How to Get The Internet Speed You Pay For

I had been shortchanging myself with my frugality

TLDR: Improve your Internet speeds with a cheap powerline adapter

This is a followup to Don’t Upgrade Your Internet Speed

In my earlier post about Internet speeds, I discussed how the majority of stuff you do online doesn’t warrant anything more than the lowest provided speed from your ISP. This is still true, but sometimes you have a legitimate need for very fast speeds. In my case, the cheapest option offered by my local ISP was for 200 Mbps.

Thrift stores can be gold mines for computer components. Mice, keyboards, monitors, power converters, and routers have all found their way into my house from the local thrift shops. But prices can vary wildly, and hand-me-down keyboards can be a little, well, unpleasant. You can get a fine-enough keyboard and mouse combo for less than $15 online, which is worth the extra two dollars you’ll spend since it will lack a thriving crumb-and-hair biome between the keys.

Don’t buy a used keyboard.
Photo by divadsci on Flickr, used under CC by 2.0

Wireless routers are usually a good bet, especially if you’re paying for less than 100 Mbps. More than that, though, and you’ll want to make sure you’re not underutilizing your services. Understanding what your devices, modem, and router can handle are all important steps in getting the most bang for your buck. My laptop, for example, can only

I was getting half of what I paid for

I never rent a router or modem from my ISP. Since I expect to be using the Internet for the rest of my life, I expect to also be needing a modem and router for the rest of my life. Don’t rent a router. It will cost you more money in the long term and improve your privacy. They’re not terribly hard to set up (plug this here, type this here, call your ISP, voila!), and as long as you’re aware of its basic limitations you’ll be fine.

A few weeks ago I realized that one of my devices I was using to stream games on my PlayStation was working poorly. It turned out that there were two major factors at play here: my device was connected wirelessly, and my router was out of date.

Without going into too many technical details, my longstanding thrift-store router offered what was called “fast Ethernet.” “Fast Ethernet” is fast, but it’s capped at 100 Mbps. This meant that everything plugged directly into my router was also automatically capped at 100 Mbps, half of what I was paying for. What I needed was gigabit Ethernet, which, as it sounds, is capped at 1,000 Mbps, or 1 Gbps.

My wireless was technically capped at 150 Mbps, but that was more fantasy than reality.

The best fix for me would be to upgrade my router to one that had gigabit ports and a newer standard of wireless (ac) and then to connect the data-heavy devices directly into the router via Ethernet. Since my PlayStation (among other things) is a fair distance away from my router, I didn’t want to have my fifty-foot Ethernet cable trailing across the floor and in and out of doors. (Yes, I have a fifty-foot Ethernet cable. If you have the wherewithal, they’re $10 on Amazon.) My house is wired in such a way that it would be infeasible to move the router from its spot, and I needed a solution.

No more than a simple hardware upgrade of $120 to essentially double my Internet speed

The coolest thing I found out was that I could use the power line in my home to transmit network data. Since my PlayStation and router both require electricity to run anyway, it was a simple solution at that point. Here’s my setup—they all happen to be TP-Link, but that’s just because they were the cheapest option at the time.

I also am fortunate enough to live near a Fry’s Electronics that sells all this stuff on the cheap and matches online prices.

My new powerline adapter, doing its thing
  • $34.99 – instead of my trusty 50′ Ethernet cable, a TP-Link AV600 Powerline Starter Kit (speeds up to 600 Mbps were fine for me, since my ISP was only giving me 200 Mbps anyway)
  • $14.99 – to allow multiple devices to connect to the Internet from one outlet, a TP-Link 5-Port Gigabit Desktop Switch
  • $56.99 – to replace my router, a TP-Link AC1750 Gigabit Router (this is a link to the A7 model; I bought a C7 model; the differences are minimal)
  • $1/piece – a bunch of short Cat 6E cables to connect everything
  • Total: ± $112.00

I couldn’t be happier with the results.

You Don’t Need a Lawn Mower

Not a Fancy One, Anyway

TLDR: Reel mowers are a cheap, eco-friendly option, but don’t expect your lawn to be showcased on HGTV.

About a year and a half ago I moved from an apartment complex to a rental house that was a block down the street from my landlady. Lawn maintenance became a concern ex nihilo and remained such even when my landlady was out of town. Our neighbor was particularly old and particularly disengaged in any activity other than silently measuring the length of grass and number of weeds of her neighbors’ lawns.

I bought myself this bad boy and saved myself at least $100.

