When you absolutely have to have an Internet connection, tethering your laptop to your phone is sometimes your only option. It happened to me the other day after a big thunderstorm knocked out my broadband for a few hours.
But even with my multi-gigabyte carrier plan, I wasn't thrilled with the idea of having my PC suck down too much of my monthly mobile data allotment. If you find yourself in a similar situation here are a few tips to reduce your data usage while tethering.
Set as metered
The first thing you should do in Windows 8.1 is set your tethering connection as metered. This will tell Windows to not download any non-critical updates, Windows Store apps may restrict their data usage (mine kept crashing), and offline file sync via OneDrive should stop. It essentially slams the brakes on Windows' major background data vampires.
To go metered, click on the network icon in the bottom right hand side of the taskbar. A charms bar will pop out with a list of all your connections. Right-click the tethering connection and select Set as metered connection.
You can also tweak a few other things to take advantage of the metered setting. Open the Settings app in the Modern UI by tapping the Windows logo key + "C". Then go to Settings > Change PC settings > OneDrive > Metered connections.
For maximum bandwidth savings, you'll want to make sure all of the options there are set to Off.
Next, back to the main menu in the Settings app and select PC and devices > Devices. Scroll down and make sure Download over metered connections is set to Off. Then go to Search and apps > Search and make sure everything under Metered connections is also turned off, unless you want search suggestions from Bing while searching your PC over a tethered connection.
Choose your browser
There are two browsers you can choose to reduce your data usage while tethering: Chrome and Opera.
Google's browser can save bandwidth by not downloading images on web pages and setting all plugins as click-to-run only (a feature you may want to enable at all times for a less noisy, more secure Internet anyway). Opera has a free feature called Turbo that automatically compresses data via Opera's servers before it gets sent to your PC to reduce bandwidth usage.
Here's how to use the features.
These instructions both start by clicking the Chrome "hamburger" menu icon in the upper right corner and selecting Settings.
Disable images: navigate to and select Show advanced settings > Privacy > Content settings... > Images > Do not show any images
Click-to-run plugins: navigate to and select Show advanced settings > Privacy > Content settings... > Plug-ins > Click to play
To turn on Turbo in Opera, click the main menu button in the upper left corner and select Opera Turbo from the drop down menu.
Disable your cloud
Finally, let's disable any cloud services you may be using such as Dropbox or Google Drive.
For Dropbox, click the service's icon in the lower right corner of your taskbar. If it's not there, click on the upward facing arrow and you should see it in the small pop-up window that appears.
When you click the Dropbox icon, a small pop-up window appears. Click the settings icon in the upper right corner and select Pause syncing.
For Google Drive, again find the icon by clicking the upward facing arrow in the taskbar, then right-click the Drive icon and select Pause. You can also pause Microsoft's OneDrive using this method, although it should cease syncing thanks to the options we turned off earlier in the Settings app. BitTorrent Sync users can also pause syncing by right-clicking its icon and choosing Pause BitTorrent Sync.
Tethering state of mind
Depending on how heavy your web browsing is these three tips can save you some serious data usage for those times when every megabyte counts. You'll want to be sure to avoid streaming music and videos or large file downloads, as well--those can chew through data lickity-split. Just remember to resume your syncing and allow images to download automatically again in Chrome once you're back to a regular Internet connection.