If you have a small network at your business or at home, you could probably do with some help. These ten downloads - most of them free, and none of them expensive - will make managing your small network much easier.
Test network speed
Probably the most common complaint people who use networks have is that the network is too slow. But gauging how fast they really are can be difficult. Also, you might want to know which computers use the most bandwidth. The following tools are great for helping solve these mysteries.
Bandwidth Monitor 2 Lite Edition
Once you've installed Rokario's free Bandwidth Monitor 2 Lite Edition on any PC on your network, it will track bandwidth use in real time. The program displays download bandwidth use, upload bandwidth use, and total bandwidth. It also keeps logs of bandwidth use, so you can retain a historical record.
Install it on every PC on your network and then check the results - especially the historical records of bandwidth use - regularly on each PC. That way, you can see whether any bandwidth hogs are wallowing on your network. Based on that, you can try to reduce its excess demand...maybe too much YouTube?
LAN Speed Test
Another useful bandwidth-and-speed tool, Totusoft's LAN Speed Test checks the real upload and download speeds of the network on the PC where it is installed. Load it on every PC on your network, and run it regularly on each one. That way, you can see whether any PCs are having speed problems that may require intervention.
Help with your wireless network
Troubleshooting a wireless network can be one of the most frustrating tasks known to man or woman. But these two tools promise to make it somewhat easier.
Wireless networks are notoriously flaky, and often littered with dead spots - areas where a wireless signal is always or intermittently weak, or where the signal doesn't reach at all. You'll find this problem especially vexing if you have a rambling house or office; but even if you have a relatively compact network workspace, things like metal office furniture can wreak havoc on the network's receptivity.
The free InSSIDer 2 from MetaGeek helps solve this thorny problem. It searches out every wireless network in an area, shows the signal strength of each, and shows the channels that each one uses. That way, you can determine whether a nearby network might be generating interference, and change your channel.
You can also walk around your office or home with InSSIDer on a laptop, and see the signal strength in all locations, to find dead spots. Then you can solve the problem either by moving your router or by moving the PC from the poorly served location.
Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector
A similar tool for troubleshooting wireless networks, Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector (also free) offers even more information than InSSIDer does about each wireless network it finds. You can get information about your wireless network to make sure it's properly configured - for example, pinging your configured DNS server and gateway to confirm that they're active and working properly. A network speed tester lets you test the speed of your wireless network, too. The vendor's site for this software doesn't list it as working with Windows 7, but I ran it on Windows 7 without any problems.
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