I’ve analyzed how routers, modems, and ethernet cables affect your internet connection, but what about your computer?
Can your computer affect your internet speed as well? This is the next logical question to answer.
An old computer can be the cause of a slowed internet connection. If the wired and wireless network adapters on the computer can’t support the internet speed provided by the internet plan (or the network adapter drivers are outdated), it will limit the computer’s internet speed.
I know this may sound confusing.
Fear not. In the article below I’ve broken this down to explain exactly what it means.
How Does a Computer Connect to the Internet?
Before we dive into how a computer can affect your internet speed, we should first break down how computers use the internet.
Computers connect to the internet through a wired (ethernet) or wireless (WiFi) connection to a router. They use the bandwidth provided by your internet service provider (ISP), which is delivered to your computer with the help of a modem and router.
When you enter a website into your web browser, a router and modem help your requests get to the ISP. The ISP then retrieves the requested information on the internet and returns it to your computer.
In a wireless internet connection your computer connects to your wireless router through the air using radio waves. The wireless networking technology that is used for this wireless connection is called WiFi (as I’m sure you already know). Once your router receives your request over WiFi, it ensures your request gets sent out to the ISP and the site you requested gets sent back to you.
The path followed by your request in a wireless internet connection looks something like this:
In a wired connection, your computer is directly connected to a router with an ethernet cable. Your internet request is sent from your computer to the router over the ethernet cable, where it’s then forwarded to the ISP for resolution.
A request sent over a wired connection takes the following path:
In order to communicate through wired or wireless connections, computers use devices called network adapters.
What exactly are network adapters?
I’m glad you asked.
What Is a Network Adapter?
Network adapters, also known as Network Interface Cards (NICs) are devices that allow your computer to connect to the internet or other computers and devices. Today, many computers have the ability to connect to the internet with both WiFi and wired connections. As a result, they have two network adapters installed in them. One adapter is dedicated to wired connections and the other is dedicated to wireless communications.
Let’s take a look at the two different types of adapters.
What Are Wireless Network Adapters?
Wireless network adapters are used in most internet-connected devices today. They are responsible for taking the digital signals that computers generate and converting them to analog signals. These analog signals are then sent through the air to a router when the device wants to connect to the internet. In order to send analog signals over WiFi, wireless network adapters have small antennas built in them. This is a major difference between wireless and wired network adapters.
Examples of devices with wireless network adapters are:
- Smart TVs
- Apple TVs
- Gaming systems
- Mobile phones
In the majority of cases, wireless network adapters come preinstalled in internet devices when they are purchased. If you have an old computer that doesn’t have a wireless adapter, there are many wireless adapters you can purchase that plug into the USB port of your device (like this one for example).
What Is a Wired Network Adapter?
Wired network adapters are available in many of today’s internet devices as well. Examples of devices that incorporate wired network adapters are:
- Apple TVs
- Gaming systems
Wired network adapters are the devices that are responsible for taking the digital signals produced by computers and transmitting them over an ethernet cable. As previously mentioned, wired network adapters don’t come with built-in antennas, as they don’t need to transmit anything wirelessly. They are dedicated to wired communication.
Today, wired network adapters are usually incorporated into the motherboard of the computer.
Can Old Computers Affect the Speed of Your Internet?
Now that we have that background information out of the way, let’s get to an answer for our question.
I provided an explanation of how network adapters work because they play a major part in your internet experience.
The ways your computer can affect your internet connection are as follows:
- Your network adapters (wired/wireless) don’t support your internet speed
- The network adapter drivers on your computer are outdated
- Your computer’s memory doesn’t support how you use the internet
We will be diving into each of these cases and providing steps you can take to avoid them.
Your Internet Connection Can Be Slowed if Your Computer’s Network Adapters Don’t Support Your Internet Plan
If you don’t have a network adapter that supports the speed of your internet plan, it could limit your internet experience.
This is especially a cause of concern on older computers. There have been many advancements in internet technology in recent years, and newer network adapters have been developed to support these advancements. Old computers will have older network adapters installed in them, and they may not be able to keep up with modern internet speeds.
Let’s go through the steps required to see if your network adapters are up to the task.
What Wireless Network Adapter Do I Have?
To find out if your network adapter is the cause of your slow internet, you need to find out what wireless network adapter is installed in your computer.
This may sound daunting, but it’s easier to figure out than you may think.
The first step is to find the Device Manager on your computer. If you have Windows, you can simply type “Device Manager” into the search box of your taskbar. The Device Manager window will look something like this:
When you click the arrow next to Network adapters, it will display all the network adapters on your computer. Your wireless adapter should be clearly marked.
