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If you’re under the burden of an ISP-imposed data cap, keeping track of “bandwidth vampires” using all of your precious data will save you the hassle of excessive fees. Here’s where to look.

Who are bandwidth vampires?

A few years ago there was a lot of talk about “energy vampires” – devices in the house that consumed a lot of electricity even when not actively used.

One of the most prominent examples of this problem, which caught national attention at the time, was cable boxes—some devices consumed more energy per year than a refrigerator.

In a similar vein – I guess we’re doubling down on vampire references today – bandwidth vampires are the devices in your home that use data when you’re not actively using it.

Sometimes this data usage, even if it doesn’t look like active usage on your part, is part of the functionality of the device and you’ll have to put up with it. Other times it’s a frivolous (or at least untimely) use and you’ll want to cut it short.

If you have unlimited internet, this article will end up being more of a curiosity for you than anything else.

But for people dealing with ISP data limits and worried that they might be hit with excessive fees for exceeding those limits, tracking down any wasteful data usage on their network is a worthwhile exercise.

Bandwidth Vampire Detection

Router showing device data consumption over the last 24 hours.
Tracking device data usage at the router level is ideal.

Before we get into the list of common (and often overlooked) bandwidth vampires at home, we need to preface by pointing out something important to your investigative efforts.

While we have an extensive knowledge of the computers, gadgets, and apps used in and around the home, there are too many variables between devices, services, and how they are configured for us to list every possible thing connected to your home network. absorbing all your data.

If you read our list of potential culprits below and feel like nothing comes out of it as the likely cause of your problems, you can always roll up your sleeves and independently sift through the data by tracking Internet usage.

In some cases, especially at the router level, this is the only way to find out which device on your network is responsible for your bandwidth issues.

Your ability to track data usage at the router level is severely limited by your router and firmware, but most newer routers have built-in features to help you drill down into data usage by service type (e.g. Netflix, Steam, etc.) and individual devices ( for example, your gaming PC, the new security camera you just installed, etc.)

Start Your Search With These Common Bandwidth Vampires

While, as we just mentioned, there is an almost endless combination of devices and software that can do their best to get past your monthly data limit, there are some usual suspects that are worth looking out for from the start – at least for any reason. reason other than to exclude them.

Streaming Devices

You might be thinking, “Are streaming devices using a lot of bandwidth? There is nothing new in this.” Obviously, if you use your Apple TV to watch 4K video streams for hours, it will use more bandwidth because HD and UHD video streaming is bandwidth intensive.

However, of all the things that surprise people when it comes to bandwidth vampires, we feel comfortable saying that streaming devices like the Chromecast and Apple TV and smart home devices like the Google Nest Hub are in top of the list. Sure, they use a lot of bandwidth when you’re actively streaming, but they’re also quite data-hungry when idle.

Most people just don’t realize how much these devices are spending on a day-to-day basis, but when you look at the stats, it’s pretty amazing. The problem is that screensaver modes on most streaming devices run 24/7 and consume quite a lot of data.

For example, I have four Nest Hubs and five Chromecasts at home. Each of them consumes about 450 MB every day in standby mode. So if there’s only one online, that’s 13.5 GB of standby data usage every 30 days. With 9 different devices, it increases to 121.5 GB. Fortunately, thanks to the fiber optic connection and the absence of data transfer restrictions, this has never been a problem for me. But if I had a 1TB data limit, about 12% of my monthly limit would be eaten up by idle streaming and smart home devices. Notice you don’t actively use Netflix or anything like that, just keep your devices on all day long.

While you can avoid this problem by turning off your devices when not in use, this is quite inconvenient (and in the case of the Home Hub and other smart displays, it defeats the purpose of having them).

Instead, we recommend that you change your settings. While it varies by device, there’s usually an option to turn off high-res screensavers (Apple TV 4K screensavers are beautiful but very resource-intensive) or replace slideshow photos with something simple and low-res – a trick we recommend taming. Use of Chromecast data.