A Scott’s Elite 16″ Reel Mower

This is a push reel mower. You can get one of these for about a hundred bucks at Home Depot, or Amazon sells similar models for around the same price. Because the basic design of a mowing cylinder of blades dates back to the early 1800s, I can’t imagine there’s much of a difference between competing brands.

J. Ten Eyk’s 1825 patent for a lawn mower

It’s worked remarkably well, considering how old the design is and how little I spent on it. And, I mean, you can spend a lot of money on a lawn mower, if you really wanted to. But you don’t want to. Because you’re not maintaining the Gardens of Versailles.

Why Should You Buy a Reel Mower?

  • They’re significantly cheaper than their gas counterparts (though certain electric mowers come close in price—I haven’t tried those)
  • It’s much quieter. If you live in the suburbs, you hear the steady summertime hum of lawn mowers from sunup to sundown. I found, and successfully avoided mowing over, a small nest of infant rabbits a few weeks ago. Their faint squeaks could be heard above the quiet chopping of my reel mower. Things may have been much worse for everyone involved had I been using a noisy mower.
  • It’s a mandatory workout. Are you working out 30 minutes a day? Probably not. But the scrutiny of the HOA, nosy neighbors, and the likelihood of Lyme-disease-carrying ticks in the area are motivation enough for people to mow their lawn regularly. Having a push reel mower will require effort of you. Though they’re really not as difficult as people would have you believe—with the right leverage my four year old can push one.
  • Maintenance is cheap and easy. You can buy a sharpening kit online for $15 and spend a half hour outside getting your blades nice and shiny. You’ll have enough leftover compound to last the life of your mower.
  • No more gasoline, batteries, or extension cords. That’s a win for the environment and your wallet.

Why Shouldn’t You Buy a Reel Mower?

Reel mowers don’t give the nicest of trims. Here’s a before and after shot.

photo of unmowed grass
Before mowing
photo of mowed grass
After mowing
Two tall, seeding blades of grass rise up from an unkempt lawn

Part of the ugliness is inherent in the grass and soil quality here; nevertheless, a reel mower has problems with grass that’s several inches tall. If you take your sweet time in between mows and let your grass grow a foot long, you’re going to need something else. These tall stalks spring right back up when I mow over them. But if you’ve already got a string trimmer or lawn scissors (which you will probably need regardless of mower type to clean up around trees and edges), these aren’t too big a deal to pick off after a mow.

It also has a problem going over sticks. As it is, you shouldn’t be mowing over debris, but the blades won’t toss chunks of wood into your shin like a gas mower. Instead, they’ll prevent the reel from spinning and will require you to bend down to remove the offending stick.

Don’t Upgrade Your Internet Speed

Your ISP’s Marketing Department Thinks You’re an Idiot

ISPs are liars. You don’t need “blazing fast” Internet speed. Consider the following product tier descriptions from Cox Communications

A pricing list for Cox's Internet options

The cheapest option advertises that it is “ideal for 3 to 5 devices that occasionally receive emails…” and offers download speeds “up to 30 Mbps.” Following that is their “most popular” tier, $20 a month more expensive and providing up to 100 Mbps of speed. This is for “5 to 7 devices” and “power web users and gamers.” These are lies. I “occasionally” received emails in the late 90’s with Internet speeds of 56 Kbps—that’s 0.056 Mbps, or 535 times slower than Cox’s slowest offered speed. A friend of mine in the early aughts played Diablo II online with Internet speeds no faster than 28 Kbps. Even with the obesity of the Internet these days, you’re fine with 30 Mbps.

Even more offensive is the idea that you might need “Cox Internet Ultimate” in order to “stream videos.” This third tier offers download speeds “up to 300 Mbps.” It’s not clear whether “streaming videos” is intended to mean “watching Netflix” or “livestreaming your vlog” (in which case upload speeds become much more important), but assuming the average reader sees this and thinks, “Oh, I want to watch Netflix, so I must need this,” take a look at Netflix’s recommended speeds

0.5 Megabits per second – Required broadband connection speed

1.5 Megabits per second – Recommended broadband connection speed

3.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for SD quality

5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for HD quality

25 Megabits per second – Recommended for Ultra HD quality

Internet Connection Speed Recommendations, Netflix, retrieved May 11, 2019

Nobody needs 14x Netflix’s highest recommended speed to watch reruns of Friends. And, if you’re concerned about downloads in general, the difference between 30Mbps and 300Mbps in downloading the update to your latest game might only mean taking a break to call your mom.

Faster speeds are nicer, sure. But it’s not always needed, and it’s always easier to upgrade later than it is to downgrade. Start on the small end and save yourself $40 a month.