Is your ISP delivering the data speeds you were promised? Is there even a way to find out? Should you just take their word for it? The answer to these questions, respectively, are “we’ll see,” “YEP!,” and “HELL NO!” We can say that because you have access to free tools that will clock your own personal connection.
One major tip: before you run any of these tests, be sure to 1) turn off any downloads or uploads you have going on your system and 2) deactivate your VPN software for the duration of the test; both add a lot of overhead to the connection. You’ll get a more accurate reading if the only traffic to the internet and back is from the test you’re performing.
One quick and easy way to test your internet speed is to use Ookla Speedtest, which is owned by PCMag’s parent company, Ziff Davis. It measures the time it takes for data to transfer between your computer and a remote server by way of your local ISP connection.
The real benefit in using Speedtest.net comes from creating an account. With an account, you can change settings, like picking a server for testing, and make it permanent so it’s saved for every time you visit. You can view your entire test history to see how your internet connection changes over time, which is handy if you go through an upgrade or downgrade in service and want to see the change reflected in real life, not just on a bill.
Speedtest is still handy without an account. Use the mobile apps to test on your smartphone (iOS, Android). It determines your location and pairs you to a local Speedtest server. All you have to do is click the “Go” button. The whole process should take less than a minute to complete, and you watch it unfold in real time.
After completion, view your connection’s upload and download speeds as measured in megabits per second (Mbps). You have the option to share the information via social media by clicking the buttons at the top for social media. There’s also a chain icon to grab a link you can post anywhere, as an image or weblink or even embed into a page just like this:
Run the test a few times by clicking the “Go” button again and again—you will see fluctuations in the data speed from test to test, depending on the network congestion at any given time.
Once you’ve run it a few times, put those numbers in context: click the “Results” link. Even without an account, Speedtest will let you compare your results to global average speeds. Click the tab to switch from download to upload speed. If you used more than one connection (say you went from a hotspot to home and ran tests in both locations), or used more than one connection server, click “Filter Results” to narrow down which tests/servers you want to see.
To compare your speeds with the rest of the world, go to the Speedtest Global Index, which offers average throughput for mobile and fixed broadband connections across the globe. Many ISPs run a version of Speedtest on their own servers for testing customer connections. Those tests become part of Speedtest’s dataset, which is used to create the Global Index and other things. For example, we used global dataset to determine the Fastest Free Nationwide Wi-Fi.
Speedtest is not the only game in town for measuring internet connections. There are others worth a try, and the more you test, the better your options are when you contact an ISP with complaints about your rated speed.
Netflix, for example—which has a vested interest in making sure the internet used by its customers is lightning fast—has its very own speed test. Visit FAST.com and you don’t even have to click a button. It starts an immediate download speed test. You can click for more results, get latency and upload test results, and share data on Facebook or Twitter instantly. With FAST.com, however, you can’t pick the server you test against. There is also a FAST Speed Test app for iOS and Android.
SpeedOf.Me doesn’t look as polished as Speedtest or Fast.com, but many would claim that as a selling point. This zippy little test works on mobile devices and the desktop, offers a history at the bottom if you run multiple tests, and provides an “instant look” graph as the test runs multiple passes for download and upload. It has 116 servers (and counting ) all over North America, Europe, Asia, South America, and a couple in Australia—it picks the fastest one for you, not necessarily the closest server.
Go to your search engine of choice—if those choices are Google or Bing—and search the term “speed test.” Both will pop up a test in the top of the search results.
Bing’s test even looks like a speedometer, like Speedtest. But it’s unclear who powers it, and you don’t get any options to change—you simply get quick and dirty ping (latency time in milliseconds—the time it takes for packets to travel from you to the server), download, and upload results.
Google’s test is run by Measurement Lab (M-Lab), but the results are the usual download and upload speed, with no tracking or adjustment to settings.
Don’t forget: We have a PCMag Speed Test, which you can use any time, even on a mobile device. We use the data it gathers to determine the Fastest ISPs in the US and Canada.
Got a favorite internet speed test tool we missed? Let us know in the comments.