Dear Lifehacker, How can I see how much bandwidth I’ve been using? Is there any way to keep a running tally of my bandwidth so I can see when I’m online the most or find out if something is using a lot of bandwidth that I’m not aware of? I’ve been known to go over my 250GB bandwidth cap in my apartment. Sincerely, Data Hog
Photo by tr3gin (Shutterstock).
Dear Data Hog,
I’ve been known to crash through the occasional bandwidth cap too, especially now that I’ve stream a lot of television and music. As demand for those services rises, it’s natural that your ISP will want to charge us more money for bandwidth. There are plenty of ways you can keep track of what you use so you don’t run afoul of your monthly cap. Here’s how to get started.
Install a Bandwidth Monitor On Your Computer
If your computer is the only one in your house, or your bandwidth use is the only use that matters to you, you can install a bandwidth monitor on your computer to track how much data you consume. This method won’t catch any other devices on your home network, such as roommates, your smartphone or a tablet, but it will show you how much data your computers use during your regular activities. Here are a few app suggestions to get you started:
- Networx (Windows) is a free utility that lives in the taskbar and will monitor bandwidth used on all adapters. It also tallies total usage by day, week and month, which you can then export.
- NetLimiter (Windows) takes it a step further and tracks bandwidth used per application. The utility also does bandwidth shaping and will limit transfer rates for specific applications so they don’t slow down other applications (if you’re willing to pay for the $US20 Lite or $US30 Pro versions).
- Freemeter (Windows) is a super-simple, no frills bandwidth monitor.
Mac OS X
- SurplusMeter (Mac) is a free Mac utility that gets the job done, complete with graphs and tallies of your daily, weekly and monthly bandwidth use and your total bandwidth used against your monthly cap.
- iStat Pro (Mac) is a free Dashboard widget that, in addition to monitoring your bandwidth, keeps track of your overall system health. It’s not designed exclusively for bandwidth monitoring, but it will display activity and total usage. If you’d rather have a menubar app instead of a Dashboard widget, $US16 will get you iStat Menus.
- Activity Monitor (Mac) is built into Mac OS X. While it also won’t collect bandwidth data and report totals to you, it lets you keep an eye on your total usage since your last system reboot.
- Ifstat (Linux) is a super-lightweight bandwidth monitor for Linux that supports Linux, BSD, Solaris, IRIX and more. It doesn’t have a lot of features on its own, but if you want to build something to collect bandwidth data, this tool will monitor your network interfaces.
- BandwidthD (Linux) monitors your bandwidth, collects that information into a database, builds graphs and charts, and will display your total bandwdith used over time.
- Darkstat (Linux) captures your traffic and organises it into reports for you by traffic per host, ports per host and more. The tool can even show you where those hosts are connected.
All of these utilities will help you keep track of how much data your one computer is using. If you have an iOS or Android device on your home network as well, check out our picks for best data usage trackers for Android and for iOS. Most don’t differentiate between LAN traffic among computers on your network and traffic to and from the internet though, so take your tallies with a grain of salt.
Monitor Your Network-Wide Bandwidth Use at the Router
For even more accuracy, you can track your bandwidth usage at the router level, assuming you have your own router and access to it. If your router is running its stock firmware, log in and see if it has built-in traffic monitoring. For example, my Netgear N750 router can monitor traffic against a total bandwidth cap for me. If I select it, it will even flash the “internet” connection LED or disable my connection entirely when I’ve hit the cap. More and more routers are coming with this option preconfigured to make it easy to manage caps. If your router doesn’t have built-in monitoring though, you can hack it so it does with a custom firmware:
- DD-WRT is a complete firmware replacement for your router that, among other things, does a great job of monitoring your monthly bandwidth. Make sure your router is supported before you begin.
- Tomato is another firmware replacement that’s incredibly powerful, although it supports a different set of routers. The How-To Geek has a guide to monitoring your bandwidth with it.
Monitoring your bandwidth usage at the router level is probably the most accurate method, since it includes any mobile or guest devices on your home network, and excludes traffic among computers on your home LAN.
Check Your Bandwidth Use at Your ISP’s Website
Of course, you can tally bandwidth used by all of your systems at home for months and show it to your ISP, but the only tally that really matters is the one your ISP has collected. You should definitely track your own usage, if for no other reason than to have your own evidence in case of a dispute, but you should also visit your ISP’s site and see if they make your bandwidth totals available. [clear]
Hopefully we’ve given you the tools you can use to get your bandwidth usage under control, Data Hog! Just remember that if you’re trusting your ISP to track your bandwidth and you start to go over, it might be time to monitor it yourself to see what it is that’s using so much data. Good luck!
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