Every millisecond counts when you’re browsing the web, and if you’d like to eke a bit more speed out of your internet connection, you can change your DNS server to make those pages load a bit faster. Here’s a brief introduction to what DNS is, how it affects your connection speed, and how you can easily change your computer’s settings to use the fastest DNS possible.
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What Is DNS and How Does It Influence My Internet Speed?
Computers use IP addresses to connect to one another. IP addresses are a series of numbers that act as digital addresses that allow computers to send information back and forth. Those long strings of numbers are easy for computers to remember, but human beings aren’t made to store long strings of digits. We are, however, really good at remembering names. That’s where DNS comes in.
When you type a web address in your browser, your computer routes that the domain address through what’s called a Domain Name System (DNS) and turns, for example, the human-friendly web address
http://lifehacker.com into a computer-friendly IP address, like
184.108.40.206. Essentially, DNS is what allows you to use easy-to-remember site URLs—like “lifehacker.com”—rather than memorize a bunch of IP address.
Every internet service provider usually has their own DNS server, but it’s not always the fastest. Often, the fastest DNS server is the one that’s physically closest to your location. If you switch to a faster one, that means it looks up those IP addresses and gets you where you want to go faster than before. It may not seem like a lot, but when a page has to load things from a handful of different sources—like, say, advertisements or videos—it can add up.
Third-party DNS servers can also have other perks, like content filtering. We’ve talked about alternate DNS servers before, like OpenDNS and Google Public DNS, but if you want to find out which one’s right for you, you can do so with a simple program.
A few caveats: Many of you have noted that it isn’t all sunshine and roses in third-party DNS land. Remember that your DNS provider can see every web site you visit, so if you’re especially concerned about privacy, you might want to do a bit of research first. In addition, some schools, businesses, and other places only allow you to use their DNS server, which means if you change the server on your laptop and then take it to work, you might have internet issues. Check into these things before you start playing around with your settings.
How to Determine and Set Up the Fastest DNS Server for Your Connection
On Windows: You can change Windows’ DNS settings deep in the Control Panel, but the free DNS Jumper makes it a lot easier:
- Download DNS Jumper, and extract it to any location on your hard drive. It’s a portable application, so there’s no need to install it—just start it up.
- If you know what DNS server you want to use, pick it from the drop-down menu or type it in the boxes at the bottom. If not, hit the “Fastest DNS” button on the left. It’ll check a number of different servers to find out which one is the fastest for you.
- When it’s done, click the “Apply DNS Servers” button to use the fastest server.
Sometimes, your ISP’s default DNS server really is the fastest. But other times, it could be something else, so even if it ends up being the ones you already use, it was still worth running the test to find out. When you’re done, you can delete the app or file it away for future use.
On OS X: If you’re on a Mac, you can change your DNS servers in your Network settings (see step 3 below). If you want to find the fastest DNS server, try a utility like Namebench. It isn’t quite as fast as the Windows alternative, and you’ll still have to apply your DNS settings manually, but it works:
- Download Namebench and start it up. Again, you don’t need to install, just double click on it to run it.
- Make sure the top two checkboxes are checked, and choose your location from the “Your Location” dropdown menu. Then, hit the “Start” button to run the test. Mark down the result when it’s done.
- Head to System Preferences > Network. Select your network connection in the left sidebar (AirPort if you use Wi-Fi, Ethernet if you use Ethernet), and go to the DNS box on the right. Type in the the two IP addresses you want to use (the ones Namebench came up with), and then close System Preferences.
Again, you may find that you’re already using the fastest DNS server, but if you’re not, this can give your web browsing a minor speed boost.
This process won’t make your internet twice as fast or anything, of course. If your internet’s slow as molasses, it’ll probably still be pretty slow after this, but it should shave a small bit of time when loading pages—and us internet junkies know, a few milliseconds can make a difference.