No matter how fast your home network may be, we all get stuck using slow, unreliable Wi-Fi or tethered connections once in a while. Instead of tweaking your browser every time, set up a secondary browser just for slow connections with these simple tweaks.We’ve shared quite a few tips over the years for dealing with slow connections, and with the prevalence of smartphone tethering and coffee shop workspaces increasing all the time. We’ve discovered, however, that instead of tweaking your browser every time you find yourself on slow Wi-Fi, putting together a whole secondary browser optimised for slow browsing makes life a ton easier. That way, whenever you find yourself on a slow connection, you can just close your usual browser and fire up your tethering or Wi-Fi-optimised browser and get on with your work. Here’s how to make it happen.
Pick Your Browser (Hint: Opera)
Obviously, the first thing you need to do is pick which browser you’re going to use as your secondary. I highly recommend Opera, as it is one of the fastest options out there and has the very nice Opera Turbo feature that is absolutely perfect for browsing on slow connections. Plus, most of you aren’t using it, so you don’t need to mess around with setting up multiple Firefox profiles or anything like that (those of you currently using Opera, though, can easily create a second profile for regular browsing and another for slow-speed browsing).
Many of these tweaks also apply to Firefox and Chrome if you don’t want to use Opera, and when applicable, I’ve included instructions for each browser below. If you’re using Firefox as your main browser and also want to use it as your secondary, you can set up multiple profiles fairly easily. And while Chrome is capable of performing many of these tweaks, I don’t recommend using Chrome as your low-bandwidth secondary browser because, as you’ll see, many of these tweaks are just impossible or more difficult to perform in Chrome (its lack of customisability strikes again). I’ve noted those cases in which it does and doesn’t work, just know that it probably isn’t your best bet for this particular situation.
Use Opera Turbo
This is the main reason I suggest Opera. If you haven’t heard about Opera Turbo, it’s a seriously cool feature that optimises the web for slow connections. What it does is take webpages you request, compress them down using Operas servers, then serve the pared-down version to you. It isn’t as extreme as some choices (like using mobile pages or disabling images, which I’ll talk about soon), but it’s a really great compromise. You get full web pages with slightly pixelated images or other imperfections, but you won’t have to wait forever for all your favourite sites to load. It also has FlashBlock built in.
You can enable Opera Turbo manually from the bottom of the window, or you can let it automatically detect slow connections — though you can’t tell it what a “slow connection” is to you. I recommend doing it manually — you know when pages are taking too long and when you want to accept the compromise Turbo entails. Check out the video explanation above for more info.
Block Ads and Flash
Firefox users should block ads with AdBlock Plus and block Flash with Flashblock; Chrome users can use AdBlock and Chrome’s built-in Click to Play functionality, and Opera users can check out Opera AdBlock. Flashblock is already built into Opera Turbo, so there’s no need to do anything extra to get that functionality.
Use Fewer Extensions
As far as other extensions go, unless they’re there to seriously speed up my browsing by blocking ads, Flash, or changing my user agent to load mobile sites, I generally just ditch them. You’ll just have to decide which of your add-ons actually make your browsing faster or whether they’re a small bottleneck that you usually just find worthy of compromise when you’re at home.
Use Lightweight Home and New Tab Pages
Use Mobile Sites
Mobile sites aren’t always pretty, but they’ll get you checking your email and reading those articles much, much faster, so if you’re on an unbearably slow connection, it might be worth using them. It isn’t necessarily something you want to do all the time, because it gives you a seriously minimal page. Of course, this is all personal preference. Some mobile webapps, like Gmail’s iPad-optimised page, are quite nice, and will run much better on a slow connection. You’ll just have to decide how awful the connection needs to be before you turn this on.
If a site doesn’t have a mobile version, Google’s Mobilizer can be a good way to make it more bandwidth-friendly. By pasting in the URL of a web page, the Mobilizer will attempt to create a mobile-friendly version of the page, sans extra formatting, ads, and if you so choose, even images. It doesn’t work with every site out there, but it’s a good fallback if a site is just too heavy for you to load on slow internet.
Enlarge the Cache
When you visit sites on your computer, your browser downloads the contents of those pages to your hard drive. When you go back to that site, it grabs a lot of those contents (like pictures) from your “cache” instead of re-downloading them, so the page loads faster. If you’re on a slow network, increasing the cache size—so it stores more things offline and quickens more of your page loads—can be helpful.
If you’re really struggling (and the Google Mobilizer isn’t doing its job correctly), a good way to significantly speed up page loading is to disable image loading completely. It won’t be pretty, but it’ll be fast, and you’ll still be able to read whatever you want.
Keep Background Tabs from Loading Prematurely
Alternatively, you could just not save your browsing sessions. If you’re doing this on a netbook or laptop that you mostly use on-the-go, or as an alternative to your main computer, you probably won’t need your tabs from the last time you were out anyways. Again, it all depends on how you use your machines.
Disable Automatic Updates
These days, it is become common practice for most browsers to automatically update themselves in the background, and to do it often. It’s convenient as heck most of the time, but if you’re on a slow connection, you don’t want it to be sucking up bandwidth in secret while you’re trying to browse.
These are just a few of the more popular methods out there for getting by on slow networks, but we’re sure there are a ton of others out there. Got a particular preference we didn’t note, or an about:config tweak that really helps you out? Share it with us in the comments.