which translates the high-frequency signal into a useable internet signal.
Cable can offer bandwidth up to 1,000 Mbps.
Fiber refers to the use of fiber optic cables for data transmission.
Fiber optics utilize light pulses sent through tiny glass tubes to transmit data.
Due to the light method of transmission, fiber cables can push massive amounts of data at once.
Fiber can offer a bandwidth of 2 Gbps.
Bevan, Tyler. “Broadband Latency Explained | How to Reduce Your Ping.” Broadband Savvy, 1 Oct. 2021, https://broadbandsavvy.com/broadband-latency-explained/.
“How to Fix an Old Slow Computer.” Kinkead Tech, 9 Jan. 2015, https://kinkeadtech.com/fix-old-slow-computer/.
“Measuring Fixed Broadband – Ninth Report.” Federal Communications Commission, 15 May 2020, https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/reports/measuring-broadband-america/measuring-fixed-broadband-ninth-report.
Windows 10 System Requirements. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/windows-10-system-requirements-6d4e9a79-66bf-7950-467c-795cf0386715. Accessed 17 Jan. 2022.