It looks like I have a Qualcomm QCA9377 wireless adapter in my computer.
What does the 802.11ac portion mean?
802.11ac identifies the wireless standard that my wireless adapter supports.
What Are Wireless Standards?
Wireless standards are the different guiding principles that have been created for WiFi as advancements to the technology have been made. Each wireless standard is designed for different internet speeds and ranges. As a reminder, here’s an ultimate guide of the internet speeds that each standard supports:
How to Determine What Internet Speed Your Wireless Adapter Supports
Returning to the example of my computer, I know I have a wireless adapter that supports the 802.11ac wireless standard. Based upon the wireless standards guide above, this means that my adapter was built to support speeds up to 1.3 Gbps (1,300 Mbps).
What if the Device Manager Doesn’t Provide the Wireless Standard My Network Adapter Supports?
What should you do if your Device Manager doesn’t list the wireless standard that your adapter supports?
Easy, just look up the specifications of your adapter on the manufacturer’s website.
You can see that on the Qualcomm website they confirm that my adapter supports the 802.11ac standard.
Take note of what speed your wireless network adapter supports. This will be important later on when we’re looking at the big picture of your computer’s internet connections.
We will now determine what kind of wired network adapter you have.
What Wired Network Adapter Do I Have?
As I mentioned earlier, many wired network adapters are built into the motherboard of your computer. As a result, it may be harder to find out what wired network adapter you have.
Thankfully you don’t need to have this information to find out the speed of your wired network adapter.
How to Determine What Internet Speed Your Wired Network Adapter Supports
By going to my computer manufacturer’s website (Dell) and looking up the ethernet specifications of my computer, I was able to confirm the speed of my wired network adapter.
The transfer rate of my ethernet port is 10/100 Mbps, meaning that it can support up to 100 Mbps of internet speed.
Most ethernet ports today will support either 100 Mbps or 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps). Very old computers may only support 10 Mbps ethernet connections.
Identify What Internet Plan You Have
Now that you know the internet speeds that your wired and wireless network adapters support, you need to look at what internet speed you’re paying for.
As I have explained in other articles, you can do this by calling your ISP or looking at your latest internet bill.
As you can see, my ISP will provide me with up to 600 Mbps as part of my plan.
Do Your Network Adapters Support Your Current Internet Plan?
It’s time to determine if your network adapters support your internet plan. Using my case as an example, I’m paying for an internet plan of 600 Mbps.
My wireless network adapter supports speeds up to 1,300 Mbps.
My wired network adapter supports speeds up to 100 Mbps.
Does this mean my wired internet adapter is limiting my internet speed?
At first glance, you might think that’s the case. However, even though my wired connection is limited to 100 Mbps, that’s more than enough for my needs.
The most internet-intensive task I run on my computer is streaming and watching YouTube videos, which won’t need more than around 30 Mbps for the highest quality videos. 100 Mbps suits me fine and I have no issues when using my wired internet connection.
If I was on a wired connection and I was experiencing slow internet, I could always switch to a wireless connection because my wireless adapter supports much faster speeds.
What to Do if Your Wireless Network Adapters Don’t Support Your Internet Plan
Let’s say I had an older computer with a wireless adapter that supported the 802.11a (54 Mbps), 802.11b (11 Mbps), or 802.11g (54 Mbps) standards. If my internet plan provided much higher internet speeds and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t paying for speeds that I couldn’t use, what could I do?
I will start by saying that even though your computer may not support the maximum speed of your internet plan, it may still fit your needs. If you are getting 54 Mbps on your computer you shouldn’t have any problem streaming or surfing the web.
I get it though. If you are paying for a fast internet plan, you want to make sure your devices are able to use it.
In order to upgrade the wireless internet capabilities of your computer you have a few options. You could:
- Buy a new computer
- Buy an external WiFi adapter that plugs into your computer’s USB port
- Replace the existing wireless adapter on your computer with a newer adapter
If you wanted to keep your current computer, thankfully you can buy a good external WiFi adapter for less than $20. This would probably be the easiest solution. You would just need to plug it into an open USB port of your computer.
If you plan on keeping your old computer for a longer period of time, it might make sense for your to replace its wireless adapter with a new adapter. I wouldn’t advise you do this unless you have some experience working with computers or are willing to pay professionals to do it. You will also want to keep in mind that computer parts don’t last forever and it’s risky to continue using computers that are very old.
