Ask LH: Can A Bad NBN Connection Affect My Computer’s OS Speed?

Dear Lifehacker, To what extent does internet quality affect a laptop’s operating system and application response times? My work connection is much faster than my home connection, and it often feels like the same machine is slower at home.

I suspect that operating systems and applications often “phone home” and that waiting for responses over slow links slows things down. Does this actually happen? Thanks, Speed Chaser

Dear SC,

It largely depends on the OS and software you’re using. Obviously, any app that runs in the cloud is going to be dependent on the speed of your connection, but your laptop’s operating system and “offline” apps can also be affected, depending on what you’re using them for.

Today’s operating systems and apps often assume an online connection – Cortana pulls information from an online database, for example, while Office saves documents to the cloud by default. Many applications will also initiate updates over the internet with minimal input from the user.

However, it’s not the case that every element of the operating system requires connectivity, and most apps will offer the ability to run in offline mode even if it normally connects to the internet by default.

If your internet is on the slow side, there are various DIY hacks you can employ to make day-to-day tasks become a bit zippier. The first basic step is to troubleshoot your hardware: reset your modem and router, compare your broadband speed with other computers in the house and adopt a process of elimination to see if there’s a specific quirk in your connection.

You should also uninstall bloatware and software that you hardly ever use: especially if it frequently runs and/or updates in the background. In addition to giving your RAM and CPU a bit of a boost this will also free up room on your hard drive.

You could also try installing extensions such as AdBlock Plus which will block some of the bandwidth-hogging ads, animations and videos that can use up your connection. This won’t solve all your issues, but it should help to make a slow connection feel more usable. (Just be sure to disable the ad blocker on sites you enjoy using and want to support the existence of, like this one.)

If your computer is being creaky offline, the issue is likely to be unrelated to your broadband collection – you can find plenty of advice on how to diagnose and fix a slow computer here. Click here to read our guide on dealing with a slow internet connection. You can also find some additional tips on boosting Wi-Fi signals here. Good luck!


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