Smart Security Cameras

Google Nest security camera in the house.
Cloud cameras consume a lot of traffic. Google

Old school security cameras record footage to local storage and only consume bandwidth when you access footage remotely away from home.

While some new smart security cameras also have local storage options, most of them – and of course the most popular options like Google Nest cameras as well as Amazon Ring Camerasare cloud-based and very bandwidth intensive. Whether your home internet connection can adequately support smart security cameras is a serious matter.

For example, the new Nest cameras can be used anywhere: from 100 to 400 GB per month, at the camera, because both upload and download count towards the data limit, 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 shocked that your ISP’s bandwidth meter shows you’re browsing your data at record speeds, this is a good place to investigate.

While you won’t have full control over the cloud security camera’s data usage, you should be able to make adjustments, such as switching it to only upload data when motion is detected, or other similar settings.

Windows updates

Windows uses a peer-to-peer system by default to optimize Windows updates. The bottom line is that Windows PCs will connect together as a single-purpose torrent cloud to quickly share Windows update data over the Internet.

For people with limited bandwidth and traffic, it is wise to turn off Delivery Optimization – with a small caveat. There are two types of Delivery Optimization: global (when you share Windows PCs everywhere) and local (when you share Windows PCs only on your local network).

Select Delivery Optimization for LAN only and you are effectively save throughput because one PC will download the update and any other local Windows PCs will pull data from there instead of downloading it over and over again.

While you’re at it, you might want to turn off auto-updates altogether so you can time your PC to refresh when you have extra bandwidth to burn.

Automatic game updates

The Elden Ring video game update screen.
Did you quit the game out of rage? Be sure to disable updates.

Game sizes, especially for AAA games, continue to grow. It’s not just the size of the original download that you should consider when adding to your game library – people with limited connectivity should definitely not try to download a large Steam or console library at once – you should also consider updates.

Even small (in terms of features and bug fixes) updates for many games are significant. Updates in Call of Duty a franchise, for example, often weighs 10-30 GB per update or even more. April 2022 update for Call of Duty: Warzone were a hefty 40 GB.

Unless you’re actively playing a game and constantly monitor your data usage, there’s no good reason for one or more games to pull data month after month if you’re not even playing the game. Burning 4% of your 1TB data limit per Call of Duty an update you’re not even going to play doesn’t make much sense.

To avoid this trap, we recommend going into the settings menu of your game clients and on your consoles to disable automatic updates. Of course, this is a compromise, if you forget to update and really want to play the game in a few months, you may have to sit there for a while while it updates, but on the other hand, you won’t be wasting your data.

Stuck Updates

We highlighted this because it can happen to almost any app or device and does not apply to Windows or games.

Thankfully, this is relatively rare, but when it does, it’s quite annoying. Sometimes an app or device downloads an update and fails to install it, or otherwise encounters an error. Instead of just giving up, the same automatic trigger that prompted him to download the update notices in the first place that the expected update hasn’t completed and does it all over again.

If you really don’t understand what is eating up all your data, dig into your router as we described in the section above about searching for bandwidth vampires on your network to narrow it down to the specific device that is clogging up your connection. Then search the device for anything trying to update, which might be stuck in a loop. This includes operating system updates, major app package updates, game updates, and more.

And if you’re really stuck looking, don’t forget to check for updates for the apps or games you’ve deleted. Sometimes, partially or improperly deleting an app can leave it in a kind of limbo where the update companion app keeps chugging along trying to do its best despite deleting the parent app.

Malware

Luckily, malware that consumes your bandwidth is relatively rare, but you shouldn’t assume that it isn’t the source of your problems.

If you’ve ruled out the culprits like cloud security cameras, huge game updates, etc., then it’s worth checking again to see if your computer and even your router is free of malware. Not all malware is bandwidth intensive, but some forms are.

Anti-malware scanning and constant security updates help protect your individual devices and home network.

If none of the common bandwidth vampires turned out to be the culprit, it remains to go back to the basics – looking at router logs and checking individual devices and applications – to determine the source of all this data usage.

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