The Best and Worst ISPs

Speed Tweaks: What You Can (and Can't) Do to Boost Bandwidth

Your Internet connection is slow, or perhaps it's down completely. What should you do to get it back to top speed?

  1. Before doing anything else, contact your ISP to see if there is a service problem. Then power-cycle your DSL or cable modem: Turn it off, wait about 15 seconds, and turn it back on.
  2. For troubleshooting tips, check your ISP's support site. AT&T DSL users, for instance, can download a free Self Support Tool that checks e-mail, connectivity, and PC settings. If it discovers, say, that your browser cache is smaller than the recommended setting, it'll increase the size (with your consent).
  3. Multiple firewalls can affect connection speed too. If your router has a firewall, don't run the one that comes with Windows XP or Vista, Norton Internet Security, or the like.
  4. Line filters, which prevent noise from disrupting a DSL signal, can be troublesome. Make sure not to plug a phone or fax machine into the DSL modem port on the filter; doing this can slow your connection. If you're using a wireless router, download and install the latest firmware from the vendor's site.
  5. If everything appears to be working normally with your connection but you're still dissatisfied with the performance, upgrade to a faster connection or find another ISP that offers the level of bandwidth you crave.

Beware of Speed Promises

What about Web sites and software that promise to turbo-charge your broadband? Justin Beech, owner of the popular site BroadbandReports.com, is skeptical. "Sites claiming to improve connection speeds are largely snake oil, or at least they overstate the marginal benefit. Your maximum speed is determined by your ISP. Without illegally hacking your cable modem, that is the end of the story."

As an informal reality check, we ran the optimization tool in Unisoft's $30 SpeedUpMyPC 3 program, which promises to "boost your bandwidth," and performed a Web-based bandwidth speed test. The verdict: no connection speed increase. We saw the same results from Dr. TCP, a free utility that makes tweaks to Windows' RWIN (TCP Receive Window) setting and in some cases boosts download speeds.

Finally, we tried Google's free Web Accelerator, which claims to improve performance by Web surfing through Google's servers. Again we noticed no boost, though the app's toolbar said we saved 0.8 second connecting to PCWorld.com.

Jeff Bertolucci

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