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Ask How-To Geek: How Can I Monitor My Bandwidth Usage?

2011-02-15_160928

If you’re lucky you enjoy wide open internet access with out restriction (or restrictions so high you would have to work all month to meet them). If you’re not so lucky, you’ve got an ISP with heavy caps. Today we help out a reader working under such a cap.

Dear How-To Geek,

I’m having some trouble with my ISP and I hope you can help. The problem is that my ISP imposes a 250GB a month cap and the connection is shared between myself and four other roommates. If you surpass the cap two months in a row they automatically bump you up to the next tier of service. The next tier is twice as much! The problem is that my roommates see me as the “downloader” and all eyes are on me as the cause. I’m more than confident that I wasn’t using more than my fair share of the allotment. What can I do to track it? Our router is locked down by the ISP custom firmware or such is out of the question. I’m running Windows on my machines. Help!

ISP Issues in Ireland

Dear Ireland,

250GB isn’t much to split among 5 people, it would be pretty easy to burn that up in this age of streaming HD video, large iTunes downloads, and more. The reality of the situation is that for 5 people you might actually need the higher plan in order for everyone to get an adequate slice of the bandwidth pie (and account for those spikes when people do heavy downloading).

That said we fully understand your desire to not be fingered as the guy that caused the bill to double. Let’s take a look at how you can monitor your internet access from your windows machines. You can find a multitude of bandwidth monitoring applications online but many of them are just simple little counters that give you a raw number and a thumbnail graph of your bandwidth use. We’re going to use something a little more powerful to help track your usage and present a more compelling case to your roommates.

First you’ll need a free copy of NetWorx. It’s free, it’s powerful, and it can generate usage reports in a variety of formats (and even across the network for different users). We’d recommend the portable copy, it’ll be easiest to throw on a flash drive and clone to your different Windows machines. Note: the only reason you would want to go with the installed version is if you transfer large volumes of data within your local network (such as streaming media to a media center or sharing files with your roommates). NetWorx must be formally installed in order to use a small driver necessary to separate local traffic from internet-based traffic.

Run NetWorx for the first time to complete the basic setup. You’ll choose your language and then the network connection you want to monitor. It is very important you take the time to select the network connection you actually use to connect to the internet. If you choose to select all connections then NetWorx will count all the data transfer on your computer (including bluetooth file transfer, infrared and miniport transfers, etc.). You want this to be as accurate as possible so select the Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection that is your primary data pipe.

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Once you’ve selected the appropriate data connection, finish the setup. NetWorx will minimize to your system tray. Mousing over the icon will (by default) show you the current transfer rate. You can change this in Settings –> Main – > Tray Icon Information to display your daily, weekly, or monthly traffic. Changing it to monthly traffic would be the most useful for your purposes.

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If you are setting up NetWorx on a laptop or other computer that is frequently outside of your house (and thus downloading data through other connections like coffee shop or university Wi-Fi nodes) you’ll want to add a filter so that NetWorx only counts the data transfer when you’re on the network with the data cap.

Navigate to Settings –> Main –> Networks… in order to select the network you want it to monitor. Check it and toggle the setting to “only networks selected below”.

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At this point you have everything in place you need to monitor how much of the data pie you’re eating. If you can get the rest of your roommates to use NetWorx you can take an extra step and synchronize your NetWorx installations across the network so you don’t have to manually tally the data from separate machines at the end—this would be more than ideal since it will allow all users on the network to see all the data usage and immediately show who the hog is.  Head over to Settings –> Advanced and check “Synchronize usage data…” in the Synchronization section at the bottom of the settings box.

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Finally, you’ll need to generate a report at the end of the month to prove that you’re not the bandwidth hog. Right click on the NetWorx icon, select Usage Statistics, and then click on the Monthly Report tab. There you can see your totals for the month and export them. Click the Export button and you can export the data as an HTML, Word, or Excel document as well as plain text and a CVS file.

2011-02-15_160928

With your bandwidth use records in hand you can clear your good name and perhaps get your roommates to also monitor their bandwidth so that you can see where all the data is going. There is a good chance that, barring one of your roommates downloading movies hand over fist, they simply don’t realize how much modern web browsing can really suck up. Keep us updated, we hope this helps!


