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Front Page » September 25, 2007 » Tech Tips » Download speed revisited
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Download speed revisited

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Sun Advocate/Progress Network Administrator

In last week's Tech Tips, download speeds were briefly discussed. Some of the points were not clearly explained and may be misunderstood by some, so some clarification is needed.

Within the scope of physics, speed is a comparison of distance traveled during a given period of time, like miles-per-hour, or feet-per-second. Download speeds, however, are quite different.

In all reality measuring download speed can be far more ambiguous than measuring how fast a car is moving, for example.

To computer users, download speed is simply a perception of how soon something transfers to their computer. This might mean new email email messages or simply a web page to loading completely.

Download speed most certainly has a time factor. Some websites, for example, respond faster than others. But time is generally not the defining factor, nor is the distance the information travels to reach your computer. It's really a measure of capacity.

For example, when a consumer replaces their Internet connection with a "faster" connection, the speed in which the information travels (bit for bit, byte for byte) generally doesn't change. If there is a difference, chances are it's negligible.

What really changes is the amount of information that is transferred per second. The "faster" the connection is, the more payload the consumer will get.

Consider the following analogy:

A canal brings needed water to a farmer's crops. But because the canal is so small, it takes all day to water his field.

So the farmer spends some of his hard earned cash to double the size of the canal.

The water flowing down the enlarged canal flows at relatively the same speed as it did before. But because the canal can carry twice as much water as it did before, the farmer is able to water his crops in a far more reasonable time frame. The job is done faster.

Consider another analogy:

John Doe is relocating to another area. But the only vehicle John has is a midsize car. So, he stuffs what few belongings he can into his car and takes them to his new home.

Realizing that he's going to have to make many, many trips with his car to successfully move all of his things, he decides to rent a moving truck.

The truck certainly has far more capacity than his midsize car. He fills the truck and is able to move all of his property in far fewer trips than he'd originally anticipated. The job was done faster with the truck.

Similarly, most download speeds measure how much information is transferred within a given amount of time, which is generally in seconds.

Typically, most Internet service providers, or ISPs relate the speed of their service in "kilobits per second" or "megabits per second." This measurement explains how much data can be transferred per second over their network.

Kilobits and megabits should not be confused with kilobytes or megabytes. Kilobits and megabits measure the amount of bits, where kilobytes and megabytes measure the amount of bytes. In most computer systems, and particularly in the United States, eight bits are equivalent to one byte.

Additionally, kilobits and megabits are indicated with a lower case 'b' like Kb or Mb. In contrast, kilobytes and megabites are denoted by an upper-case 'B' displayed as KB or MB.

It's also important to remember that megabits and megabytes are larger units than kilobits and kilobytes. The difference between 'mega' and 'kilo' is a matter of 1,024 (1 MB = 1,024 KB; 1 Mb = 1,024 Kb).

So for consumers, faster Internet connections really are faster (for the most part) because they get the content (web pages, emails, etc.) they want in a shorter amount of time. But it's really a matter of increased payload, not necessarily snappier connections.

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