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For example - I want some programs (like BitTorrent clients) to use as little bandwidth as possible unless my computer is idle (but I'd still like them to run to the extent that they wouldn't interfere with the bandwidth used by other programs). There are other programs that I might want to "hog as much bandwidth as possible"

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You can get a router which can run the Linux based Tomato firmware, which has QoS. This will let you prioritise upload rates, which will then in turn affect your download rates. The Toastman mod for Tomato has effective default QoS classes.

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+1 This is the way to go. –  surfasb Jul 29 '11 at 5:31

Tag your traffic with QoS and the bandwidth should be fairly scheduled amongst applications competing for bandwidth based on their assigned priority.

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