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What is throughput?

Module by: Brandon Hodgson. E-mail the author

What is throughput?

Throughput is the rate at which a computer or network sends or receives data (Wikipedia 2006). It therefore is a good measure of the channel capacity of a communications link, and connections to the internet are usually rated in terms of how many bits they pass per second (bit/s) (Wikipedia 2006).

However it is a very bad measurement of perceived speed, which is mostly based on how quickly it responds to you (Wikipedia 2006). Responsiveness has far less to do with throughput than latency (Wikipedia 2006).

Example: This example is extracted from (Wikipedia 2006).As station wagon full of magnetic tape has excellent throughput and horrible latency. It may take a week to deliver data from California to New York, but can carry so much that the throughput is better than broadband. Yet a user who has to wait a week to see a web page will complain that they preferred their much faster dialup connection!

Latency is measure from the time a request (e.g. a single packet) leaves the client to the time the response (e.g. An Acknowledgment) arrives back at the client from the serving entity. The unit of latency is time. Throughput on the other hand is the amount of data that is transferred over a period of time.

Example: If over ten seconds twenty packets are transferred then the throughput would be 20/10=2 packets per second (Wikipedia 2006).

Throughput can have many units (Example: "bits/second," "bytes/second," or "packets/second"), but it is always measured in a volume-per-time ratio (wikipedia 2006).

Normally throughput and latency are opposed goals (Wikipedia 2006). To improve latency you typically want to increase how much the computer checks to see if you are trying to interact (Wikipedia 2006). This checking overhead slows you down (Wikipedia 2006). However there is one very common exception to this rule (Wikipedia 2006). Network protocols and programs tend to synchronize both ends regularly (Wikipedia 2006). If these synchronizations are slow, then throughput can suffer horribly (Wikipedia 2006).


Wikipedia. "Throughput", Wikimedia Foundation Inc,, Last accessed 14 February 2006.

Brandon Hodgson

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