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Double Your Internet Speed with One Simple Settings Change

How to test and change your DNS servers for faster internet access

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Namebench - Increase web browsing speed

Namebench - Increase web browsing speed

Melanie Pinola

Internet speed is one of the few things you can't have too much of. While there are several tweaks and steps you can take to test and improve your internet connection speeds, one of the easiest and quickest ways to speed up your web browsing is modifying the DNS servers.

DNS and Your Internet Speed

The Domain Name System (DNS) is like the Internet's phonebook, mapping website names like "About.com" to a specific computer (or computers) where the site is hosted. When you try to access a website, your computer has to look up the addresses, and your choice of DNS server can affect how fast a website loads. The network settings for your computer, router, and/or access point allow you to specify which DNS servers (primary and secondary) to use. By default, these are likely set by your Internet service provider, but there may be faster ones to use.

Find the Best DNS Server

Several utilities can help you find the best DNS server by running benchmarks testing how fast DNS nameservers respond for your location. GRC's DNS Benchmark is a great tool for Windows and Linux users, and Namebench is a quick and easy tool that runs on Mac, Windows, and Unix.

Here's how to use the free open source Namebench utility (it should work similarly in GRC's DNS Benchmark):

  1. First download and install the app.
  2. When you first start it up, you'll be asked to enter your current nameserver. You can find this information in several ways: a) On Windows, go to Start > Run > and type in "cmd" (without the quotes) then press Enter. In the new MS-DOS window, type: "ipconfig /all" (without the quotes). Look for the line that says "DNS Servers" and the number beside it for the DNS server address. On a Mac, open a Terminal window by going to Applications > Utilities > Terminal and type in "cat" then a space and "/etc/resolv.conf". If you haven't changed your DNS server, most likely it's your ISP's default DNS servers.
  3. In Namebench, type in your current nameserver, then click the Start button. In a few minutes a new browser page will open with your benchmarking results: The recommended primary, secondary, and tertiary DNS servers to get a faster internet connection speed than the one you're currently using. You'll see a list of tested DNS servers and how long they took to load webpages. Write down the numbers for your recommended servers.

Change Your DNS Server

Now you can change your DNS server on either your computer(s) or your router.

Change Your Router's DNS Servers

If you have multiple devices or friends and family who will be connecting to your network, you should make the change on your router. Head over to your router's administration page (usually something like 192.168.1.1) and look for the section where you can specify DNS servers (it may be in the "advanced" section). Write down the addresses there for future reference, then replace them with the recommended DNS servers addresses. Now, every computer or device that gets its addresses automatically from your router will be updated with these DNS servers for faster web browsing.

Change Your Computer's DNS Servers

Alternately, you can modify the DNS servers on each computer or device. Go to the network adapter settings for your computer and enter in the DNS server addresses. Below are instructions from Google on how to do this(using Google's public DNS servers as examples):

Example: Changing DNS server settings on Microsoft Windows 7

  1. Go the Control Panel.
  2. Click Network and Internet, then Network and Sharing Center, and click Change adapter settings.
  3. Select the connection for which you want to configure Google Public DNS. 
    • For example: To change the settings for an Ethernet connection, right-click Local Area Connection, and click Properties.
    • To change the settings for a wireless connection, right-click Wireless Network Connection, and click Properties. 
      If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  4. Select the Networking tab. Under This connection uses the following items, select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) or Internet Protocol Version 6 (TCP/IPv6)and then clickProperties.
  5. Click Advanced and select the DNS tab. If there are any DNS server IP addresses listed there, write them down for future reference, and remove them from this window.
  6. Click OK.
  7. Select Use the following DNS server addresses. If there are any IP addresses listed in thePreferred DNS server or Alternate DNS server, write them down for future reference.
  8. Replace those addresses with the IP addresses of the Google DNS servers: 
    • For IPv4: 8.8.8.8 and/or 8.8.4.4.
    • For IPv6: 2001:4860:4860::8888 and/or 2001:4860:4860::8844
  9. Restart the connection you selected in step 3. Test that your setup is working correctly; see Testing your new settings below.
  10. Repeat the procedure for additional network connections you want to change. Mac OS X DNS settings are specified in the Network window.

Example: Changing DNS server settings on Mac OS 10.5

  1. From the Apple menu, click System Preferences, then click Network.
  2. If the lock icon in the lower left-hand corner of the window is locked, click the icon to make changes, and when prompted to authenticate, enter your password.
  3. Select the connection for which you want to configure Google Public DNS. 
    • For example: To change the settings for an Ethernet connection, select Built-In Ethernet, and clickAdvanced.
    • To change the settings for a wireless connection, select Airport, and click Advanced.
  4. Select the DNS tab.
  5. Click + to replace any listed addresses with, or add, the Google IP addresses at the top of the list: For IPv4: 8.8.8.8 and/or 8.8.4.4. For IPv6: 2001:4860:4860::8888 and/or 2001:4860:4860::8844
  6. Click Apply and OK.
  7. Test that your setup is working correctly.
  8. Repeat the procedure for additional network connections you want to change.

Linux

In most modern Linux distributions, DNS settings are configured through Network Manager.

Example: Changing DNS server settings on Ubuntu

  1. In the System menu, click Preferences, then click Network Connections.
  2. Select the connection for which you want to configure Google Public DNS. 
    • For example: To change the settings for an Ethernet connection, select the Wired tab, then select your network interface in the list. It is usually called eth0.
    • To change the settings for a wireless connection, select the Wireless tab, then select the appropriate wireless network.
  3. Click Edit, and in the window that appears, select the IPv4 Settings or IPv6 Settings tab.
  4. If the selected method is Automatic (DHCP), open the dropdown and select Automatic (DHCP) addresses only instead. If the method is set to something else, do not change it.
  5. In the DNS servers field, enter the Google Public DNS IP addresses, separated by a space: For IPv4: 8.8.8.8 and/or 8.8.4.4. 
    • For IPv6: 2001:4860:4860::8888 and/or 2001:4860:4860::8844 Click Apply to save the change.
    • If you are prompted for a password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation. Test that your setup is working correctly.
  6. Repeat the procedure for additional network connections you want to change.
  7. If your distribution doesn't use Network Manager, your DNS settings are specified in /etc/resolv.conf.

My Results

My own results showed a 132.1% improvement from using Google's DNS servers over using the stock DNS servers, but in real world usage it might not be exactly that much faster. Still, this one tweak might get you finally feeling like you have a blazing connection to the internet.

Another alternate DNS server you might want to try is OpenDNS, which adds additional features like parental controls and built-in phishing protection

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