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Accelerate Your Network

Network slowdowns can be tricky to troubleshoot. Much depends on what you're actually doing across your network--copying files to another system, for example, might slow to a crawl if you're writing to a NAS device attached to a poky PC in the next room. But a few general tweaks and tricks can still boost your network performance in Windows.

Update Firmware and Drivers

The first step in getting your network up to speed is to install the latest Windows updates and to download the newest drivers for your PC's network cards. Second, install the current firmware for your router. All of these items are essential to optimal network speeds, and you can usually locate them on the manufacturer's Web sites. If the release date for a given driver is more recent than the last time you can remember updating, you should probably update again. Most new routers make updating easy if you log in to the Web administration panel; typically it will have an option for you to download and install the latest firmware with just a click or two.

Adjust Network Card Settings

Changing 'Link Speed & Duplex' to its highest setting can help network performance.
Once you have the latest software and firmware installed, try adjusting your network card's auto-negotiating setting. In the Control Panel, click Network and Sharing Center. From there, click Change Adapter Settings, and then right-click on your Local Area Connection and select Properties. In the screen that appears, click the Configure button under the Connect Using field. Select the Advanced tab. Set 'Link Speed & Duplex' to its highest available setting, such as 100 Mbps Full Duplex or 1000 Mbps Full Duplex.

Make Windows Set You Free

Windows Vista and Windows 7 have a wonderful habit of throttling down your network connection when you're playing multimedia files, to prevent movies from skipping during playback. You can adjust this throttling by editing the decimal value of the 'NetworkThrottlingIndex' key.

Press Windows-R, type regedit, and press Enter. In the Registry Editor, navigate to the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Multimedia\SystemProfile key. Raise the decimal value of the 'NetworkThrottlingIndex' key to a higher number. Setting it to 100 disables the service; Microsoft recommends that you go no higher than 70, but there's no harm in testing settings to see what works for you.

Route Traffic Intelligently

Online games, streaming-media programs, Internet phone services, and peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent consume a lot of network bandwidth due to the massive amounts data they transmit. To reduce the amount of strain such apps put on your router and to improve your overall network performance, manage them more efficiently with your router's port-forwarding feature.

Log in to your router's configuration screen. Search for an option that lets you specify port forwarding; it will be labeled slightly differently from one router to another. Once you've found it, type in your system's internal IP address (usually in the form of 192.*.*.*), and then input the preferred port found in your application's configuration screen (for instance, in Skype it's located under Tools, Options, Advanced, Connection). Pick both TCP and UDP protocols for forwarding, and save your settings.

To see if your chosen port actually has a clear tunnel through your network to the Internet, fire up the application and visit CanYouSeeMe.org. Input your port number and click the Check button--if you get a 'success' response, you're all set.

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