It’s powerful, which means your PC and associated equipment might not be up to the job. But there could be a simple solution. Scott Bartley talks about the problems – and how to fix them

The word ‘gigabit’ is well on its way to becoming synonymous with the term ‘blindingly fast internet’. Whether people actually know what the word means is up for debate, but they certainly know they want fibre. And, thanks to savvy marketing, they know that ‘gigabit’ fibre is the best of the lot. 

However, the job of pumping a nearly 1000Mbps internet service into the home doesn’t stop at the wall jack – every component in the home network, from cables and routers to tablets and PCs, is a potential bottleneck.

Knowing exactly which part of the network is causing a slowdown is the trick. 

It’s fairly easy to diagnose and treat any cable issues. You’ll need Cat5e or Cat6 cables, so ditch any old Cat5 cabling. Cat5e is enhanced Cat5 and is made to support 1000 Mbps ‘gigabit’ speeds. It is also more reliable than Cat5 as it cuts down on ‘crosstalk’, the interference you sometimes get between wires inside cables. Cat6 is faster again.

You will also need to check your routers (checking the manual and router box for the word ‘gigabit’ is a good start). Really, it’s your trusty old PC that is likely to be the problem child. 

This is simply because PCs (and when I say ‘PC’ I’m referring to all varieties, including desktops, laptops, Macs, Linux and Windows machines) contain a number of different components that must all interface with each other. If any one of these bits is slower than the rest, everything can get jammed up – and the older the PC, the more likely there are to be jams. So, before the blame game starts, a little advanced sleuthing may be needed to isolate the exact cause of an apparently under-performing fibre connection.

 

Slow internet or slow PC?

Before examining the various bits and pieces that make up the average PC and how they might affect a fast internet connection, it’s worth pointing out that if a computer is slow because of a bloated, pop-up infested browser, or an operating system that is years out of date, a shiny new internet connection isn’t going to make a shred of difference. In short, if your PC’s response is sluggish before the fibre goes in, it’s going to be sluggish afterwards. 

In such cases, it may be time for a fresh install of the operating system, or it might simply be time for a new PC. As a baseline minimum, Microsoft recommends a minimum of 1GB of RAM and a CPU running at 1GHz for a machine running Windows 10. As with most things PC, the more RAM and processing speed a PC has, the snappier it’ll be in everything it does.

 

What’s in the box? 

With these general PC issues out of the way, the impact that individual components will have on your internet experience will also vary. Generally speaking, the CPU (central processing unit), RAM (random access memory) and hard drive will all have enough headroom in how fast they can transport data around the PC that these won’t be the source of any bottleneck. 

For example, of these three components, the hard drive will generally be the slowest when it comes to data being transferred in and out. Yet, even a hard drive built in the relative dark ages of 2010 will be able to transfer data at speeds of around three gigabits per second – that’s three times faster than the absolute maximum of gigabit fibre. These components are unlikely to be the cause of any internet slowdown.

 

The need for network speed

Instead, the two most likely culprits when it comes to underperforming internet speed are the network interfaces (either the Ethernet port or Wi-Fi) and the USB ports (which can double as a network interface if using an external network adaptor).

Alexander van der Linde, of Auckland’s Computer Lounge, agrees. He says customers concerned about a poor performing internet service often turn out to be using Wi-Fi that simply can’t keep up. 

“They often question why they’re not achieving anywhere near the speeds advertised for gigabit fibre on their mobile device,” says van der Linde. “Poor performance often comes down to the Wi-Fi adaptor in their PC not being up to spec for gigabit fibre.”

Even the latest, greatest flavour of Wi-Fi (called 802.11ac) isn’t going to be able to match the speed of data coming in over a full-speed gigabit fibre connection. Under perfect conditions, 802.11ac tops out at around 1300Mbps. But, in real world scenarios, such speeds simply aren’t attainable.

Watch out for slow USB ports too. Older USB2.0 ports will have a maximum transfer speed of around 480Mbps. USB3.0 tops out at a much more respectable 5Gbps. Any network adaptor that uses USB2.0 ports will be slowed by the speed of the port itself.

If full speed internet is required, then a wired network connection using Cat5e or Cat6 cables and a gigabit router is the best and most reliable path to take.

 

Beyond the downloads

Van der Linde points out that while many ageing PCs equipped with the prerequisite gigabit network interface will be able to download files over a fast internet connection at maximum speed, it’s all the other things gigabit fibre enables that put strain on the average PC. 

“With the majority of PC gamers now buying digital copies of games, as opposed to visiting their local store to buy physical copies, gigabit fibre is becoming extremely popular,” he says, in reference to the extremely large downloads involved in buying games digitally. 

“The rise in popularity of Netflix and other streaming services means that gigabit is also becoming more sought after by families who do a lot of HD and 4K video-streaming,” says Van der Linde.

This is where the minimum hardware requirements for a PC begin to ramp up. According to Netflix, to stream 4K video on your PC you need a seventh generation Core CPU, along with an appropriate 4K monitor that meets strict copy protection requirements. Of course, Netflix also recommends a minimum internet speed of 25Mbps to stream 4K. But that shiny new gigabit fibre you’ve had installed will handle that easily, with plenty of bandwidth in reserve.