The Geek Squad Explains Why Your Internet Is So Dang Slow

You've got tech questions, we've found the answers. We've asked the tech experts at the Geek Squad to help you make the most of your technology, answering your thorniest tech questions. So if you're wondering what to buy, how to plug it in, or how to fix it, the Geek Squad can help.

This week, Geek Squad agent Chris Plath fields YOUR questions.

"Why is it every high speed Internet provider claims super-extreme access speeds, and you rarely download at the speed you're paying for? For example, I have 12 Mbps download speed from my ISP and only shows my speed around 9 Mbps download -- and I only get about 1 to 1.5 Mbps on actual downloads." -- Daryl Hislop

Daryl, your question brings up an old saying: “A chain is only as strong as the weakest link.” After your Internet data leaves your computer and heads out into the wild, wild Internet, it doesn't travel directly to your destination. There's no instant “point A to point B” connection.

Your data actually hops to several locations throughout the country, or perhaps even throughout globe, before it arrives at the intended destination. This adds many variables when measuring speed. It only takes one computer, one line, one destination, or one hop that isn't up to par to slow down the transmission of your data.

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There are also a few technical factors that may limit your Internet speed such as overhead, how many users are on your network, the response time of the server on the other end, your router, the quality of the physical cabling, or even software on your computer. These small factors add up little-by-little to sap away Internet speed.

If ALL of your Internet downloads are averaging 1 to 1.5 Mbps, it may be worth a call to your Internet service provider and have them check your connection strength or possibly even your physical lines. On the other hand, if only SOME of your downloads are slow, then it is most likely some sort of weak link in the chain between you and the slow destination. And there's not much you can do about the latter scenario.

Lastly, always treat the maximum speed advertised like the way you treat your car's speedometer. Just because it says 140 mph doesn't mean your car can actually go 140 mph. Even in a perfect Internet world, you wouldn't consistently get the maximum advertised speed day in and day out. That said, a constant 1 to 1.5 Mbps download speed may warrant a call to the ISP.

"How do I deal with a virus that prevents me from loading anti-virus software on my PC?” -- Harold Cremean

This is a common question. Some smart virus and spyware programmers exploit a common computer rule in order to make removal of the virus very hard.

Your computer cannot remove or modify a file if it is loaded or in use. The problem for you is every time you turn your computer on, it runs the file you want to remove -- a catch-22 if ever there was one.

The good news is that some store-purchased anti-virus programs may include an emergency-boot CD that will allow you to start the computer without loading Windows -- or that file. Professional computer repair outfits also have CDs that they may be able to boot from to run an antivirus scanning program without having to get into Windows.

A last resort is to remove your hard drive and install it as an extra drive in a second computer. You can then use the host computer's anti-virus to scan your computer. This method is dangerous, however: The infection could spread to the host computer.

If you don't care about the data on your computer, you could use the super absolute-last-end-of-the-road resort: reformat the hard drive and reinstall the operating system from scratch. This deletes all traces of the virus -- and you'll lose absolutely everything on the computer.

"How do I set up a secure wireless network at home?" -- Jim Pohl

Welcome to the wireless world! First off make sure you have all the equipment that you need: An “N” router, an Internet provider, and a wireless device (preferably a computer) that is up and running. The easiest way to set up your wireless router is to insert the CD that came in the router box into a laptop or desktop computer, and then follow the on-screen instructions.

Most major router manufacturers include this CD right in the router box. This set up process will allow you to create a secure WPA2-encrypted network.

One process often overlooked is actually the most important. Make sure to turn your Internet modem off by unplugging it from the wall, then connect the router to the modem, then turn everything back on. Instructions included with the router sometimes omit this step.

Wondering if your wireless network is secure? Have your wireless laptop or Wi-Fi-enabled phone search around for the wireless networks. Yours should have a little lock next to the name.

"I have an extensive collection of vinyl ... what's the best way to convert it to digital?” -- Dave Johnson

There's nothing quite like that warm sound of vinyl. But it's certainly convenient to archive your collection and be able to instantly play the song you want on your computer.

The process is easiest with a turntable that plugs into your computer via USB. The turntable software then takes the audio, coverts it into digital mp3 files, and stores it on your computer. I would be sure to purchase one that includes the software to perform this conversion process.

You probably have questions about quality too. Some software will eliminate clicks and pops from your records, allow you to store in higher bitrate formats (at the expense of hard drive space) to allow slightly better recordings, and even create custom track-breaks. Good luck!

Got a question? E-mail us at and we'll relay it to the Geek Squad. Next week, the Squad will answer the most interesting or most frequently asked questions.