If you’re working under the burden of an ISP-imposed data cap, tracking down the “bandwidth vampires” who are consuming all your valuable data will save you from overage fees and hassles. This is where to look.
What are bandwidth vampires?
A few years ago, there was a lot of talk about “power vampires,” devices in the home that consumed a lot of electrical power even when not in active use.
One of the most notable examples of this problem, and one that garnered national attention at the time, was cable boxes: some units used more energy per year than a refrigerator.
Along the same lines, I guess today we’re going to double down on vampire references, bandwidth vampires are devices in your home that use data when you’re not actively using it.
Sometimes that data usage, even if it doesn’t feel like active usage on your part, is part of the device’s functionality and you’ll have to live with it. Other times it’s frivolous (or at least poorly timed) use and you’ll want to reduce it.
If you have unlimited internet, this article will be more of a curiosity for you than anything else.
But for people dealing with ISP data caps and worried about being charged fees for exceeding those limits, looking for any wasteful data usage on your network is a worthwhile activity.
Bandwidth Vampire Location
Before we jump into a list of common (and commonly overlooked) bandwidth vampires in the home, we need to start by pointing out something crucial to your research efforts.
While we have extensive knowledge of the computers, devices, and applications used in and around the home, there are simply too many variables between devices, services, and how they are configured for us to list as much as possible. connected to your home network. gobbling up all your data.
If you read through our list of possible culprits below and feel like nothing jumps out as the likely cause of your problems, you can always roll up your sleeves and check the data yourself by monitoring your Internet usage.
In some cases, doing so, especially at the router level, is the only way to find out exactly which device on your network is responsible for your bandwidth problems.
Your ability to track data usage at the router level is very limited by your router and installed firmware, but most newer routers have some sort of built-in functionality to help you drill down into data usage by type of router. service (eg Netflix, Steam, etc.) and by individual devices (eg your gaming PC, that new security camera you just installed, etc.)
Start Your Search With These Common Bandwidth Vampires
Although, as we just mentioned, there is an almost endless mix of devices and software that could be doing their best to exceed your monthly data limit, there are a few usual suspects that are worth looking at early on, if only to rule them out. .
You might be thinking, “Do streaming devices use a lot of bandwidth? That’s nothing new.” Obviously, if you’re using your Apple TV to watch hours of 4K video streams, you’ll be using a lot of bandwidth because streaming HD and UHD video is bandwidth-intensive.
However, of all the things that surprise people when it comes to bandwidth vampires, we’re comfortable saying that streaming devices like Chromecast and Apple TV, as well as smart home devices like Google Nest Hub, are at the top of the list. Sure, they use a lot of bandwidth when you’re actively streaming, but they’re also very data-hungry while they’re idle.
Most people just don’t realize how much these devices consume, day in and day out, but when you look at the stats, it’s pretty amazing. The problem is that the screen saver modes on most streaming devices work 24/7 and consume quite a bit of data.
In my house, for example, I have four Nest Hubs and five Chromecasts. Each of them, in idle mode, consumes about 450 MB per day. So with just one on the network, that’s 13.5GB of idle data usage every 30 days. With 9 different devices it jumps to 121.5 GB. Fortunately, with a fiber connection and no data cap, that’s never been a problem for me. But if I had a 1TB data limit, about 12% of my monthly limit would be taken up by idle streaming and smart home devices. Not actively using Netflix or anything, mind you, just having the devices on all day.
While you can get around the problem by unplugging your devices when you’re not using them, that’s pretty inconvenient (and in the case of the Home Hub and other smart displays, defeats the purpose of having them).
Instead, we recommend that you adjust your settings. While it varies by device, there are usually options to turn off high-res screen savers (Apple TV 4K screen savers are beautiful but data-hungry) or change the slideshow photos with something simple and low-end. resolution, a trick we recommend to tame Chromecast data usage.
smart security cameras
Old school security cameras record their footage to local storage and only consume bandwidth when you remotely access the footage away from home.
