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

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!

Cheers Lifehacker


  • The problem could also be psychological. You know the work connection is faster so you feel like the PC at home is slower (even when it isn’t).

    If you feel like the PC is slower then you really need to do a few benchmarks to try to figure out whether it really is or whether it’s your imagination. Pick a few tasks that you feel are slower at home and time them in both places. Make sure you’re doing an apples and apples comparison though. ie: make sure you open the same document in both locations. Opening a 1mb spreadsheet at work and a 100mb spreadsheet at home isn’t a valid comparison.

    You could also write down your list of apps that you think are slow and do a little research on them. Also work out where the files are saving, or what database you’re linking to. As the article points out if you’re saving files to the cloud (and your work server counts) will be slower over a slow internet connection.

  • From my experience, I agree.
    I recently moved into a home with a poor ADSL connection, and this has slowed my computer down quite a bit through opening files (I use OneDrive extensively). A trick I use to speed up file loading times if you use OneDrive, is disable the File Collaboration Feature for Office in OneDrive. Files don’t autosave, or the collaboration tool clearly doesn’t work, but for personal files I’m fine with that!

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