If you’re burdened by an ISP-imposed data cap, tracking down the “bandwidth vampires” using all your precious data will save you from over-cost and hassle. Here’s where to look.
What are Bandwidth Vampires?
A few years ago, there was a lot of talk about “energy vampires,” devices in the home that sucked up a lot of electrical energy even when they weren’t actively being used.
One of the most notable examples of this problem, which received national attention at the time, was cable boxes – some appliances used more energy per year than a refrigerator.
In a similar vein – I think today we’re just going to double down on vampire credentials – bandwidth vampires are devices in your home that use data when you’re not actively using it.
Sometimes that data usage, even if it doesn’t feel like active usage on your part, is part of the functionality of the device and you’ll have to live with it. Other times it’s frivolous (or at least ill-timed) use and you want to curtail it.
In the end, if you have unlimited internet, this article will be more of a curiosity to you than anything else.
But for people who deal with ISP data caps and worry about being slapped with excessive fees for breaking those limits, it’s worth looking into wasting data usage on their network.
Locate Vampire Bandwidth
Before we dive into a list of common (and often overlooked) bandwidth vampires in the home, let’s preface that by pointing out something crucial to your research efforts.
While we have a broad knowledge of computers, gadgets, and apps used in and around the home, there are simply too many variables between devices, services, and how they’re configured for us to cover all the possible things associated with your home network. rattle gobble up all your data.
If you’re reading our list of possible culprits below and feel like nothing stands out as the likely cause of your problems, you can always roll up your sleeves and search the data yourself by monitoring your 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 problems.
Your ability to track data usage at the router level is severely limited by your router and the firmware installed, but most newer routers have some sort of built-in functionality to help you analyze data usage by service type (e.g. Netflix, Steam, etc.). ) and by individual devices (e.g. 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’s an almost infinite combination of devices and software that could do their best to break your monthly data cap, there are some common suspects worth looking at from the get-go, if only but for a reason other than to exclude them.
You may be thinking, “Streaming devices use a lot of bandwidth? That’s nothing new.” Obviously, if you’re using your Apple TV to watch hours of 4K video streams, it’s going to use a lot of bandwidth, as streaming HD and UHD video is bandwidth-intensive.
Of all the things that surprise people when it comes to bandwidth vampires, we’re comfortable saying that streaming devices like the Chromecast and Apple TV, as well as smart home devices like the Google Nest Hub, top the list. Sure, they use a lot of bandwidth when you’re actively streaming, but they also consume quite a bit of data while inactive.
Most people just don’t realize how much these devices break down day in and day out, but if you look at the statistics, it’s quite surprising. The problem is that the screensaver modes on most streaming devices run 24/7 and consume quite a bit of data.
For example, in my house I have four Nest Hubs and five Chromecasts. Each of them consumes about 450 MB per day in idle mode. So with only one on the network, that’s 13.5 GB of idle data usage every 30 days. With 9 different devices, it jumps to 121.5 GB. Fortunately, with a fiber optic connection and no data cap, that has never been a problem for me. But if I had a 1TB data limit, about 12% of my monthly limit would be consumed by idle streaming and smart home devices. Not actively using Netflix or the like, mind you, just have the devices on all day.
While you can avoid the problem by unplugging your devices when not in use, that’s pretty inconvenient (and in the case of the Home Hub and other smart displays it misses the point of having them).
Instead, we recommend that you adjust your settings. While it varies by device, there are usually options to disable high-resolution screensavers (Apple TV 4K screensavers are beautiful but very data-intensive) or swap the slideshow photos with something simple and low-resolution – a trick we recommend to tame Chromecast data usage.
Smart Security Cameras
Old-fashioned security cameras record their images in local storage and only consume bandwidth when you can access the images remotely while you are away from home.
While some newer smart security cameras also have local storage options, most — and certainly the most popular options like Google Nest cameras and Amazon Ring cameras — are cloud-based and quite bandwidth-intensive. Whether your home internet connection can support smart security cameras enough is a serious consideration.
For example, the newer Nest cameras can use 100 to 400 GB per month, by camera, because both upload and download count against data limits – and cloud cameras upload a lot of data. So if you’ve recently added cloud-based smart security cameras to your home network and you’re shocked that the bandwidth meter on your ISP’s dashboard is showing you munching through your data at record speed, that’s a good place to investigate.
While you can’t completely tame data usage for a cloud-based security camera, you should be able to make adjustments such as switching to only upload data when motion is detected or other similar adjustments.
By default, Windows uses a peer-to-peer system for optimizing Windows updates. The bottom line is that Windows PCs will be connected together, a bit like a single-purpose torrent cloud, to quickly share Windows update data over the Internet.
For those with limited bandwidth and data, it’s a good idea to disable “Delivery Optimization”, with one caveat. There are two types of Delivery Optimization, global (where you share with Windows PCs everywhere) and local (where you share with Windows PCs only on your local network).
Choose to use Delivery Optimization for the local network only and you will actually save bandwidth, because one PC downloads the update and other local Windows PCs get the data from there, rather than downloading it from scratch.
While you’re at it, you may want to disable automatic updates in general so that you can time when you update your PC when you have extra bandwidth to burn.
Automatic game updates
Game sizes, especially for AAA titles, continue to grow. You shouldn’t just consider the size of the original download when you save your game library – people with limited connections should definitely not try to download a large Steam or console library at once – you should also consider updates.
Even minor (in terms of features and bug fixes) updates to many games are significant in scope. Updates in the Duty franchise, for example, often weighs 10-30 GB per update or even larger. The April 2022 update for Call of Duty: Warzone was a hefty 40GB.
If you’re not actively playing a game and constantly monitoring your data usage, there’s no good reason to have one or more games collecting data month after month if you’re not even playing the game. Burning 4% of your 1TB data limit Duty Update that you’re not even going to play doesn’t make much sense.
To avoid that trap, we recommend going into the settings menu of your game clients and on your consoles to disable automatic updates. It’s a trade-off, to be sure, if you forget to update and you really want to play the game in a few months, you might have to sit for a while while it’s updating, but on the plus side, you won’t be wasting your data.
We’ve set this aside because it can happen to just about any application or device and is not specific to Windows or gaming.
Fortunately, it’s relatively uncommon, but when it happens, it’s quite frustrating. Sometimes an application or device downloads an update and fails to install or otherwise encounters an error. Instead of just giving up, the same automatic trigger that prompted him to download the update in the first place notices that the expected update hasn’t completed and does it all over again.
If you really don’t know what is sucking up all your data, dig around your router as we described in the section above on locating bandwidth vampires on your network to limit it to a certain device hammering your connection. Then look on the device for something that is trying to update and may be stuck in a loop. This includes operating system updates, major application suite updates, game updates, and so on.
And if you’re really stuck trying to fine-tune it, don’t forget to check for updates to any applications or games you’ve uninstalled. Sometimes a partial or incorrect uninstallation of an application can leave it in some kind of uncertainty where the companion updater app continues to do its best despite the removal of the parent application.
Fortunately, malware that eats up your bandwidth is relatively rare, but you should not assume that this is not the cause of your problems.
Once you’ve ruled out culprits like cloud-based security cameras, massive game updates, and the like, it’s worth checking that your computer is malware-free and even your router. Not all malware is bandwidth intensive, but some forms are.
Scanning for malware and staying up to date with security updates keeps your individual devices and your home network protected.
If none of the common bandwidth vampires are the culprit, it’s back to basics — going through the router’s logs and checking individual devices and apps — to figure out the source of all that data usage.