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Back when the Internet was young, we waited forever for our favorite Web pages to load. We
didn't know any better.But now we do. Today, the Web isn't a novelty. It's a vital tool for commerce and communications, and
slow-loading pages are a real pain in the butt. A lot of that can't be helped, because the Net--especially in the United
States--suffers from massive overload. Current high-speed Internet lines still can't smoothly handle millions of users.
It's not all the Internet's fault, however. Part of the problem may be on your end. Slow hardware, incorrect Windows settings, even your phone line or ISP can all contribute to sluggish Web performance. So, although we can't cure what ails the Internet in general, we will show you step-by-step techniques that you can use to bring your Internet connection up to warp speed.
Track Your Data
If your Internet connection is slow, perhaps it's simply taking the long way home. You know those fancy steamer trunks you see in old movies, the ones that sport decals from dozens of exotic ports of call? There should be special decals for Internet data. Your computer might relay signals through ten or more different Internet routers before it reaches the site you want to visit, and any of those routers could be holding things up. But which one?VisualRoute can tell you. This handy little program not only tracks your data's Internet path but also displays it on a map. It counts the hops (number of relays) your data takes and gives you IP addresses for each router (where possible), domain name, and location. VisualRoute times and graphs each hop, so you get a good look at where the slowdowns occur. Highlight a domain name, and the program automatically tells you which person or company owns the node in question.
To get a second, more bare-bones look at this phenomenon, try Tracert, a Net program that comes with Windows 95/98. Like VisualRoute, Tracert checks the path your data takes and shows you which router is slacking off. Tracert sends a signal, or ping, to each router that your data goes through on its way to the host server.
To run Tracert:
1. In Windows 95/98, click the Start button and select Run. Then type command.2. At the C: prompt, type tracert, followed by a space and your site's name (for example, tracert cnet.com).3. Tracert will show you up to 30 hops, indicating both the response time and the site name or IP address of each stop along the route.4. If you get more information than you need, or if one router sticks you with repeated "Request timed out" messages, press Ctrl-C to quit. If you get four such messages, you probably have found a router that refuses Tracert requests.The speed of your connection depends on the total response time of everything along the path. With VisualRoute or Tracert information, you can pinpoint exactly which router is wasting your time. It's quite satisfying to be able to direct blame at a specific culprit. Unfortunately, that's all these programs let you do. If your ISP is speedy but one of the routers in the chain is slow, you're pretty much out of luck. If your own ISP's servers are slow, however, consider finding another ISP.
Time the Sites You Visit
If it's taking too long to get to your favorite site, maybe the site itself is to blame. The most thorough way to find out is with Net.Medic, a freeware program that pokes around your Internet connection and builds up a record of how well a site performs over time.Net.Medic's History Reports have an option that graphs the slowest sites, giving you a picture of a site's overall performance and letting you distinguish between a chronically slow site and a site that's just having a bad day. The three bars--Best Case, Average, and Worst Case--show how long the delays are on a site's good, average, and bad days. In the illustration below, the site with the monolithic block on the left of the screen is consistently slow. The rest of the sites in the screen just have bad spikes here and there. The site on the far right of the screen has only occasional delays.
Net.Medic's History Report graphs a Web site's speed over time.
If you consistently get response delays of 6 seconds or longer, you've found a chronically unresponsive site, and it's time to alert the site's Webmaster.
One solution for a site with occasional bad spikes is to visit during off-peak hours. Or you might try an offline browser, which fetches and moves pages to your hard drive before you actually want to read them. You could also contact the site's Webmaster and find out whether the site has a mirror, an exact copy created to divert traffic from the original site. Another option is to check whether your ISP uses a proxy server, a system that speeds access by locally caching pages from Web sites. If that's the case, make sure you're hooked up to it.
If the problems stem from your end--such as CPU or memory overload on your PC--Net.Medic's Health Report will tell you so. The report below points the finger at you (the client) and your PC.
Net.Medic's Health Report tells you what's slowing down your connections.