Have a burning question or technical problem? Email us at ask@howtogeek.com to get your question answered.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/15/11

Comments (32)

  1. PW

    This is great, what about monitoring other devices such as an iPhone or PS3?

  2. Screwtape

    Dumb question –> How does the program know the difference between the Internet and LAN traffic (ie, transfers between a home server)?

  3. SgtHallsWifey

    Can this also be used to monitor if someone is hacking into your protected wireless router ??

  4. vince086

    Well if you are in Ireland go with UPC (aka NTL), 22euro a month for 8mb internet (about 1mb real download speed with torrents or steam) and a 50gb limit, but I go over every month and they dont say a word! And unlike eircome they don’t block the pirate bay or complain about torrents.

  5. staticanime

    @vince086 – Not everyone can get UPC, I know, I’d be on their 30MB fiber WITH the digital HD TV, since it’s roughly the same price as the 8MB NGB I’m on with Eircom, but alas, it’s “not available” in my area, and that’s a problem for pretty much everyone that doesn’t live in Dublin. And while this sounds like Eircom NGB with the 250GB limit, it should be noted that they can only legally charge you a maximum of 20 euro for going over your limit (that’s on the 8MB NGB, prices may vary slightly on the other packages).

    As for the pirate bay, there’s a million other sites out there that aren’t blocked, and encryption + high ports + NOT music = Eircom not caring about torrents!!

  6. rothbart

    I had an issue a lot along the lines of this question and my solution ended up being the free home version of Astaro Security Gateway. In addition to being able to track total and per device bandwidth, it allowed me to have whole-network virus scanning for web downloads, the ability to block p2p traffic such as BitTorrent, and do content filtering on the machines my kids can use, blocking a large chunk of inappropriate content.

    If you have a 1.5 Ghz machine with 1GB of RAM and 2 network connections (I had one built into the motherboard and added a second NIC card), then you can use ASG as a super-duper router, firewall, DHCP server and a ton more. Check it out here: http://www.astaro.com/landingpages/en-worldwide-homeuse

    I should also mention that this also works for game consoles and smart phones that connect via wifi. If you’re savvy enough to config the router (really not that hard and most questions can be answered in their community forums) then Astaro is amazing. Check it out, chances are if you’re remotely interested, you’ll love it.

  7. Oaken

    I’ve been using Networx (portable) for a while along with NetBalancer (free) and have been able to find the culprit that has been burning up my 300 GB limit. NetBalancer shows you how much bandwidth individual programs and processes are using.

    Thumbs up for both :-)

  8. John

    I installed Networx and Kaspersky 2011 gave me a “PDM.Suspicious driver installation” warning with a description “legal software that can be used by criminals for damaging your computer or personal data”.

    Maybe it is a false positive. But I did not want to take a chance. Uninstalled Networx.

  9. firewire

    i want to know how to limit internet speed or distribute(i have just one pc thats it :( so no use of distribution but…)
    i want free solution and no trial i have used net limiter…

  10. Santo

    Is there similar software available for Ubuntu 10.10?

  11. TMC

    This sounds great!
    I’m also searching for something similar to monitor my connection speed, as I’m not sure everything works as it should… Does anyone know a tool that does that?

  12. jayjoe

    my router (netgear wndr3700) can do this too :)

  13. Jaws4theRevenge

    @ vince 086 & static anime:

    It was UPC that the OP was talking about. 250GB cap with a 2x increase in price for going over the limit twice. Notice that it’s not two consecutive months. I exceeded the limit once in August ’09 and then again in September ’10 and was bumped up to the €89 package with the same DL and UL speeds. I should also note that this was done silently.

    If UPC had truly unlimited service, like they advertise, they would be an incredible ISP.

  14. PROOF

    Dear Ireland,
    You must be spending too much time on Internet xD. Don’t forget to study/work, unless you want to be expelled.
    I’m a university student from Russia, we have only one ISP in our dorm. It offers 30 Gb of Internet traffic for $12/month, or 50 Gb for $16/month. And we have 3 students in my room, including me. Our average monthly internet consumption is near 30 Gb. This is enough for comfortable web surfing, downloading torrents, watch YouTube HQ videos, etc. I don’t know how you can complain about 250 Gb being too little

  15. PROOF

    And thank you, Howtogeek for an interesting piece of software. I am currently using DU Meter by Hageltech. I consider switching to Networx

  16. kyle

    the scenario fits mine perfectly

    thanks for this

  17. otinanai

    I have a similar yet different kind of problem. My university allows 5 gb in a 24 hours period (which is different than daily). I know 5 gb is a lot but if I want to download some movie then there is problem. Anyone can help? Thx

  18. adgg

    Is there a tool like this that will also monitor network usage by application?

