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  PC-Net's PC News - February, 2001
 
Don Watkins

Tweaking Broadband: Faster and Safer (Part 1)

By Don Watkins

 
 
 

 

February 2001--If you are fortunate enough to have a broadband connection (DSL, Cable, Satellite, etc.), you may wonder how you can rate your real world connection speed and if thereís more that can be gained. You may also be concerned about security. Miscreants might not consider looking at a dial-up connection because of the speed and because dialup connections arenít usually used on networks. This month we look at some things that can be done to check your connection and next month methods available to make that connection more secure.

Getting From Here to There

Before we get into the details, thereís an important point to note: any speed test is heavily dependent on the remote site as well as the overall traffic passing back and forth on the Internet. You can run the same test multiple times and get vastly different results. Keeping this in mind you can monitor the results and learn how your individual connection responds. For example, trying to access the Super Bowl web site while the game is on will be slower than accessing the site during the World Series. Also the method your ISP uses to get to a specific site can be a factor as the more hops or connections the packets take to get from here to there may create extra delays. The web is no different than anything else with finite available resources.

Connection Speedometers

ZDNet's Bandwidth test is a place to start. This link is actually two web pages: the one you initially access and the other that sends a known amount of data across the link and times the event. Based on the amount of time used, the page then determines how fast your connection is. In a perfect world, this is a great idea, but remember this is the Internet and can vary depending on when they happen. I suggest running this test multiple times, at different times of day to develop an average reading for your own connection. Do be aware that the server is a bit off the beaten path of terms of the Internet and you may  get very low speeds depending on where you're located and your ISP's peering arrangements.

DSLReports is the next stop. Itís another speed test, with multiple sites to test against. This can help with quickly establishing a baseline average. This site will report both your upload and download speeds. Many systems put a cap on the upload speed because most traffic is downloading from a remote server to your computer. If you have ever wondered just how fast your upload speed is, this is the test you want.

mybc.com is another testing site. Here you can set what size file you wish to test. Most times this wonít make much of a difference, but I have heard reports where connections seem to "fall over" at times. This test may help determine if thatís happening to you.

Keep a diary on your results, either in a spreadsheet, notepad or even a piece of paper and prepare to make some notes as now we descend into tweaking madness. That may sound like a joke, but Iíve found that any time I start squeezing Windows there is rarely a one size fits all solution and finding the best setting involves a lot of trial and error with, of course, the obligatory reboot in between each change.

Make the Tweaks

OK, youíve run the tests; averaged more numbers than a baseball scout and are looking for more. Now what? Windows defaults to using settings that work fine for a dial-up modem but arenít optimized for a faster connection. Some settings exist that, if changed properly, can improve your results. The trick is finding these items and changing them properly. Warning: these settings are found in the Windows Registry, which makes some folks cringe. While itís true that making random changes to the Registry without paying attention could render your system unbootable Iíve never had a problem with the speed tweaks other than hurting my results. Good notes of what youíve changed will help you back out any bad results. Regardless, always back up your registry before making any changes.

DSLReports is the place to start for a semi-automatic registry change method. Click a button and watch the reports. You have a choice of just the facts, or lots of details. Mysterious things like MTU and RWIN are checked. If youíre not familiar with those terms or if youíre just curious, scroll down on the page. The main configuration options are listed, together with an explanation of what they mean. There are also Registry files you can download to make some changes as well as a downloadable program to access other Registry entries. This method works, but it requires some level of knowledge and care. Making the wrong settings can be worse than leaving everything alone.

Broadband Wizard makes the whole process a lot easier. You download a small program then install and run it. Click a few buttons and the program automatically tests your connection and suggests the optimal settings based on the test results. Click a couple of buttons and re-boot to reflect the changes and youíre done. It doesnít get much easier than this. If youíre running a broadband connection, I highly recommend this program. It also includes methods of testing your connection and can be set to test in the background, which is great for determining your baseline average.

Or if you like to do your registry tweaks manually check out SpeedGuide.net for a full rundown on registry changes both common and obscure.

The Bottom Line

You may find this results in a lot of work, but if you run a broadband connection with the standard Windows settings chances are good youíre going to see a huge benefit for the trouble.

Next month weíll discuss the safety issues of a full-time connection and steps you can take to do something about it.

Until next month stay connected.

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