While some newer smart security cameras also have local storage options, most of them, and certainly the most popular options like Google Nest cameras and Amazon Ring cameras, are cloud-based and consume quite a bit of bandwidth. . Whether or not your home internet connection can adequately support smart security cameras is a serious consideration.
Newer Nest cameras, for example, can use between 100 and 400 GB per month, per room, because both uploading and downloading count towards data limits, and cloud cameras upload a lot of data. So if you’ve recently added cloud-based smart security cameras to your home network and are surprised that the bandwidth meter on your ISP’s dashboard says it’s analyzing your data at a record pace, that’s a good place. to investigate.
While you won’t be able to completely control a cloud-based security camera’s data usage, you should be able to make settings like changing it to only upload data when motion is detected or other similar settings.
Windows, by default, uses a peer-to-peer system to optimize Windows updates. In a nutshell, Windows PCs will connect to each other, like a single-purpose torrent cloud, to quickly share Windows update data over the Internet.
For people with limited bandwidth and data, it’s wise to turn “Delivery Optimization” off, with a little caveat. There are two types of Delivery Optimization, global (where you share with Windows PCs everywhere) and local (where you share with Windows PCs only on your local network).
Choose to use Delivery Optimization only for the local network and really save money bandwidth, because one PC will download the update and any other local Windows PC will pull the data from there, instead of downloading it again.
While you’re at it, you may want to disable automatic updates in general so you can schedule when you update your PC when you have extra bandwidth to burn.
Automatic game updates
Game sizes, especially for AAA titles, continue to rise. Not only should you consider the size of the original download when storing your game library, people with limited connections should definitely not try to download a large Steam or console library at once, you should also consider updates.
Even small updates (in terms of features and bug fixes) for many games are sizable. Updates on the obligations Franchise, for example, often weighs in at 10-30 GB per update or even more. The April 2022 update for call of duty: war zone it was a hefty 40GB.
If you’re not actively gaming and are constantly watching your data usage, there’s no good reason to have one or more games pulling data month after month if you’re not even playing. Burn 4% of your 1TB data limit on obligations updating that you’re not even going to play doesn’t make much sense.
To avoid that trap, we recommend going to the settings menu in your game clients and on your consoles to disable automatic updates. It’s a trade-off, no doubt, if you forget to update and really want to play the game in a few months, you might have to sit there for a while while it updates, but on the plus side, you won’t be wasting your data.
We separated this one out because it can happen to almost any app or device and it’s not specific to Windows or games.
Fortunately, it’s relatively uncommon, but when it does happen, it’s pretty frustrating. Sometimes an app or device will download an update and you won’t be able to install it or you’ll experience an error. Instead of just giving up, the same trigger that prompted you to download the update in the first place notices that the expected update isn’t complete and does it again.
If you really don’t know what’s sucking up all your data, look around your router as described in the previous section on locating bandwidth vampires on your network to narrow it down to a particular device that’s hitting your connection. Then scan the device for anything trying to update that might be stuck in a loop. This includes OS updates, large suite updates, game updates, etc.
And if you’re really stuck slowing it down, don’t forget to check for updates for apps or games you’ve deleted. Sometimes, the partial or incorrect removal of an app can leave it in a kind of limbo where the update companion app is still trying its best, despite the removal of the main app.
Fortunately, malware that eats up your bandwidth is relatively rare, but you shouldn’t assume that’s not the source of your problems.
If you’ve ruled out culprits like cloud-based security cameras, big game updates and such, then it’s worth checking your computer for malware and even your router too. Not all malware is bandwidth intensive, but some forms are.
Scanning for malware and staying on top of security updates will help keep your individual devices and home network protected.
If none of the common bandwidth vampires end up being the culprit, it’s back to basics: take a hard look at your router’s logs and check individual devices and applications to pin down the source of all that data usage.