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Monitor internet usage in Windows

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I heard recently came across a problem that was causing a couple of people sleepless nights and they couldn't understand why their Windows PC was using so much bandwidth.

One person had a laptop and was using a 3G dongle to provide mobile broadband access and they suspected that the mobile service provider was charging them for excessive bandwidth usage when in fact they were using very little. They couldn't see how they had used so much bandwidth when they did so little on the internet. The other person had a desktop computer that was using hundreds of megabytes of bandwidth a day when all they did was browse a few websites, read their emails and so on.

There are two questions to answer here and one is how much bandwidth is actually being used, and the other is what programs are using the internet bandwidth? Internet usage is not unlimited, despite what ISPs may claim and it's important to keep an eye on it. Let's see how to do this.

Network Meter

Network MeterTo get an overall picture of the amount of ineternet bandwidth you are using you should download and install Network Meter. This is a desktop gadget that runs in Windows 7 and Vista, 32 and 63-bit. In Windows 7 right click the desktop and select Gadgets, then double click Network Meter to add it to the desktop. In Vista you have to run the Windows Sidebar from the Start menu if it's not already running and then click the button in the top right corner to add it.

It shows two useful statistics and the first is the current internet bandwidth usage. This is since Windows was started. The second is the total usage. There's a little icon to the right of Total and clicking this resets it to zero. You can do this at the start of every week or every month to see your weekly or monthly total bandwidth usage.

This is a great utilty for seeing how much internet bandwidth you are using and it shows upload and download totals. However, it doesn't tell you which programs are using the bandwidth. So you know how many magabytes or gigabytes you are using, but not why. There is a different utility that can answer that question.

NetBalancer

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.

NetBalancer

Unlike Network Meter which runs constantly in the background, you need to run NetBalancer manually and leave it running. If you suspect that your PC is using a lot of bandwidth for some unknown reason, start Windows and then start NetBalancer. Just let the PC sit idle doing nothing and see what programs access the internet and how much bandwidth each one uses in the Downloaded and Uploaded columns. Typically anti virus programs download new malware definitions, Windows may check for updates, and so on. Even if you don't run anything there's always some background activity. It's useful to see how much is used and by what programs.

You can then start your web browser. Again it's useful to let it sit there doing nothing and see if there is any activity. You never know, there might be some plug-in or add-on or malware that is accessing the internet. Even when the browser is left displaying a single page, a lot can happen. Adverts may automatically refresh, Flash movies can play, and so on. NetBalancer will show how much bandwidth the web browser is using. It will also show any other programs that access the internet.

Another interesting and 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. Bandwidth hogs can be prevented from using too much and this enables other internet applications to run more smoothly.

Using these two programs you should be able to get to the bottom of your internet bandwidth usage problem. You'll be able to see how much is being used and by which programs.


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