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I'm working with what I assume is a pretty common Internet setup: a cable modem, a wireless router and a few Internet-connected devices. Lately, I've started being more demanding on my Internet connection, and noticed that using my router slows down my download speeds considerably.

I just kind of dealt with it until Zune Marketplace on the Xbox 360 told me that a movie was going to take well over ten hours to download, and I just didn't want to wait that long. Good little scientist that I am, I tried to reduce the problem down to one variable.

The test

As a control, I turned off all the devices in the house that use wireless Internet, and unplugged all the wired devices except for the Xbox. I also power-cycled both the modem and the router. I then tried to download the movie again, and was told that it would still take over ten hours.

Next, I unplugged the router, and connected the Xbox directly to the modem. The movie downloaded in just over one hour. As far as I can tell, this means that my ISP, other cable users near me, the remote servers, anything wireless-related and my machines' disk speeds can't be at fault.

A similar experiment that replaced the Xbox with a wired laptop produced similar results. To me, this says "the router is responsible for things taking around ten times longer to download."

My question

I'd still prefer to use the router for a few reasons:

  1. it's a pain to connect and disconnect everything every time there's a big file to download
  2. direct connection to the modem isn't good for security
  3. only one machine can be connected directly to the modem at a time

What can I do to have fast connection speeds while still using the router? I don't mind turning other machines off, as long as I don't have to mess with power and ethernet cables.

After asking this followup question and then this one, I installed dd-wrt on my router, and I seem to be getting higher and more consistent speeds. Perhaps more importantly, my memory use is fairly constant. I know this isn't an answer — which is why I'm not posting it as an answer — but it is how I resolved the situation, and hopefully it'll be helpful for someone.

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Here's a slightly related SU question: Why is my downloading speed low inspite of having 1 mbps net speed. – Pops Jan 22 '11 at 23:54
what kind of router do you have? is it at the newest firmware? – madmaze Jan 23 '11 at 0:46
I think "It was caused by the WRT160N v3's defective firmware, which I replaced with DD-WRT." is a perfectly good answer. – Eroen Sep 16 '12 at 16:53
up vote 0 down vote accepted

You can play with router settings to see if they make any difference. For example try enabling/disabling NAT/UPnP/Firewall on your device and check the speed each time you change something.

Although the router seems to be the problem according to your tests, I think, may be, it's not just router alone. It can also be related to Xbox services, i.e. your router works fine with other web sites/services but is having difficulty when dealing with Xbox (I had a similar issue and the only solution for me was to change the router because it was not supporting Xbox services). Have you taken any speed tests? Or download a big file (such as a linux distro) via torrent and see the effect of router on speeds.

Finally, try these tests with your router connected and see if it fails at any of them:

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Yeah, the other test I mentioned was a large download test. It didn't provide much additional useful info so I didn't elaborate, but it does rule out the Xbox as being the only problem. Messing with the router settings a bit seems to have fixed the problem, although I'm not 100% sure why. – Pops Jan 23 '11 at 22:29
Upon further reflection... this was probably due to the firmware update. – Pops Jan 23 '11 at 22:54

Your test is flawed as time is a large variable when dealing with Internet services. Even if you started the file download 1 minute and then in the next minute tried downloading it without your router, there is still no way to know if net conditions have stayed the same. I agree that it does sound like your router, but that's hardly scientific.

The only way to really test if your router is the problem and be sure of it is to do something like put another local network (ie. If one machine is on network, then put another host on a network like on your router and hook up two systems to it, then try to transfer a few between the hosts. Since they are on different networks, it will require routing the same way it does when you go out to the Internet (Note, this isn't entirely true because of NAT translation) If your router doesn't allow you to add static routes, then maybe that's a sign that its too cheaply designed.

I've dealt with broadband routers, PC based routers (such as running Linux) and even enterprise and ISP routers (like a Cisco). I and many other people can tell you that the $70 routers you buy in the store are cheap as hell. It may be nice that they are available for that price and they work for a little while, but they overheat easily, get into state problems that require a restart, etc. Some brands are better than others, but not by much. I've actually seen my Internet problems go away simply by pointing a desk fan at one.

I know your goal is to reduce 10 hours of download time to an hour, but if I were you, I'd find a cheap PC and put SmoothWall, Endian Firewall on it. It will make it as easy as one of the broadband interfaces and it will be much more reliable, provided your hardware doesn't break.

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The scientist comment was tongue-in-cheek; sorry if that was unclear. Your suggestions are a bit beyond my skill level. +1 regardless, for effort and because it all seems reasonable based on what I do know. – Pops Jan 23 '11 at 22:35

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