Have a full house of social distancers working, gaming, streaming, and news binging, all at the same time? If you're experiencing lags, the problem might be on your end. Before you call your ISP, try these easy router tips to get back online.
Start with the obvious: is the problem only happening on one device or all your devices? If your computer's having problems, see if your tablet can connect to the internet, or if your spouse or roommate's laptop works. If the problem only happens on one device, you can safely narrow the problem down to that particular machine.
Make sure Wi-Fi is enabled and that you are connected to the proper SSID using the correct password. If you're running Windows, right-click on the network icon in your system tray and select Troubleshoot Problems to run the Windows Network Diagnostic routine. This can sometimes correct common issues by resetting the adapter. Also, check your network adapter settings to make sure the adapter is using the correct gateway address and other settings.
Similarly, try another website. If you can visit other websites just fine, it's likely that the problem is with the website you're trying to visit, and you'll have to wait for them to fix things on their end. (You can also try typing the website's address into downforeveryoneorjustme.com—if the site appears to be up but isn't working for you, try visiting it in an incognito window, another browser, or clearing your browser's cache and cookies).
Sometimes your internet connection can be affected by malicious code on your computer. Do a scan for spyware, viruses, and malware, all of which can have a significant impact on your web-surfing speed and overall system performance. Windows 10 comes with Windows Defender built-in, which can do the job nicely—but there are plenty of free and subscription-based utilities available as well.
When you type a website into your browser, your computer looks up the IP address of that website using a DNS server. Occasionally, these servers can have problems, making it difficult to visit websites using their friendly domain names (like PCMag.com). It's like having a working phone with no contact list—you technically have the ability to call people, but you don't know anyone's number.
Try bypassing your DNS server by typing an IP address into your browser, like 188.8.131.52 (which is one of Google's IP addresses). If the page loads properly, you'll need to change your DNS server, or maybe flush your DNS cache to fix your problems.
If you can't connect to the internet at all, take a look at your modem and router. Both should have a few LED status indicators—if none of them are lit up, then the modem or router is probably unplugged or powered down. Disconnect the power cord—if you have both a modem and a router, disconnect them both—then reconnect the modem after a minute or two.
Make sure that the power switch is in the On position, if there is one. Once its lights are on, plug in your router (if applicable) and wait for it to boot up as well. If you still don't see lights after plugging them in, you may have a failed power adapter, a faulty power strip, or a fried router.
If some of the lights are on, but some aren't—or they're flashing repeatedly—you'll want to look more closely at what they're telling you. For example, if your modem's lights are flashing rather than solid, it may be unable to find an internet connection, necessitating a new
modem (or a call to your ISP).
If your router's network light is on but the Wi-Fi lights aren't, you may need to press the Wi-Fi button on the side, or re-enable Wi-Fi from its configuration menu. Check the documentation for your modem and/or router to diagnose what these lights are telling you.
It's possible that everything is working properly, but a program on your PC—or someone else in the house—is using up all your bandwidth. On Windows, open up the Task Manager by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Esc and click on the Network column to sort by network usage. On a Mac, press Command+Space to open Spotlight, type "Activity Monitor," and head to Activity Monitor's Network tab.
If a certain app is using a lot of bandwidth—like if you're downloading a big file—you may just need to wait until that process is finished, or cancel it to get your internet snappy again. If you don't see any obvious culprits, see if someone else in the house is downloading a large file on
their machine, and tell them to knock it off. You might even have a neighbor stealing your Wi-Fi.
If you're using Wi-Fi, there are plenty of problems that can slow down your connection. Try connecting your computer directly to the router with an Ethernet cable. If that solves the problem, then your Wi-Fi signal is poor enough to degrade your internet speed. Check the Wi-Fi icon on your computer: how many bars do you have?
If you're low on bars, you may need to move your router to a more central location in your house, or buy a Wi-Fi extender. (If you already have a Wi-Fi extender, it may just be poor quality—a mesh system will probably do a better job).
If you have full bars but there are a lot of Wi-Fi networks in your building, it may just be too congested, and changing the channel or using the 5GHz band may help solve the problem. Check out our guide to boosting your Wi-Fi signal for more tricks to improving reception.
Firmware is the low-level embedded software that runs your modem, router, and other network hardware. Most vendors provide downloadable firmware updates that can resolve performance issues, add new features, and increase speed. Look for the firmware update tool in the System section of your router's management console and follow the instructions carefully to ensure that you're installing the correct firmware version. Do not download firmware from a third-party site.
If rebooting your router doesn't do the trick, it's possible a certain setting is causing your problem. Try resetting your router to its factory default configuration. For most routers, this involves pressing a very small reset button on the rear panel and holding it down for several seconds until the LED lights begin flashing. Once reset, you can log into the web interface and set it up from scratch. Just be careful not to enable the same setting that caused the problem in the first place.
If you're using an older 802.11b or 802.11g router, you may want to consider upgrading to a newer, more powerful one, especially if you have multiple computers, smartphones, and other devices vying for bandwidth.
A dual-band router gives you two radio bands to choose from and allows you to dedicate a band to clients that require lots of bandwidth, like streaming video devices and gaming consoles. Moreover, newer routers employ the latest technologies to deliver speedy throughput, with enhanced Wi-Fi range. Check out our list of the best wireless routers when you're ready to take the plunge.
If you only had one computer in your house, you could plug it straight into the modem with an Ethern
If troubleshooting your modem and router doesn't help, the problem may come from further down the line. Inspect the connection coming into your home. This is usually located on the side of your house, and may or may not be housed in an enclosure. Make sure that the main cable hasn't been chewed up by a squirrel or knocked loose by debris from a storm.
If you see a cable splitter, make sure each connection is tight and the connectors are properly crimped. If the splitter looks suspect (i.e., rusty or dirty), try replacing it—or, if you don't need to split the signal, try getting rid of it altogether, as cheap splitters can degrade signal strength.
If you've tried everything and are still experiencing internet connection woes, it's time to call your service provider. The problem could be on their end, and may require a new connection at the pole coming into your house or new equipment such as a better modem or an amplifier.
If you're experiencing slowdowns at certain times of the day (think after-school hours), it's possible that your ISP is simply unable to handle the increased user load, in which case you may want to find a new service provider. Lucky for you, we've tested them to find the fastest ISPs in the country.