With the proliferation of smart home devices, online gaming platforms, and video-streaming services, maintaining a strong internet connection is more important than ever. If you’re experiencing lag while playing League of Legends, or it takes forever to download music, there’s a good chance the problem is on your end and not an issue with your internet service provider (ISP). Before you schedule a service call with your cable company, check out our tips for troubleshooting your internet connection.
Try Another Device or Website
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 or someone else’s laptop can connect to the internet. If the problem only happens on one device, you can safely narrow the problem down to that particular machine.
If a specific website won’t load, try another site. 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. Try typing the website’s address into downforeveryoneorjustme.com or downdetector.com to see if there’s a known service outage.
If there is no known outage, it could be an issue with your browser’s cache. You may want to try visiting the site in a private browsing window or from a different browser to see if that fixes the connection problem. And clear your browser’s cache and cookies.
Check the Wi-Fi Settings
Check the Wi-Fi signal icon in the bottom-right corner of Windows and top-right corner in macOS. Click the icon and make sure you are connected to the proper SSID using the correct password. If not, you may be connecting to the wrong network by default. Windows users can change the connection priority or right-click a network and select Forget. On a Mac, open System Preferences > Network > Advanced and uncheck any unwanted networks under the Auto-Join column.
If you’re connected to the right network and still have a problem, Windows can help you diagnose the problem. 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.
You can also check your network adapter settings under Network and Sharing Center in the Control Panel to make sure the adapter is using the correct gateway address and other settings.
Check Your Internet Package
If your internet is working, but is working slower than expected, head to a site like Speedtest.net and run a speed test. You’ll get a number in megabits per second denoting the speed your computer is actually experiencing. From there, head to your ISP’s website and check your bill.
If the number on your bill is the same as your speed test, then you’re getting the correct speeds you pay for. If that feels too slow, you’ll need to upgrade to something faster. If your speed test is significantly slower than the speed you pay for, then you are indeed having problems, and should continue with troubleshooting.
Scan for Viruses
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 comes with Windows Defender built in, which can do the job nicely, but there are plenty of free and paid utilities available as well.
Bypass Your DNS Server
When you type a website into your browser, your computer looks up the IP address of that website using a Domain Name System (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 22.214.171.124 (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.
Decode the Blinking Lights
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 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.
Who Else Is Using the Internet?
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. If someone is using a game streaming service, don’t let them hog all the bandwidth on the network.
There’s also always the chance that a neighbor is stealing your Wi-Fi. We have instructions on how to see who is on your network and how to kick them off.
Get a Better Signal
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.
Update Your Firmware
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 settings and follow the instructions carefully to ensure that you’re installing the correct firmware version. Do not download firmware from a third-party site.
Wipe Your Settings Clean
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.
Upgrade to a Faster Router
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. The latest router standard is 802.11ax, also known as Wi-Fi 6, and it’s enhanced version Wi-Fi 6E. Check out our list of the best wireless routers when you’re ready to take the plunge.
Head to the Source
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 squirrels or knocked loose by 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. Cheap splitters can also degrade signal strength, so if you don’t need to split the signal, try getting rid of it altogether.
Last Resort: Dial Up Your ISP
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.
Disclosure: Downdetector and Speedtest.net are owned by Ookla, a subsidiary of PCMag’s parent company Ziff Davis.