What if Your Wired Network Adapters Don’t Support Your Internet Plan?
As mentioned above, wired network adapters usually support 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps, or 1000 Mbps. If your computer supports 10 Mbps over ethernet connections and you want to upgrade it, your most likely options would be to:
- Buy a new computer
- Buy a USB to ethernet adapter
- Use only wireless internet connections
An easy solution would be to buy a USB to ethernet adapter online like this one. These are cheap devices that are easy to use. If you have a really old computer, you just need to make sure your USB ports are fast enough for the internet connection you want. You’ll also want to ensure the adapter supports the current Operating System you’re running on your computer.
The easiest solution would be to resort to wireless connections for the internet if your wireless network adapter supports faster speeds. This may not be feasible for some people who want the low latency of a wired connection, but for many this would be a good alternative.
Your Internet Connection Can Be Affected if the Drivers of Your Network Adapters Are Outdated
Your computer can also be the cause of a slow internet connection if the drivers of your network adapters aren’t updated. If your network adapters support the speed of your internet plan but your internet is still running slowly, you may need to update your drivers.
What Is a Device Driver?
Device drivers are the software that allow the different pieces of hardware on your computer to function. Without drivers, none of your computer components would work.
A few examples of this would be your computer’s:
- Network adapters
- USB drives
- CD-ROM drive
Just like any application, they need to be updated as technological advancements are made and bugs are fixed.
Updating Your Computer
I should start by saying that if you routinely update your computer when prompted, this will more than likely result in updated drivers for your network adapters. It’s important to update your computer on a regular basis so that your computer components are kept up-to-date and working as they should.
However, if you’ve been slacking with your computer updates, you’ll want to see if there are updates available for your network drivers.
How to Update Your Wireless Adapter Driver
To update your wireless adapter driver, you need to go back to the Device Manager like we did earlier.
Within the Device Manager, bring up the properties of your wireless adapter. Then click on the Driver tab.
Click Update Driver.
On the resulting window, select Search automatically for drivers
If there are any available updates for your network adapter driver, you’ll be able to install them. However, if your computer can’t find any updates for your driver, you’ll get the following notification:
If you get this notification and still want to check for updates, you can search for them online on the manufacturer’s website. In my case this would be Qualcomm’s website.
Before you do this, you will want to verify the version of the driver you have installed. This can be found back in the Driver tab for the network adapter.
It looks like I have version 220.127.116.113 installed for my Qualcomm wireless adapter.
When I went to Qualcomm’s website, I received a notification saying that they don’t provide drivers to end users and that I should check my computer manufacturer’s website.
Next I searched Dell’s website, where I found that the latest driver they had for my wireless adapter was the one I have installed.
At this point I knew the driver for my wireless adapter was up-to-date.
These steps will be similar regardless of the model of wireless adapter you have. Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post if you have any questions or run into any trouble.
How to Update Your Wired Network Adapter Driver
When updating the driver for your wired adapter the process is very similar to the process of updating your wireless adapter.
The hardest part is determining which driver includes your wired network adapter.
In my case, after doing a little research I learned that the Realtek PCIe FE Family Controller was the network adapter that contained the wired adapter.
I followed the same process of automatically checking for driver updates under the Driver tab.
Much like the wireless adapter, I got the same results.
I then went to the Realtek website to double check that no new driver updates existed. Before I did, I verified the driver version that was currently installed on my computer:
On the Realtek website, I was able to confirm that I had the most recent driver update.
Although my network adapter driver was up-to-date, this is the process you would follow to make sure yours are updated as well.
Your Internet Can Be Affected if Your Computer’s Processor Does Not Support How You Use the Internet
The last way in which your computer could slow your internet speed has nothing to do with your network adapters.
Surprisingly enough, it has everything to do with the memory your computer has.
I’m talking specifically about the random access memory (RAM) of your computer.
What Is the Purpose of RAM?
RAM is the memory that’s used by a computer to store things on a short-term basis. Your computer stores anything that’s actively running in RAM so it can quickly access it when you need it.
The amount of RAM you have on your computer closely aligns with your computer’s performance. The more RAM you have, the faster your computer can run.
When buying a laptop, it will most likely come with 4, 8, 16, or 32 gigabytes (GB) of RAM.
How Does RAM Impact Your Internet Speed?
RAM doesn’t have a direct impact on the internet speed your computer is getting, but it can have an impact on how fast your internet seems.
