You can make your Internet faster, in under 40 minutes. And you don’t need new hardware to do it.

How much faster?  Well, that depends. I can’t say for certain, nor can the next person, but I can tell you the science and logic behind it.

The Science

People use domain names (i.e. hummdis.com) to visit websites. The problem is that the Internet doesn’t communicate in letters, it communicates in numbers. Transmitting data (zeros and ones) to addresses around the Internet.  Those addresses are called Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.  Think of every single building in the world. It has an address, but that address number is unique to the city or street it’s located at. Imagine that it has it’s own unique address no matter where you are in the world. That’s an IP address and there are 4,294,967,296 (2^32) IPv4 addresses in total.  There are 588,514,304 reserved addresses, or private addresses (that’s what your home or work computer is usually running on), making 3,706,452,992 public addresses.  Now, you do have to remember all 3.7 billion IP addresses and what it connects to to visit a website, right?  Right?  Just kidding. Of course you don’t!

What’s all this called?  Well, it’s called Domain Name System, or DNS, and it’s what allows you to type in hummdis.com into your browser and go to IP 199.250.213.92 to load this website.  You, as a human, can understand hummdis.com, google.com or even amazon.com, but you’ll have a hard time remembering 199.250.213.92, 172.217.3.228 or 23.10.134.216 every time you want to visit the respective website.  Of course, this all takes time. How much time? Well, that depends on what DNS servers you’re using in your setup.  Compound that with where they’re located compared to you.  When setting up our networks, too often DNS isn’t given much thought and the default DNS servers from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) are used, but that may actually be slowing your connection down, not to mention the privacy concerns and DNS redirects that so many ISPs do for mistyped website names.

Let’s Speed It Up!

So, how can you make sure that you’re using the fastest DNS servers for you since each time you load a website you need to ensure that DNS can resolve that website address that you’ve typed in as quickly as possible to speed up your overall Internet?

Enter: DNS Benchmark from Gibson Research Corp.

DNS Benchmark's main window.

This tool can create a custom list of DNS servers, also called Nameservers, that’s unique to you and your ISP.  This ensures that you’re using the fastest Nameservers for your installation, not just what’s the most popular out there.  Sure, you could do your own tests, or you can download this 147KB application that needs no installation and have it do it for you.  That’s where the 40 minutes comes in.  It takes about 37 minutes to test all 4,700 or so known major Nameservers out there and then creates a list of the 50 fastest ones.  From there, you can run a real benchmark test on those 50 and find out, for your specific installation, which IPs you should set for your custom Nameservers.

My Findings

It was surprised to learn that the Nameservers that I had setup were also not the fastest.  The most shocking thing that I found was that the “very fast” and “very reliable” Cloudflare servers are not in my top 50 Nameservers.  This surprised me quite a bit as they advertise that they’re faster than Google.  Heck, UltraDNS, Level3 and Quad9 all fared better than Cloudflare servers did.

So, what were my fastest Nameservers?  In order: they are:

  1. 205.171.3.25 – CenturyLink US Legacy Qwest
  2. 208.67.222.123 – OpenDNS
  3. 208.67.220.220 – OpenDNS
  4. 208.67.220.123 – OpenDNS
  5. 208.67.222.222 – OpenDNS

You can see the top 24 servers for me in the screenshot below.

DNS Benchmark Results

So…How Much Faster?

That’s hard to measure with a single tool and the reason is that you can use a tool like Speedtest.net because once the website name is resolved to an IP address, the rest of the transfer is done using that same IP address. Thus, you’re not testing the speed of DNS with Speedtest.net, but rather the actual data transfer speed once that connection is established.  What we’ve changed is the the time it takes to make that initial connection, not the speed of the Internet connection itself.

However, if you have several people at your location all doing different things, the overall load of your network will be reduced as those initial connections are being complete faster, thus the data transfer begins faster and so on.

So, what can you do?  Well, the easiest thing is to your your browser’s built-in developer tools.  One site in particular for me takes 2.42 seconds to load using Cloudflare’s DNS servers.  After the DNS change, that same site takes just 1.96 seconds. Sure, that’s about 1/2 second faster, but combine that to thousands of DNS lookups each day and you can easily start to count minutes of time that was previously wasted waiting for a site to load.

As expected, your mileage may vary. But at least you know you’ve done the work to make sure your DNS resolution is as fast as it can be.