The past two years have put a new emphasis on the importance of an Internet connection in our daily lives. At the same time, some of us have never experienced such erratic slowdowns and performance as in the past two years, coupled with overloading our previously capable home networks. Measuring the performance of Internet networks can help us stay efficient, entertained and less frustrated.
There are several tools that can help you measure or monitor your Internet and network performance, and many of them are free. One is even built into macOS Monterey.
Monitor versus measure, internet versus network
Checking the health of your network is always complicated by your position in relation to the Internet. Within your network, the speed of your connection via Ethernet or Wi-Fi may limit your Internet bandwidth.
If you have 1 Gbps of Ethernet throughout your house, and your connection to the rest of the world is 1 Gbps or less (probably still for almost all of us), connecting via Ethernet will provide better test results on your internet connection than using Wi-Fi, which may vary.
Many network tools measure (a single snapshot) or monitor (continuous samples) data entering and leaving a single computer. This includes all data circulating on your local network and data sent and received from the Internet. This includes the macOS Activity Monitor (in Applications > Utilities), Peak Hour menus, and iStat. Peak Hour has the unique ability to also sample bandwidth data from routers and broadband modems that broadcast the information (more on that in a moment).
You can also get information about your network connection from the system’s Wi-Fi menu. Some routers and broadband modems allow you to connect and view speed data or run various network tests.
However, to measure the throughput you have to and from the Internet (the actual real-world performance of your connection), you need to use a testing tool that interacts with a server located elsewhere and then reports the speed of those interactions. These tools include Speedtest and the macOS Monterey command line tool
Monitor your connection
Often, your most pressing network need isn’t the speed of your connection, but whether it’s working or not. As a 24/7 resident IT team, I often hear cries of dismay throughout the house when something causes our internet to stutter or fail, temporarily or for a longer period of time.
Having a tool that runs continuously or that you can launch on demand to test your current connection can help pinpoint the problem and lead you to check your ISP’s status page, restart a Wi-Fi gateway, or to make a call to arrange service. These tools offer different levels of insight and help.
macOS’s built-in Activity Monitor has a Network tab, which has a data table at the bottom that starts tracking network traffic going in and out of your Mac when it launches. This can help you start the journey to see if your Mac is the problem, an individual application, or the network.
Activity Monitor is located in Applications > Utilities. Click on the Network tab, located at the top right, next to the search icon (the magnifying glass).
With iStat Menus ($11.99), you can put current network data rates in your menu bar. Click on the bar and see a small graph of recent activity; hover over the chart and view a larger one with selectable historical data. (We recently recommended iStat menus in Mac Gems.)
PeakHour (usually $9.99; currently $4.99) displays graph and throughput data in your menu bar and can pull network sources beyond your Mac. Some routers, like the TP-Link model I use, allow PeakHour to perform continuous network management queries on the local network and receive continuous throughput snapshots for all data entering and leaving your network. You can also use PeakHour to set latency monitors on sites like Google’s public DNS, which can reveal broader internet issues.
Measure your internet speed
You can choose one of many tools to perform internet speed tests.
Ookla’s free Speedtest checks latency (see below) and upstream and downstream throughput over several seconds, then averages. The manufacturer sells aggregated anonymized test data to ISPs and others. Available as a Mac or iOS/iPadOS app.
macOS Monterey Network Quality
The networkQuality command-line tool first appeared in Monterey and lets you run a simple command through the terminal to test performance. The networkQuality tool produces a simple result if you simply enter
networkQuality in Terminal and press Return. (Yes, that camel cap
Q must be uppercase.) While it is running, you will see a line like this:
current download capacity: 139.731 Mbps - current upload capacity: 154.199 Mbps
When finished, the tool prints the following text (with your numbers):
==== SUMMARY ====
Upload capacity: 526.274 Mbps Download capacity: 514.126 Mbps
Upload flows: 16
Download flows: 20
Responsiveness: High (2823 RPM)
RPM stands for “Round Trips Per Minute”, a metric closely related to latency. Latency tracks the time in seconds it takes for a data packet sent by one tool to be received by a service on the other end, a response generated, and then received by the tool. A latency of a few to a few tens of milliseconds (ms) is ideal for interactive communications and gaming. Any closer to 100ms and responsiveness becomes poor and video calls or gaming may stutter or become jerky.
RPM is another way to think of latency, as it is the sequential number of operations that can be performed per minute. Measuring RPM requires a longer test than typically used for latency. So latency can show you the average round trip speed over a few seconds and RPM provides a total number of data round trips made one after another over a minute. If your network or Internet connection is experiencing a lot of misfires and packet loss, RPM provides better insight than a latency snapshot.
Macworld contributor Jason Snell has created a way to see networkQuality output in your menu bar with a third-party utility that lets you add items.
Many sites offer web-based speed tests, including Ookla’s Speedtest, Netflix’s Fast (which better help you figure out if you can’t stream efficiently), and Google and Measurement Lab (in support of Google Stadia) . Several ISPs offer speed tests, but almost all license their technology from Ookla.
Troubleshoot network issues
If you are experiencing network throughput issues, you can follow a series of quick troubleshooting steps based on how you isolated the problem.
Is this your Mac? Using the monitoring and measurement tools above, you may be able to isolate it. Make sure you’re connected via Wi-Fi. Use the Network preference pane to make sure you see a green dot next to your network connection. Disable and re-enable Wi-Fi to reset its status. Restart your Mac if necessary.
Is there a router on your network? Try connecting to each router and viewing its status. Many manufacturers offer a single tool for Wi-Fi and connection gateways that let you see network health, like TP-Link’s Tether and apps to configure Amazon Eero and NetGear Orbi. Restart one or more routers if they are not responding.
All your devices and routers are responsive, but you can’t access the internet? Connect to your broadband modem, if you have access to it, and see what it reports. If you cannot access the modem, this may be a problem. Otherwise, use a cellular connection to check your ISP’s status page and go through troubleshooting. Some ISPs provide a tool that lets you reset your connection through a website without having to wait an hour and answers often terribly outdated questions about your Mac and network devices.