Jan 14, 2023
6 mins read
⏩ Reach Optimal Speed (Router / Network)
Beginning this past week I suddenly experienced a horrendous drop in speed (comparison before / after below). Knowing there was nothing wrong with router hardware (as I had recently changed hardware to an unused / tested Pi 4 I had laying around).
Previously used Raspberry Pi (version 3) for this purpose (until weeks ago). Part of the reason for this was based on my ISP plan: I had no need for anything more powerful at that time. As my ISP max speed delivered much under capabilities of Pi 3 ethernet (Pi 3 / 4 difference discussed below).
Based on ISP bandwidth, I had little if anything to gain by employing a Raspberry Pi 4. I had picked up several Pi 4's and 3's multiple years ago: as I knew price was going to go up during chip shortage -- bought in advance of need (as I suggested to followers a while back).
It served its purpose as a reliable router for 5 years.
Frankly, I notice little difference with the Pi 4 regarding the broader internet (more on Pi 3 limitations below).
AFTER CHANGE (WIFI NOW POST FIX)
Keeping in mind here, I have the bare minimum plan from my ISP for connection speed, as it's all I need. 😎 To put it in perspective, hardwired (ethernet not wifi) delivers a bit faster (than WiFi), but not noticeable (75mbps for my particular plan).
DURING NETWORK ISSUE (DUE TO DAMAGED ETHERNET CABLE):
I knew something was wrong, and in my head (being honest): I was suspicious of my ISP. Considered the possibility they could be throttling my connection.
I had been too busy to look at the problem until today.
The problem (in my case) ended up being an old damaged / bad ethernet cable. Once replaced, the speed of WiFi to my Pihole adblocking WiFi router bounced up. Seen below (first test):
OPTIMIZE YOUR NETWORK CONNECTION
There are many factors that could be limiting your current connection.
Your max bandwidth is determined by ISP limitations. I have the minimal plan, and thus have nothing to gain by buying a more powerful router hardware (WiFi speed is same for ISP / Pi Router).
Most people can get by without any real difference using 1Gbps (1000Mbps) ethernet.
(ISP's may become slower during peak hours)
IS YOUR ISP ROUTER HARDWARE STILL GOOD?
Another factor. I've had to replace ISP routers in the past where the hardware NIC was failing (after so many years use).
This created unreliability and connection drops.
TIP: Make sure you are not experiencing failing ISP router hardware -- as everything (including your SBC or other router) is dependent on the reliability of that ISP router (since it delivers all traffic, connection drops will create a domino effect on your other router / hardware network delivery).
WIFI ACCESSPOINT / CLIENT NIC LIMITATIONS
How is your router's WiFi NIC? Is it limited below your ISP promised bandwidth?
What about your device's WiFi NIC?
This can be a limiting factor. When shopping for router hardware, check for WiFi max speeds of the WiFi NIC.
If you are guaranteed 1000Gbps (I have max of 75-80Mbps on ethernet - a good way to test max speeds), aim for something with as close to that speed as possible for WiFi.
(this is if your ISP even delivers the speeds it promises 😉)
Test with ethernet (hardwired Cat5E or higher) to estimate your max speed.
This is it. The most important part to pay attention...
How are your ethernet cables? This single variable makes or breaks your max network speed (especially internal LAN transfer), depending on available bandwidth.
Many people do not realize that old cat5 is heavily limiting their new router to a maximum (best case scenario) of 100mbps! If older, even lower.
Your router (whichever model) can only deliver as fast as the cable making transfers (in addition to WiFi NIC variable for wifi accesspoint users).
You want as few hardware limiting factors as possible.
Check Cable Connection
It's important to check your cable connections. Ensure it is fit snugly until "clicking" on both ends. Some broken ethernet cables can slip in and out of the ethernet port, causing reliability issues.
What Kind Of Cable Delivers Data To Your Router / Network?
It's an extremely important question - maybe the most impactful depending on your experience.
Some ethernet cables only transmit max of 100mbps. Some even less (especially longer).
And if your router is reliant on this cable, you should surely be using the fastest ethernet cable possible, to power your new router.
How About Cable Length?
Did you know the length of your ethernet cable can directly impact speed your device receives?
A cable that is longer than necessary (ie: 100m) will play a role.
Did you know with a Cat5 ethernet cable over 100m length drops max speed from 100Mbps all the way down to 10Mbps? A full 10x drop.
The longer your cable is, the lower its rating, the slower everything becomes for all devices on the other end of it.
If you have multiple switches, routers in between etc. It's vital to choose: at least CAT5E rating.
Each limited cable has potential to further slow down the next device/s ahead of it.
These are all factors that can limit the speed of your network / wifi connection. If you have a combination of multiple flaws, you will experience latency.
With a cable lower rated than CAT5e (ex: CAT5), you place hard limits on most ISP plans.
CAT5E = Category 5E
NETWORKING HARDWARE SPEED
Choose Maximum Potential Throughput
Choose CAT5e / CAT6 / CAT7 to power your router / devices.
REMEMBER: IF YOU HAVE ANY CAT5 OR LOWER CABLES BETWEEN YOUR ROUTER AND ISP ROUTER, YOU EXPERIENCE INHERENT LIMITATIONS FOR ALL DEVICES ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE OF THIS.
CHECK CURRENT ETHERNET CABLES
Look along the length of your cable. What is printed along the side? If it's Cat5 or lower number, you need to change to something faster!
Take a look at this example Cat7 (10Gbps) cable (note it has CAT.7 printed):
If yours says Cat5 (or any number lower), it's time to immediately grab a CAT5E or higher
(ie: CAT6 / CAT7)
Did you know there are settings that can limit your ethernet NIC max speed?
There is a tool called 'ethtool' that can set / show current NIC speeds.
Check current eth0 device speed by running:
HARDWARE: RASPBERRY PI 3 / 4
Both advertise 1000mbps (1Gbps). But is this true (for both) in practice?
Sure, both advertise an ethernet hardware speed of 1000mbps.
Raspberry pi 3
The reality (for those with serious fiber plans; EXAMPLE: true 1+Gbps speed plans from ISP - rarer) was a limitation within Raspberry Pi 3 regarding usb, a limiting factor for ethernet hardware, preventing it from reaching its peak potential.
For my plan, this made no difference in my experience. Your plan may be different. My Pi Router speeds are equal to my ISP WiFi router speeds.
If you have a true 1Gbps plan, you will want maximum router ethernet / WiFi speed (for those with serious ISP fiber plans such as 1000Mbps).
In rarer ISP cases like this, Pi 4 outperforms Raspberry Pi 3.
But as mentioned, based on my own standard connection, I had nothing lacking in the Raspberry Pi 3 for my home's needs. No real difference from ISP router WiFi.
When powering a router you depend on for internet access, faster can be better (if your ISP plan surpasses it - not standard plans), and bigger cable is certainly not better.
FOR EVERYONE: Go for Cat5e or better (not Cat5). Avoid Cat5 and under.
Hope you found this article helpful. Comment questions below. Feedback welcome.
hardware context in my particular case regards adblocking pihole + unbound DNS Server WiFi Router combo img in "extras" / gift supporting this blog / channel content for regular supporters (ie: 6 ☕ coffees over any time per). If interested in learning more, email.
Regardless of your router (namebrand, home built, singleboard computer), follow these tips to prevent common limiting factors within your network.