March 31, 2015 How come it’s slow to download from your site?

Overview

Download speed on the internet is a complex matter, so we have prepared some info to help understand the factors involved. This article is long and detailed, but there is a lot of ground to cover (if you’re not a network engineering geek, don’t ignore this! We’ve written it with regular internet users in mind!).

If you’re finding our site slow, it’s possible there is an issue on our end, but this is unlikely. When there is a problem at our end, we’ll mention it on our Twitter feed (@abbywinters).

Much more likely, is that there is an internet routing issue between you and us. If AW support staff have directed you to this page, this will be the reason.

abbywinters.com servers

Because we’re a big site, we have a “cluster” of servers that host our site. Our servers are located in North Virginia (on AWS, Amazon Web Services), directly connected to several major internet backbones.

Like all media-based websites, we use a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to distribute media files to customers. These services store a selection of our most frequently accessed files at dozens of locations around the world – the closer data is to you, the faster you get it.

CDN delays

This means that popular files are more likely to work well. Older, less-often-accessed files will not be on CDN’s, and so need to be pulled from our server to the CDN. This takes just a few seconds extra (for example, you visit a video page, press Play. Instead of playback starting in 1-2 seconds, it might be 5-9 seconds).

While you’re steaming a scene being pulled from our servers, you may see start-stop behaviour, and be unable to jump ahead (because that video file is not yet completely on your nearest CDN location). Watching at normal speed is typically better (ie, without jumping forwards). Alternately, reload the page, and try to stream again, and it will typically work better (because the file will have finished copying to a CDN node close to you).

Hackers

On rare occasions, hackers use a network of thousands of “zombie” computers whose power they steal using trojan code (commonly called a “malware”) attack us. The owners of these computers may never know it’s happening. These are called DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks – the hackers are denying paying customers from using our service.

With improved server and security technology these attacks have become less frequent than they were in the 2000 and early 2010’s (now, just a few times a year), but when they do occur, they’re beyond our control. In fact, they are beyond any one person’s or company’s control. Large companies like banks and Facebook and Twitter have to deal with these more often than we do.

Should one of these attacks occur, you may find the site slow to browse, and may see error messages. Our web hosting company works to deny access to those computers doing their nefarious work, and service returns to normal in a few hours.

Defining “slow”

There are two aspects to slow:

  1. Browsing speed (latency)
  2. Raw download speed (throughput)

If there’s a problem, it’s typically one or the other (though, satellite internet connections usually suffer from both).

Browsing speed (“latency”)

In lay terms, latency is how fast your computer and our server can talk – how long it takes for you to browse from one page to another on our site, or how fast a page of thumbnails takes to download.

As a rough guide, on a regular broadband connection, you should see at least several dozen thumbnails per second appear on a page (more commonly, 100 thumbnails in under two seconds). As a web page consists of many small elements, “latency” becomes an issue. A low latency connection will appear to “browse fast” to you. As an example, the website of your ISP would usually browse fast – because you’re directly connected to them, you’ll have low latency.

Higher latency connections will usually be further away from the host (for example, accessing our site from Australia, with the servers in the US), and go through more “hops”. That being said, our site browses fine from Australia… it’s just faster in the Atlantic NorthEast of the US.

Hops?

A hop is a node (a computer of some kind) on the internet path that the data between you and us travels. There may be as few as five hops between you and our servers, or as many as 40, but between 15 and 30 is most common. More hops can mean higher latency (slower browsing).

Raw download speed (“throughput”)

This is how fast you can download a single large file, say, a 40Mb zip or 500Mb video. Your web browser probably displays this figure as it downloads, measured in kilobytes per second, but it might be hidden a little.

ABOVE: This screenshot from the Chrome browser, in the Downloads window (CTRL-J, CMD-J on Mac). The speed here is 1135Kb/second – very good. Same for Firefox. Safari, “Show downloads” button top right of browser.

