Hassle-Free PC: Add Zip to Your Internet Connection
Cause unknown: My fast broadband connection at home slowed to a crawl. It took days of futzing (and multiple beers) to identify what was wrong. And during that time, I experienced the agony of--cover your ears--slow Internet access. But I learned from my suffering. And as a result, I've developed a list of effective tactics for coping with and preventing Web performance problems.
The Annoyance: My superfast broadband connection sometimes stumbles, saddling me with poky downloads and anemic Web access. And when I'm stuck on dial-up, I could just scream.
The Fix: Milk every last drop of speed out of your cable, DSL, or dial-up connection.
* Goose Your Settings: One problem is that Windows Internet settings aren't optimized to establish the fastest connection possible--especially on dial-up. For more details, check out March's "Secret Tweaks"). Two products to try: CableNut, the one I use, is a free, geeky, not-so-easy-to-use tool that tweaks dozens of settings. A simpler program is ISpeed. The trial version is free, but you'll have to shell out $11 to keep it. Tip: In ISpeed, go to Settings, select your connection type, and let the program automatically modify the settings. Get both products here.
* This Old Wire: When I had a DSL line installed in my home office, the installer initially used the existing wiring (DSL uses ordinary copper telephone wire). Big mistake. The old wire was exactly that--old--which meant that it was brittle and had small breaks, translating into bandwidth loss. By insisting on new wiring, I shaved slightly over a minute off the download time of a 20MB file. It's the same story for cable connections: New coaxial wire can make a significant difference in speed.
If you're on dial-up, buy a new cable for the stretch from the wall jack to your modem. Use the shortest cable possible--you lose bandwidth with long wires. Then make sure the wires within all wall jacks in your home are solidly connected, by unscrewing each faceplate and examining the wires. Just one loose connection can affect the others--and your dial-up modem's connection. And make sure you use the same trick mentioned earlier for broadband users: Ask the phone company for new copper wiring that goes from the street to your house. Finally, if things are still slow, check with your ISP for different access phone numbers.
* Split the Signal: If you use your cable connection to access the Internet and watch TV, be careful how you set up and use the signal splitter. Each split decreases signal power, so make sure that your first connection is to the cable modem; then split the signal to the TVs elsewhere in your home. Best bet? Have the cable company technician do the splitting for you.
The Annoyance: No matter how I connect to the Internet, downloading more than one file slows down my Web browsing. Worse, if I lose my dial-up connection, I have to start the download again.
The Fix: If you grab files even occasionally, you just have to use a free download manager. Even if your browser has one built in, consider auditioning a stand-alone version. The advantages are many: If the download is interrupted--due to network problems, a lost connection, or a browser crash--the download manager resumes where you left off. Whether on broadband or dial-up, you can watch a partially downloaded video to see if it's nearly as funny as you thought it would be. Most download managers let you quickly drag and drop download links onto a floating icon. You can start downloading the files when your workday is over and have the program shut down your system (or simply hang up the line if you're on dial-up) when it's finished. I use WellGet--it contains no adware or spyware, and it's free. Obtain it here.
Not interested in a download manager? Bypass Internet Explorer's silly rule that limits you to three simultaneous downloads. Bump the number to ten with this tweak from Kelly's Korner; on line 55, on the right).