Manage internet bandwidth in Windows
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Every internet connection is limited and only so much data can be uploaded or downloaded at any time. You may be lucky though and have a high limit that enables you to transmit a lot of data at a time, such as a 20Mbit/s connection. Even when such speeds are promised by ISPs, the reality is that it is much lower than the theoretical maximum that is possible under ideal conditions. Many people aren't so lucky as to have a fat pipe linking them to the internet and it is not unusual to have connections in the range 1-5Mbit/s.
If you try to do too much at once on the internet you will soon see the effects. Set a download going in the background and then try to watch a video online. The video plays for a bit and then stops, plays a bit more then pauses again while it buffers the next few seconds. It can be very frustrating. What is needed is some way of allocating the bandwidth to different applications and prioritising the services that are important to you.
Some people have found that their PCs are downloading files in the background or using up valuable bandwidth and they aren't sure why. Is it a legitimate program that is running and accessing the internet or a roque one that shouldn't be running at all? The computer might even be infected with malware and controlled by a spammer or hacker. It is a mystery that needs to be solved and it is hard to tell what is running in the background and accessing the internet. You need to know what is using the internet bandwidth and either to block those programs responsible completely or reduce the amount that they are using.
With the right network tools at your disposal it is possible to get a list of the programs that are accessing the internet, to see how much bandwidth they are using, and to apply limits to the data transmitted so that they don't take up too much bandwidth leaving little left for other applications. Here are some great tools that are worth considering if you want to take control of the bandwidth used by your computer and to allocate it manually between applications you choose rather than whichever grabs it first or the most agressive.
Bandwidth Manager Lite
Although this is called a Lite version and many Lite programs are free, Bandwidth Manager Lite is not. It is cheaper than the Standard version though and it costs $35. It is not as easy to use or as intuitive as NetBalancer below, but it does work well if you can get your head around the way that it works.
It basically monitors IP addresses, protocols, ports (for TCP/IP) and network interfaces. Rules can be written for these that enable you to block them, allow unlimited traffic or limit it to whatever value you like. In order to use the program you therefore need to know what IP addresses, protocols and ports are being used by applications. You create a rule by giving it a name, specifying the incoming or outgoing direction, the transfer limit, protocol such as TCP, source, destination and so on. It's not easy for novices, but it could be very useful for companies that want to limit employees' access to time-wasting websites like YouTube, Facebook and so on.
Three penalties can be applied and if a transfer takes longer than whatever time limit you define, you can limit the bandwidth by whatever percentage you like. The same is true of large transfers above whatever size limit you set and also multiple connections. It's a powerful program, but it is best used by knowledgeable users and for limiting access to specific sites and services.
Bandwidth Management and Firewall
If you think Bandwidth Manager Lite is complicated, you should skip Bandwidth Management and Firewall because it is even more complicated. It's expensive too and unusually the price is dependent on the speed of the network interface, costing 83 Euros for a 10Mbit/s interface up to 273 Euros for 1Gbit/s. The faster it is, the more you pay.
As it says on the website, this is a "Tool for ISP or companies who needs to have control over network speed and security." It's not something you would want to run on your home PC and there are simpler solutions.
Traffic Shaper XP
You have a choice of two versions of Bandwidth Controller - Standard and Enterprise - or you can download a free copy of Traffic Shaper XP, which is a simpler cut down version that is designed for home users. It says that it is for Windows 2000, XP or 2003 Server, but it seemed to work fine running on a 32-bit Vista PC, so just download it and try it whatever version of Windows you have.
The information displayed in the window shows the protocol, direction of network traffic, local and remote adddresses, amount of data transferred and so on. It is useful and interesting, but it would be a lot more useful and interesting if it said which programs are responsible. You can see something has transferred several megabytes from a specific IP address, but it's not easy working out which program has done this. Rules can be created to limit the flow of network traffic and to prevent an application from using too much bandwidth, but it doesn't make the task very easy. It is similar in some ways to Bandwidth Manager Lite and it would be useful for companies that want to restrict access to specific websites and services like Facebook and YouTube. As it is free, you should definitely try it for yourself though.
NetBalancer is available in free and Pro versions and it tells you which programs access the internet and how much bandwidth each one is using. Its display is fundamentally different to the other bandwidth managers and it is simpler and easier for novices to understand. Instead of displaying protocols, ports and IP addresses, it shows applications like Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, download managers, and other programs that access the internet.
You must run NetBalancer manually and leave it running as you use your computer. It displays a list of all the programs that are currently accessing the internet, the number of connections they make, and the amount of data uploaded and downloaded. It's useful to click the Downloaded column title to sort the programs by amount transferred to see which programs are using the internet the most.
A very useful feature of NetBalancer is that you can limit the bandwidth used by any program. If there's one in the list of internet apps that is using a lot of bandwidth up or downloading, just right click it and set the speed limit to whatever value you want. A novice with no network knowledge can do it. In the configuration options you can choose to group similar programs as one. For example, if you have several web browser windows open you can set a total bandwith for all instances. Bandwidth hogs can be prevented from using too much and this enables other internet applications to run more smoothly.
This is the simplest of all the applications for home users and it is free too. Grab a copy if you want to manage the bandwidth used by the internet apps on your PC.
Some of these bandwidth managers are aimed at companies or even ISPs, but cFosSpeed is squarely targetting home users. It enables you to improve the quality and performance of your internet connection by a combination of manual and automatic bandwidth management.
You don't need to configure it and it is possible to just install it and forget about it. The software analyses the internet connection, measures the bandwidth that is available, checks the ping speed and then applies a set of default settings. It even communicates with other PCs on the network that are running cFosSpeed and works with them. This is excellent and it is perfect for home users that aren't networking experts or people that don't have the time or the inclination to fiddle with complicated settings like ports, protocols and IP addresses.
The program is a bit odd because it doesn't add anything useful to the Start menu. However, a semi-transparent status gadget appears in the bottom right corner of the desktop and tiny buttons can be used to access various functions. One button opens up a configuration window. There are some general settings that enable you to limit the upload and download speeds, but the protocols and programs sections are the most useful.
Instead of the complicated networking terminology used by some of the other programs, in the protocols section you work with FTP, HTTP, POP3, IRC and other protocols. There is a simple slider that enables you to set the priority of each one. The programs section lists popular software in VoIP, media streaming, games, and other categories. You simply select a program and set the priority. If you play Call of Duty, for example, you can give it maximum priority for internet traffic in multiplayer mode to give you an edge over your rivals. If a program you use is not listed, it can be manually added and as with the built in ones, you can manually set the priority.
cFosSpeed costs 15.90 Euros and this is cheap compared to some bandwidth managers. It is also very easy to use and you don't need any special knowledge. This is a great program and is well worth considering. A free trial is available.