Every millisecond counts when you're browsing the web, and if you'd like to eke a bit more speed out of your internet connection, you can change your DNS server to make those pages load a bit faster. Here's a brief introduction to what DNS is, how it affects your connection speed, and how you can easily change your computer's settings to use the fastest DNS possible.
Photo by Studio 37/Shutterstock.
What Is DNS and How Does It Influence My Internet Speed?
Computers use IP addresses to connect to one another. IP addresses are a series of numbers that act as digital addresses that allow computers to send information back and forth. Those long strings of numbers are easy for computers to remember, but human beings aren't made to store long strings of digits. We are, however, really good at remembering names. That's where DNS comes in.
When you type a web address in your browser, your computer routes that the domain address through what's called a Domain Name System (DNS) and turns, for example, the human-friendly web address
http://www.lifehacker.com.au into a computer-friendly IP address, like
188.8.131.52. Essentially, DNS is what allows you to use easy-to-remember site URLs — like "lifehacker.com.au" — rather than memorise a bunch of IP address.
Every internet service provider usually has their own DNS server, but it's not always be the fastest. Often, the fastest DNS server is the one that's physically closest to your location. If you switch to a faster one, that means it looks up those IP addresses and gets you where you want to go faster than before. It may not seem like a lot, but when a page has to load things from a handful of different sources — like, say, advertisements or videos — it can add up.
Third-party DNS servers can also have other perks, like content filtering. We've talked about alternate DNS servers before, like OpenDNS and Google Public DNS, but if you want to find out which one's right for you, you can do so with a simple program.
How to Determine and Set Up the Fastest DNS Server for Your Connection
On Windows: You can change Windows' DNS settings deep in the Control Panel, but the free DNS Jumper makes it a lot easier:
- Download DNS Jumper, and extract it to any location on your hard drive. It's a portable application, so there's no need to install it — just start it up.
- If you know what DNS server you want to use, pick it from the drop-down menu or type it in the boxes at the bottom. If not, hit the "Fastest DNS" button on the left. It'll check a number of different servers to find out which one is the fastest for you.
- When it's done, click the "Apply DNS Servers" button to use the fastest server.
Sometimes, your ISP's default DNS server really is the fastest, but other times, it could be something else, so even if it ends up being the ones you already use, it was still worth running the test to find out. When you're done, you can delete the app or file it away for future use.
On OS X: If you're on a Mac, you can try a utility like previously mentioned Namebench. It isn't quite as fast as the Windows alternative, and you'll still have to apply your DNS settings manually, but it works:
- Download Namebench and start it up. Again, you don't need to install, just double click on it to run it.
- Make sure the top two checkboxes are checked, and choose your location from the "Your Location" dropdown menu. Then, hit the "Start" button to run the test.
- Once Namebench returns a result, mark down the IP addresses it lists and head to System Preferences > Network. Choose your network connection from the left (AirPort if you use Wi-Fi, Ethernet if you use Ethernet), and hit Advanced. Go to the DNS tab.
- If the IP addresses in the left pane are different than the ones Namebench found, select them and hit the minus sign below them. Then, click the plus sign to add new servers. Use the two IP addresses that Namebench came up with, and then close System Preferences.
Again, you may find thatyou're already using the fastest DNS server, but if you're not, this can give your web browsing a minor speed boost.
This process won't make your internet twice as fast or anything, of course. If your internet's slow as molasses, it'll probably still be pretty slow after this, but it should shave a small bit of time when loading pages—and us internet junkies know, a few milliseconds can make a difference.