    Also thanks for the article very useful

  19. Ian

    Anything similar on the Mac? Only thing I could find is small program call SurplusMeter.

  20. sti25impreza

    It can tell the difference between internet traffic and local traffic because it has clients on each computer that know where its sending data. Beyond that, it would be able to tell based on private/public IP addresses.

  21. Patrick

    @TMC

    If you are referring to ISP throttling, try…

    http://broadband.mpi-sws.org/transparency/bttest.php

    ^^ Good test ^^ for broadband shaping issues that people have experienced if you are certain it isn’t a network leecher.

    If you weren’t referring to that well just remember achieving a residential connection with high throughput isn’t easy. Application bandwidth monitors come in handy to dissect per application shaping but if you still don’t have an answer just throw a question at HTG regarding your rogue leech.

  22. Ireland

    All, thanks for the feedback and to HTG for this, along with the later post on NetBalancer I have a wealth of info to get to the bottom of this. I’m now getting everyone at home to install this so we all have an idea whats going on. As well as making sure antivirus, etc is all in order too. Anyone know an alternative for a mac? We have a mac user here. Thanks again all.

  23. Ireland

    @PROOF

    Hi PROOF, not complaining that itsd too little, worrying as to what is taking up the volume as its quite a generous cap.

  24. 250GB? I wish!

    ONLY 250GB a month????
    Let me introduce you to my world. 10GB a month for 30.- Canadian, for every GB over 10 its an additional 6.-
    We are 8 in our houshold, running 6 computers (desktops and laptops) 5 ipods with network access some DSi’s a Wii and X-box.
    10 GB dont last very long and it is the only service available in our area.
    Now what I need is a tool to be able to monitor my router (linksys WRT610N) and be able to tell which device connected uses up my bandwith.
    Any suggestions?

  25. Hamish51

    I have recently installed networx. It is a very good application, except that I have one problem: the program does seem to get right, when is On and Off Peak, which have separate quotas in my plan. I can live with this but it would be better if someone could show me how to configure it. I have tried Advanced and Hidden (Ctrl O) settings.

  26. jerone

    I used BitmeterOS and find it very useful. “BitMeter OS is a free, open-source, bandwidth monitor that works on Windows, Linux and Mac OSX.” It can work on these OS’s because it’s a webservice, so you only have to open a browser to see your stats.

  27. mike

    i recently ran a wd lifesource utility tool on a hard drive and now because of that and reformatting i am getting ntldr is missing errors as i attemt to reload windows onto the hard drive. where can i find ntldr drivers free?

  28. jon

    Seems great. Thanks HTG. Installed on Windows 7/64. At least until NetLimiter get their Monitor program (version 3 for Windows 7) up and running, NetWorx seems to be the way to go.

  29. James

    250GB cap?

    Id kill for that! Mines capped at 100GB and then its limited speed for a month. :(

  30. K

    Just an FYI to those “250GB?! Stop complaining Ireland…” people, the ISP and plan in question is not available to the vast, vast majority of users in Ireland and does not accurately reflect the state of the internet service here.

  31. Art€

    Just installed; absolutely brilliant! When I’m abroad (particularly in Holland) I will be able to monitor my Dongle usage from KPN (who are tight as a fishes backside and that’s water tight!) they only allow 20 Mb per day at € 1.50. So I don’t know what Ireland is really complaining about.

  32. Palestine

    Haha, im living in the middle east and the most we get is a 2GB per month!!!! you guys are complaining about 300 and 250 not being enough plus I personally am connected to 4 other people. I was just wondering if there is a program that can basically “suck” up the net from the other people and like give it to me, is it even possible? I tried this one program NetCut but isn’t what im looking for. I don’t want a program that also needs to be installed on their computers as well…

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