A visit to my next door neighbor became and adventure to make our Macs browse faster. At my urging, he switched from a Windows PC to a Mac a few years ago.
I asked if all was going well. He said yes, except he thought Safari was rather slow (he uses Firefox on Windows in his office PC). Safari? Slow? That seemed like a strange observation so I took a look at his Mac. Indeed, browsing in Safari was, well, a little slow. So was Firefox. Why?
Tracking Down The Culprit
Usually, Safari is a very fast browser so we checked his DSL internet connection. At first glance, all seemed OK, though web pages were rather slow to render in Safari, with a notable delay when clicking on a link.
After fidgeting around and trying different settings, I changed his Network DNS connection to a different DNS IP address I use regularly.
Most Mac users never bother with Network settings in System Preferences.
After all, it’s a Mac. You plug it in. Turn it on. And it just works. Whether using DSL or cable broadband for an internet connection, your Mac usually takes care of all the network settings you need.
In this case, my neighbor’s DSL internet service provider seemed to have a very slow DNS server. DNS is the internet system that translates domain names like mac360.com into an IP address so your browser can find a web site and download the page.
A slow or outdated DNS server may result in slower web site connections. For my neighbor’s Mac, I simply changed the DNS setting from the default to OpenDNS, one of a number of free global DNS servers (I also use EasyDNS, and the new Google Public DNS).
Suddenly, Safari came alive. Web pages seemed to snap to the screen without the previous delay. Could it be that simple? Apparently not all DNS servers are equal. After a bit of research we found a Mac utility which tracks down and tests DNS servers.
namebench To The Rescue
There are many, many DNS servers scattered over the internet. The default DNS from your internet service provider might not be the fastest one to use, depending on your location.
The utility namebench hunts down the fastest DNS server for your computer and location. It’ll take anywhere from five to 15 minutes, but when it’s done, it will list the faster DNS servers. Here’s how it works.
First, download namebench, drag and drop to your Applications folder, and double-click. Here’s what you get. Select Safari (or, whatever browser you use) in the Benchmark Data Source, and click the Start Benchmark button.
Once you start namebench, get a snack. In some cases it may take a few minutes, but my experience so far shows that 15 minutes is closer to normal.
The results of the DNS search will be displayed in your browser window, complete with details on which IP address to use from the fastest DNS server.
In my neighbor’s case, the namebench results selected the UltraDNS service as even faster than my default setting using OpenDNS. If you run namebench on your Mac and it gives you a faster DNS server than your default internet service provider, how can you change it?
That’s easy, too. Open System Preferences and click on the Network icon. Click the plus (+) button to add a new network service. Select ethernet, enter the new IP addresses (separated by a comma) in the DNS Server field, and click the Apply button.
You may need to adjust the order of your network connections in the left column (click the utility button on the bottom). Then just drag the new setting to the top.
What happens is both simple and complex. Instead of using your internet service providers default DNS server, your Mac is using a different server, probably faster and updated more frequently.
Settings also vary a bit if you’re using Apple’s Airport or a Wi-Fi router. Once you change the IP address (it’s always better to create a new network setting than change the default setting) it might take a moment or two to connect to a web page, but you may notice faster connections.
Using namebench on my neighbor’s Mac found us a faster DNS server than I had on my own Mac, so I added the IP addresses to my Mac’s network settings. Be aware that internet connections are dynamic and often change over time. I keep four different DNS server settings in my Network connections.
But if you’re wondering why your browser seems slow, give namebench a try. You might find a faster DNS server which may improve your browser’s internet connections speed. namebench runs on Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux PCs.