A typical broadband user should be able to get 250 to 400 Kb/sec from us. Our servers support a much higher load – some people get up to 30,000 Kb/sec (!) but that’s due to their own faster internet connections (for example, fibre).


Other downloads

Both “latency” and “throughput” are affected by other activity your internet connection is undergoing. If you’re actively downloading stuff from other sites (or browsing lots of web pages, sharing torrents, your virus program or operating system is updating itself, etc), our site may appear slow, because it’s sharing your connection with the other streams of data. To assess our site specifically, please ensure you are only downloading from us.

If you use filesharing software like BitTorrent, please make sure these programs do not use more than 80% of your upload speed, or your browser will have a hard time requesting files from us – if your software does not have the ability to limit bandwidth usage, install software that does.

Timeframe

We need to establish if your download speed problems happen:

  • All the time
  • Just right now
  • Since x

We know that download troubles are frustrating, that you want someone to blame, and you have emailed us as soon as you have a problem with the service you’re paying for… but it’s probably not our fault!

The internet is an extremely complex system, but it works well most of the time. Sometimes, parts of it break, so the stream of data has to be routed through a different, less efficient path. This can mean a system that usually does not handle much traffic suddenly finds itself inundated, and struggles to keep up. The path your data takes may go through anywhere from 10 to 40 computers (“hops”), so there is plenty of room for things to break.

Luckily, problems are often fixed quickly – sometimes you might not even notice, other times, it might be slow for a few hours, then right itself. It might be days, it could even be months; it’s usually a matter of hours.

Comparing us to other sites

If you say that our site is slow, but “all” other sites you try are fast, that’s a useful test, but not the end of the story. It means that there is not a problem with your connection to the internet, which is good to know.

But, say your path to us is 30 hops (the stream of data passes through 30 separate computers to reach us, 30 is a realistic number). The first 10 hops are from your computer, your ISP, your ISP’s head office, your ISP’s supplier, your country’s backbone supplier (and a few other machines in the middle). After that, the stream of data could go in one route to google.com, but a totally different route to abbywinters.com. Just because Google is fast, does not mean there is a problem at our end – there are 20 other computers that could be causing the problem!

Troubleshooting: Try using a different network

The best way to identify your slow speed issue is to try using a different network (that is, a different ISP, or at least, connection method). Some examples include:

  • Visit a friend and try doing the same thing on their computer (or, bring your laptop). How is it different? (we recommend using an incognito browser, and emailing yourself a link to a video page to use).
  • Create an internet hotspot on your phone and connect your device by wifi (only relevant if it’s a 4G connection). How is it different?
  • Just browse the site on your 4G phone (not connected to wifi), and go to download a video (no need to download the whole thing). How is it different?

Solution: Consider using a download manager

If you’re on a low-bandwidth connection (that is, our site and perhaps others are never fast for you), a download manager can help.

Browser-based download managers can considerably increase effective download speeds, by downloading a file in multiple parallel segments. If your max download rate is 800kb/s and if your internet connection supports higher throughput, you can download with 4 parallel threads giving an effective 3.2Mbps download rate (4 x 800kb/s). Download Them All is one such plugin for Firefox, and Turbo Download Manager for Chrome.

To help you further…

All of this info may have helped you resolve the problem (or, the problem may have resolved itself by now). If not, we can investigate further.

What's actually affecting you? (see above for definitions)
Latency (pages slow to load)Throughput (videos slow to download)

When is this problem happening for you?
All the timeJust right nowAlways since x

What download speed (throughput) do you normally see, and what download speed do you see now? (skip if your issue is latency-related)

What latency do you normally see, and what latency do you see now? (skip if your issue is throughput-related)

What happened when you tried a different network? (see "Troubleshooting: Trying a different network", above)


See our Privacy Policy for information on how we handle your request. We'll always respond within one business day, but our response may go to your Spam box - please check there, and whitelist us!