Speed up your Internet Connection

Everyone wants faster Internet access, but getting more from your connection doesn't always mean having to pay for extra speed. These tips will help you squeeze every drop from your existing bandwidth without busting the bank.

The term 'bandwidth' simply refers to the speed at which data can be transferred. It can easily be thought of like a water hose: the wider the pipe, the more water (data) that can flow through it. In this context, a 10-year-old modem can be seen as a drinking straw and a broadband connection can be viewed as fire hose; the common 56Kbps modems are about the same as a garden hose.

Just like a hose with kinks or other objects restricting the flow, Internet connections can need tweaking and cleaning. Even though there is a point where you will not be able to squeeze any more speed from your connection, a few management tricks and handy tools can improve your overall efficiency on the Web.

Tweaking your settings

Whenever you get a new ISP or modem, your first stop should be technical support (which is also a good idea if you have never checked your settings).

Most ISPs have online tutorials for optimising your settings, but calling can be a better option - especially if you are new to computers. A number of default settings in Windows often need to be changed to improve access.

Some utilities are available that can assist with connection speeds and manage the way pages are downloaded in attempt to improve speed (these also called 'Internet accelerators'). Programs like SpeedNet (free adware version or $US25, www.paramagnus-development.com) and Internet Turbo ($US39, www.clasys.com) may coax better performance from your system (all are on the cover CD).

The level of improvement will be based on your current settings. Some users may not notice any changes, while others will be surprised at the increase. These programs can make changes to your Internet settings, so be sure to follow the readme texts carefully and to back up any key system files before installing them.

Managing your activities

Once the technical issues are resolved, there are other ways to improve your bandwidth. First, you should consider the time of day you connect to the Internet or access particular sites. Often you will discover that service levels vary throughout a 24-hour period - in these cases, try visiting at different times and see if the connection improves (you can use a download manager to help with this task - see below).

To help find where the bottlenecks are occurring, you can use software that will trace the route from your computer to the destination. One of the best tools is Neotrace (www.neoworx.com), which comes as either a free Express or Pro (shareware) version. Whenever your connection to a site slows down, you can determine if the problem is with your ISP, the site you are visiting or one of the numerous servers between.

Another package for checking Internet performance is CyberKit (www.cyberkit.net). It includes tools such as Ping, TraceRoute, Finger, WhoIs and more. Best of all, it's free.

One important point to consider is that many online activities, like reading newspapers, use little bandwidth. They tend to involve a few seconds of bandwidth activity - then little else while you read. This is an ideal time to be downloading files in the background. Not all users are aware that they can be browsing Web pages and downloading at the same time - the only difference will be that pages may load a little more slowly. If you spend one hour reading an online newspaper using a 56Kbps modem, it is possible to also download a 20MB file in this time. A download manager can help you organise this process, plus they have their own tricks for faster downloads.

Download managers

Every Internet user will need to download files of some description. It may be shareware, a video, brochure or another type of file. Unfortunately, even with the best Internet connection in the world, files still get cut off before completion. This can happen for a range of reasons: servers and computers crash, the Internet gets congested, or a host of other issues. Then there may simply be times when you want to shut down the computer and resume the download when you next go online.

If a download is interrupted, generally you have to start again from the beginning. However, in most cases you can resume your download from where you stopped with the assistance of a specialised tool called a download manager. For example, if you are pulling down a 100MB file and it gets cut off at 80MB, then a download manager should be able to recommence at 80MB instead of zero. There are some infrequent exceptions to this rule, but in most cases resuming downloads can be a bandwidth saver. The programs are smart enough to 'catch clicks' within your browser: if you click on a download link, the manager will take over for you. There are options to monitor a range of file types, which is handy if you'd rather download a PDF than have it open in your browser window.

The best download manager is GetRight (www.getright.com). It is one of the few Internet programs that has remained on my PC systems over the last five years. This $US25 program has saved an extraordinary amount of time and bandwidth, and for these reasons it has featured in the software Essentials section of the cover CD for several years. It has a long list of features that become apparent once you have used it a few times. For example, it can search the Web to look for other, faster sites that may have a copy of the desired file, plus it supports multi-threading (see below). Two of the best features are GetRight's ability to reconnect to the Internet if the connection is dropped, and to shut down the computer once the file has been downloaded.

If you don't want to pay for a download manager, then consider Go!zilla (www.gozilla.com), which has a free adware version. You can pay to kill the ads, but at $US20-40 it would be better to purchase GetRight.

Other free programs include Download Accelerator (www.speed bit.com), NetAnts (www.netants.com) and FlashGet (www.amazesoft.com). RealPlayer (www.real.com) ships with a download manager, but compared to the other specialised programs, it is clumsy and limited. Of these free programs, Download Accelerator is the best choice. All of the programs are on the cover CD, so take them for a spin to find one that suits your needs.

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Scott Mendham

PC World

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