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Broadband Speed Test: Best checkers for BT, Virgin Media and the rest

Yesterday we talked about steps you can take to get a ‘true’ result from a broadband speed test.

That story was more about optimising conditions in your home – the best place to have your router, wired and wireless tests and checking your master socket – this feature is about the broadband speed test tools that are available to you.

There’s a couple of quick things you can do to test the speed of your connection – perform a manual test or use a web-based broadband speed test tool.

In the first section we’ll quickly cover how to manually test for broadband speeds yourself

Manually test your broadband download speed using your browser’s download manager

There’s a simple way of working out your broadband connection’s download speed and that’s by downloading files. While not as convenient as popping your postcode into a text field and pressing enter, the flipside is that this will worked regardless of the type of broadband connection you’ve got – ADSL, Virgin Media cable, satellite broadband, whatever.

Whether you’re using a Windows PC or a Mac, your browser ought to come with a download manager status bar – a window which pops up whenever you’re downloading files.

Smaller files will be expressed in KB – Kilobytes – while bigger files will be expressed in MB – Megabytes.

Either way, by keeping an eye on the download manager, you should be able to quickly work out the download speed of your broadband connection.

What’s the difference between MB and Mb?

A Byte equals 8 bits, something worth keeping in mind as broadband download speeds in the UK are measured in Mbps – Megabits per second.

So, to manually work out your download speed in Mbps, have a look at how long it takes in the status bar.

In the example above, we’ve got an average speed of roughly 339KB – Kilobytes – per second. A Kilobyte (KB) is 1024 Bytes and a Megabyte (MB) is 1024 Kilobytes.
So knowing this we can work out that the average download speed here is 0.33105 MBps (339 / 1024).

To convert MB (Megabytes) into Mb (megabits) simply multiply by 8.

0.33105 x 8 = 2.6484.

This means at the time of writing we were averaging at a rather lowly 2.6Mbps.

So, a quick formula for working out your download speed in Mbps if your download manager is expressing things in KB’s is to divide by 1024, multiply by 8.

Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just Google ‘KB into Mb’ and you should find an easy calculator tool.

Manually test your broadband upload speed using YouTube

A rather crude but easy way to test your upload speed manually is to start uploading a video to YouTube, make a note of the file size and the time it takes to upload and do a basic calculation from there.

YouTube will typically tell you how long the upload will take in minutes and seconds as soon as you start uploading. So from the word go you can make a rough estimate at the start of the upload. You will want to time the actual time it takes to upload from start to finish, as your upload speed will fluctuate depending on what else you’re using your broadband connection for.

When you’re doing any kind of speed test, try to keep everything as ‘lab conditions’ as possible; make sure you’re not using the net for anything else at the same time.

Best Broadband Speed Test tools

Recombu Digital

Seeing as we’ve got our very own broadband speed test tool here, we’d be slightly daft not to mention it.

Our speed test tool is very simple; it just asks for your postcode, asks for the type of the connection (home, business or mobile) and that’s it; hit start and away you go. Your current download and upload speeds will be calculated alongside your latency.

It’s worth mentioning that the Recombu Digital Broadband Speed Test uses software provided by Ookla’s speed testing app is featured on several UK-based broadband sites such as Broadband Choices.


BBC iPlayer

The speed checker on the BBC’s iPlayer site is one of the better ones out there. Not only does the checker have plenty of outbound links to other third-party sites with their own speed test tools, but it comes with a streaming ticksheet, letting you know whether you can stream and download standard definition, HD and radio content from the BBC iPlayer.

As well as acting as a test to see what you can watch on the iPlayer itself, it’s also a useful to test to see how your connection will hold up when streaming HD and video content from services like LoveFilm, Netflix and Blinkbox on your PC or connected Smart TV.

BT Speedtester – Broadband Performance Tester 

For BT customers and subscribers to ISPs which uses BT Openreach’s network, the BT Broadband Performance Tester is a really useful resource.

Not only will it work over BT’s ADSL and fibre connections (including both FTTC and FTTH/P lines) there’s a rigorous 9-point process designed to give you the most accurate result possible of your broadband connection’s performance.

As well as giving you information on your actual download speed, as well as a theoretical maximum for downloads and uploads, you’ll be given an ‘acceptable range of speeds’.

This range could be, for example, 1000Kbps to 8000Kbps. If your actual download speed lies within these parameters then there is no fault on your line. But if it’s any lower then its a sign of a wider problem which will need fixing.

So as well as being one of the most accurate broadband speed test services out there, it’s also a useful diagnostic tool – if you think there’s something playing up with your connection it’s a good idea to give this a run through before contacting BT.

YouTube – /my_speed

A hidden feature of YouTube is a download speed checker. Simply going to will see your ISP’s video download speed ranked alongside the average speeds of your local area, region, and the rest of the world.

Though not terribly accurate and lacking a speed test for uploads, it’s an easy way to get a look at speeds over a period of time. The Japanese must do this for fun to laugh at how slow the rest of the world’s broadband speeds are.


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