Speed Up Your Dial-Up Connection
You've seen the claims in pop-up ads or spam e-mail: "Warning: Your Internet Connection is Not Optimized!" or "Increase your Internet Speed 3 Times." Is it all poppycock, or do bona fide bandwidth boosters really exist?
I looked at three of a new breed of Web accelerator services: Artera
Modem-speeding packages--and hype--have been around since Internet use became widespread. But the new offerings work by storing Web pages and/or by compressing graphics and text, via a collaboration between their desktop software on your computer and smart caching of the Web pages on their own servers for quick page display.
Artera Turbo Residential, Propel Accelerator, and Proxyconn Accelerator aren't identical, but each service supplements your Internet Explorer or Netscape browser's existing cache with its own souped-up version. The idea is to store Web pages on your hard drive upon your first visit to the pages, and then to limit the information you download on subsequent visits to those pages to only the data that changes, making for a faster download. These services then go a step further by essentially storing popular Web pages on their servers at strategic geographic points around the Internet. Since the information is situated closer to users, it loads faster onto their PCs.
Artera's and Propel's services both speed up first visits to Web sites by using their servers to compress a page's graphics and text on the fly and then pipe them to your computer. Proxyconn relies on its exceptional caching technology on its servers and your PC for its speed, recompressing graphics and text on the fly, then sending them to you.
Both Artera's and Propel's software allow you the choice of shrinking the file size of graphics and pictures, resulting in faster downloads but blurry images. Propel also permits you to display some images in monochrome only.
Each service is available as a quick software download and piggybacks on your existing Internet service. (Artera doesn't currently support AOL, though the company says it will soon.) But be prepared for monthly fees: Artera charges $10; Propel, $5 (or $50 annually); and Proxyconn, $9 (or $80 annually).
In my informal tests, Propel was the fastest of the three in viewing text- or graphics-heavy Web pages for the first time, taking an average of 9.75 seconds to load text pages and 12.9 seconds for graphics pages. In comparison, a 56-kbps modem took, on average, 28.7 seconds and 49.5 seconds, respectively. Proxyconn was the snappiest when displaying either type of page on second visits, taking, on average, about 4 seconds for each, while the modem alone took, on average, 14 seconds and 20.7 seconds. Artera was the second-speediest of the three services, on average, for both visits to text-heavy Web pages and first visits to graphics-laden pages; it was last, on average, for second visits to graphics-intensive Web pages.
It's worth noting that Proxyconn's speed boost to reloading those graphics-filled pages was unparalleled at 3.7 seconds, on average, compared with the unaided modem's average of 20.7 seconds.
Be aware, however: These three services definitely can't compete with the raw capacity of cable or DSL connections when you're doing bandwidth-hogging tasks such as swapping music files or connecting to multiplayer games.