The Hash Brown Speed Test: Free Maccas And Free Wi-Fi

Today's offer of free breakfast at McDonald's was a free hash brown. To see just how much you can get from the deal, I visited six Melbourne CBD McDonald's over the course of an hour, tried to score a free hash brown at each one, and tested the speed of the free Wi-Fi as well. How did I fare? How was the free Wi-Fi? And will my waistline ever recover?

Yes, I'm an idiot, but science must be respected. It seems all too likely that eating six hash browns will make you ill, but I want to know just how ill. As well, I'm curious about whether McDonald's locations vary much in the quality of their free Wi-Fi.

When Chris investigated last week's free breakfast deal, he found that there wasn't much in the way of demand. I wanted to know if the same would be true if I visited half-a-dozen busy city locations in Melbourne. So I set off, armed with a cast-iron stomach, a list of locations, and a copy of Speedtest.net set up on my mobile ready to measure the performance in each venue. We often recommend McDonald's as an obvious failover when you urgently need free Wi-Fi in Australia, but in these 4G-happy times I haven't tested it for a while, and I wanted to see how it would stack up.

Free hash brown? No problem

I visited six Melbourne CBD stores, and had no problem scoring a free hash brown at any of them. The first two I visited (around 0730) already had hash browns to spare, and simply handed one over, no questions asked. They didn't even ring them up on the register, which makes me think the "limit of 1000" is more a marketing gimmick: how on earth are they going to know otherwise?

Life became a little busier at my next two stops, both of which were near Flinders Street station. At the Elizabeth Street/Flinders Street store, I encountered the only evidence of anything resembling a rush, when a panicked staffer yelled out "We've only got one bag of hash browns left!" However, that apparently wasn't a major crisis; someone was quickly dispatched to the cold store to grab more bags.

Some other random observations:

  • Only one staffer tried to upsell me to buy something else (though I'd already elected to buy a coffee at the last destination, needing something to cut through the layers of grease forming in my throat). I'm grateful, but it seems like an opportunity missed.
  • Only two of the stores displayed posters promoting the offer.
  • Only two stores offered me a napkin with my hash brown.

The speed verdict

While queuing or while eating my hash brown, I checked out the speed on the free Wi-Fi. This was a straightforward process, save for the Swanston Street/Flinders Street store, where the Wi-Fi was inaccessible when I first visited the store, and at Melbourne Central, where the Wi-Fi was that offered by the centre rather than McDonald's.

Here is the performance I saw. Ping time is measured in milliseconds, the lower the better; download and upload speeds are in Kbps, the higher the better. I averaged three tests in each location and retested if there were strange outlier figures.

Location Ping (ms) Download (Kbps) Upload (Kbps)
Bourke/Elizabeth 78 427 355
Bourke St Mall 61 418 1148
Elizabeth/Flinders 159 428 494
Swanston/Flinders 95 388 1235
Swanston/Latrobe 116 399 1189
Melbourne Central 25 3414 4976

These speeds are OK for basic browsing, but certainly not earth-shattering, and a lot slower than ADSL or (much of the time) 3G. Oddly, in several locations upload speeds were better than download speeds (though still nothing to brag about). The key lesson here is that the Melbourne Central Wi-Fi was dramatically better than anywhere else, which proves regular free Wi-Fi leechers shouldn't just settle for the first network they see. That centre wasn't crowded, but I don't think that's the key factor; several of the McDonald's outlets were all but deserted as well.

The nutritional impact

Here are the key nutritional facts about the hash brown, including the percentage daily intake each one includes:

COMPONENT Energy: 638kJ Protein: 1.6g Fat (total): 9.5g Fat (saturated): 1.1g Carbohydrate (total): 14.6g Sugar: 0.2g Sodium: 352mg
% DAILY INTAKE 7% 3% 14% 5% 5% 0% 15%

Having eaten six hash browns, I have consumed 42 per cent of my daily energy needs, 84 per cent of my fat requirements, and 90 per cent of my sodium. Strict diet of vegetables for me for the rest of the day.

I consider myself to be capable of eating ludicrous amounts of fast food, but I can't recommend this volume of oil-soaked potato goodness. I really had to force myself to eat the last two, and it was only my insane sense of cheapness that got me through it.

Our key lessons

  1. If you want free breakfast at McDonald's over the next two Mondays, scoring it shouldn't be a challenge, even close to 10am. Next week's free orange juice barely seems worth the effort, but the Sausage McMuffin is a reasonable meal in a hurry.
  2. Wi-Fi performance in CBD McDonald's in Melbourne is fairly uniform, but there is variation. If speed is an issue, check out shopping centre food courts instead.
  3. Gorging on free hash browns is a bad idea.

Comments

    Did Melb Central really have a speed of 3414 down and 4976 up? because you say that "These speeds are OK for basic browsing, but certainly not earth-shattering" but I would think that 3.4 Gbps down and 4.9 up (if those speeds are actually Mbps as you say) would be considered fricking awesome, in fact I need to set up a laptop with a torrent client there to download some stuff

      Good luck with that, Si. I have tried a windows laptop, a macbook air, and an iPhone; never been able to get onto the Melb Central wifi. I can see it alright. but not connect. Is there some secret, Angus?

      the article and table clearly says it's kilobytes/kbps. You wouldn't have much luck torrenting on it anyway, you have to provide a name and email to access it and you get a limit of 40MB or one hour, and once you use that you can't reconnect for another 3 hours.

        that true, the article clearly says kbps, but when I posted the message, it clearly said mbps

        the post following mine makes reference to this too

    wow - that is some fast uploads and downloads!! Perhaps you meant Kbps?!

    Fastest Wifi hotspot I've ever seen was around 1700 kbps D/L, I think I need to move to the city.

    Angus, how much time do you spend on the road? (Obviously you're in MEL today) last FY I did 120 flights; that was busy but, it looks like you never actually stop!

    Could you consider writing an article about how you keep sane, fit and maintain relationships with such a transient lifestyle?

    Last edited 05/08/13 12:01 pm

      Yep, I'l consider it -- though on 120 flights, I think you'll beat me. Sane is up to others to decide, fitness is OK, relationships are a disaster.

    Okay, this article has made me wonder about the speeds I'm getting at home... they're slower than the figures mentioned for Melbourne Central, but apparently are "OK for basic browsing but not earth shattering".

    Brisbane, TPG, ADSL2+ unlimited plan, ethernet, chrome, 5 year old Dell lappy.

    http://www.speedtest.net/my-result/2881786664

    Last edited 05/08/13 7:26 pm

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