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 It turned out that there were two major factors at play here: my device was connected wirelessly, and my router was out of date.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.

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