Why Does My Steam Download Rate Fluctuate?

By Milton Kazmeyer

A number of factors can cause unstable Steam game downloads.
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When you purchase a game using Valve’s Steam distribution service, your client downloads the data files from Steam’s servers, unpacks them and installs the game. While this process is going on, however, you may notice your download rate fluctuating significantly, and even dropping to zero at times. There are a number of reasons why your Steam download rate may fluctuate, and in many cases, a quick fix can restore your file transfer speed.

Other Programs

One common culprit for an unstable download rate is some other program on your computer using the connection. BitTorrent clients can flood the upstream side of your connection, preventing your computer from acknowledging data packets and slowing transfers to a crawl. Many programs, including the operating system itself, have the capability to download patches and updates automatically, and if one of those transfers occurs while downloading from Steam, it can negatively affect your download rate.

Server Congestion

When you set up Steam, you indicate your region of the country so the system can pair you up with the nearest download server. In most cases, this allows for the fastest file transfers, but in some cases, the nearest site may not be the best one. In the Steam client, select “View,” click “Settings,” open the “Downloads” tab, and then change your download region to a different server to see if it improves your download speed. Problems of this nature may be temporary, but depending on how your service provider connects to the Internet, you may find better speeds from a slightly more distant server.

Release Day Congestion

If you are downloading a game on its release day, chances are any file transfer instability stems from network congestion. Thousands of Steam users may connect to a single server at once, and the sheer number of requests can cause the server to respond slowly and drop connections. You may be able to avoid this type of congestion by switching to a server in a region a few time zones away.

Multiple Transfers

If you are downloading older games, the issue may stem from Steam attempting to download multiple games at once. While current Steam file formats limit the system to a single download at a time, and the client automatically pauses all other downloads, the system may not have updated the file formats for older, low-priority games like independent publisher titles. Check your games library to see if any other games are updating simultaneously, and then right-click on any title and select “pause updating” to allow your other download to finish.