Internet browsers (especially Google Chrome) can take a lot of computer resources to run. This is especially true if you are one of those people that has many tabs open at once. If you have a lot of browser tabs open and not enough RAM to support them, it will make your internet (and entire computer) run really slowly.
As an example, there are multiple articles online stating that if you only have 4 GB of RAM on your computer and you try to open 50 tabs of Google Chrome, your computer will lock up. If this happens it will seem like you have a really slow internet connection. In reality, it’s your computer’s memory that’s causing the problems.
In most cases you will only have issues if you have 4 GB of RAM, but this is something to be aware of if your internet (and computer) seems to be running slowly.
How to See How Much RAM You Have
It’s very easy to check how much RAM you have installed on your computer.
If you have Windows, you just need to type “view processor info” into the search box on your taskbar. The resulting window will show how much RAM is currently installed.
I have 8 GB of RAM so my computer doesn’t slow down if I have multiple tabs open.
If I Have 4 GB of RAM What Can I Do to Prevent a Slow Internet Experience?
If you have 4 GB of RAM and your internet slows down when you have a lot of internet tabs open, your RAM could be the cause.
In this case you can:
- Buy a new computer with more RAM
- Install more RAM on your computer
- Restrict yourself to using a small number of browser tabs
If you’re going to be buying more RAM, you can buy another 4 GB of DDR3 or DDR4 RAM for $15-$50. You’ll just need to make sure that you get RAM that’s compatible with your computer (either DDR3 or DDR4) and you have an open RAM slot for the stick. Most computers come with additional open slots so this is usually not an issue. The additional RAM will also make your computer run faster in general.
If your computer has 4 GB of RAM, you won’t be disappointed if you add 4 more gigabytes to it. I promise.
In conclusion, your computer (especially an old one) can cause your internet to run slowly. If you don’t have the proper network adapters, your network adapters are outdated, or you don’t have enough RAM, your internet connection may be restricted.
In providing the above factors that may affect your computer’s internet speed, there are some assumptions that were made that must be called out.
Your Internet Plan, Router, Modem, and Ethernet Cables All Need to Provide the Computer With Adequate Bandwidth
When it comes to a home or office network, there are many factors that affect the internet speed your computer receives.
If you don’t have an internet plan that provides enough bandwidth, your computer will never be able to provide a good internet experience. It won’t matter how old your computer is or the network adapters it has. Having a good internet plan is first and foremost.
All the downstream components from your ISP (your router, modem, and ethernet cables) need to support the internet bandwidth you are getting from your ISP. I have previously provided an in-depth analysis of how this equipment affects your internet performance in the following posts:
Does a Router Affect Your Internet Speed?
Does Your Modem Affect Your Internet Speed?
Can Ethernet Cable Speeds Slow Your Internet?
Your computer uses the bandwidth it’s provided to connect to the internet. If your computer isn’t provided with the proper bandwidth from your home network, it can’t provide you with the internet experience you want.
Your Computer Can’t Your Computer Cannot Affect the Internet Speed of Your Other Devices on Your Network
Another important factor to keep in mind is that your computer can’t affect the internet for the other devices on your network.
If your computer is slow and doesn’t have the proper network adapters, the only device that will be impacted is your computer. Assuming your other devices are provided with the proper internet speed, they’ll be able to use the internet without any problems.
The only way your computer can slow the internet speed of other devices is if you’re not getting enough speed from your ISP and your devices are fighting over limited bandwidth. In this case the computer isn’t the root cause of the issue. You’ll need to reduce your internet needs or get a better internet plan.
Your Computer Can’t Increase the Internet Speed It Receives
Much like it can’t slow down your other devices, your computer can’t boost its internet speed either. In the earlier example it was determined that my wireless adapter could support speeds up to 1,300 Mbps.
My current internet plan provides speeds up to 600 Mbps.
In this case, my wireless internet speed on my computer will not be 1,300 Mbps. It’ll be the maximum speed provided by my ISP: 600 Mbps.
Although your computer can limit the amount of bandwidth it can use, it can’t do the opposite. This highlights the importance of having a computer that’s designed to meet your internet needs. It can be helpful to “future proof” your computer so that you don’t need to buy a new one if you upgrade your internet plan, but you don’t want to buy something that’s much more than you’d ever need.
With my wireless adapter supporting speeds up to 1,300 Mbps, I’ll be able to upgrade my internet plan in the future without having to worry about my computer not being able to support it.
I hope you found this article helpful. Feel free to reach out to me via the Contact Me tab with any questions you may have about this topic.
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Thank you and happy surfing!