If you don't have Net.Medic, you can use Ping for a quick-and-dirty Web site check. Ping is a program that sends a 32-byte signal to the Web site's host server. Ping then records the time the server takes to respond. If that time creeps over 400 milliseconds (ms), either the Web site or your connection is sluggish. Please note: The farther you are from a major Internet hub, the slower your response times will be. If you're in Australia, for example, your Ping responses may be routinely slower than 400ms.
Here's how to use the Ping utility that comes with Windows 95/98 (if your ISP gave you another utility, check its documentation):
1. Click the Start button and select Run. Then type command.2. In the Open window, type ping, followed by a space and a Web site's name (for example, ping cnet.com).Ping will show you the results of four tests. Any time less than 300ms is normal. A time longer than 400ms is considered slow. A "Request timed out" message means that the site didn't respond within 1 second, which indicates that either the server is not configured to respond to Ping or the connection is terribly slow.
How fast is my ISP?
Clock Your ISP
Is your modem as fast as your ISP's modems? Do the ISP's modems speak the same language as yours? If they don't match, you might be trapped in the slow lane unnecessarily.Here's a quick way to find out. Dial in to your ISP. Then double-click the Dial-Up Connection icon in Windows 95/98's System Tray at the right of the Toolbar. Is the connection speed the fastest your modem can handle? If your modem can run at 56 kbps and your connection is 28.8 kbps, you're not using your modem's full potential.
Your ISP's modem may be slower than yours, or noisy phone lines may be reducing your connection speed. It used to be routine for ISPs to offer different-speed modems at different dial-up numbers, but 56-kbps modems are now a common standard. Still, it's worth checking your ISP's directory for faster dial-up numbers in your area.
It's also possible that your ISP's performance is just plain sluggish. They're not always as reliable as you (or they) would like. But don't blame your ISP until you've run Net.Medic for a few Web sessions so that you can tell who the real culprits are. Problems that you can lay at your ISP's door include failed connections and long delays in making a connection. If you're not satisfied with your service provider's reliability, get scientific. Keep notes on how many connections are dropped and how many redial attempts you make for an initial connection.
You can make a log of these by hand, but Net.Medic is the fairest and easiest way to monitor them. Look at the program's Service Provider report every couple of weeks to see results over time. Use this report to compare your ISP's proclaimed availability to its actual performance. In this report, the ISP did extremely well, exceeding the target availability, but not all ISPs are as reliable.
This report charts how often a particular ISP was unavailable.
If the number of busy signals and failures seems high and the speed at which you connect doesn't, it may be time to change ISPs. Shopping around for a new provider can be time-consuming but will be less so if you use our comparison of bargain ISPs to start your search.
Can I get better service from my ISP?
Bargain With Your ISP
Your ISP isn't providing the service you want, but what can you do about it? You could call up the CEO and scream until you're blue in the face. That might make you feel better, but it won't help your real problem. And don't automatically assume that changing to a new ISP will help either: you could end up worse off than before. Instead, try to work with your ISP to get the service you want. But before you act, make sure your ISP's really at fault (see the "Clock Your ISP" section). Then try some of these strategies.Check the Bulletins
Most ISPs issue bulletins or newsletters periodically, usually by email, and they're probably archived on the ISP's Web site as well. Look at the bulletins for those periods when you had problems with the service. If the ISP has come clean about network problems during these times--and has promised solutions--cut the company some slack until it has a chance to fulfill its promises. In addition to bulletins, also check the FAQ, Web-based help in the form of a list of frequently asked questions. If your problem is a common one, there may be a common solution.
Assemble Your Evidence
Before you call tech support, you need facts: times, dates, and details about the problems you've had. Failed calls, busy signals, DNS server failures, connection times consistently longer than 25 seconds--these are the details that work. To collect them, use a utility such as Net.Medic. This app assembles a staggering amount of data. If your ISP is slowing you down, Net.Medic will supply you with the info to build a case against your ISP.
Tell the Right People
Tech support phone lines aren't the best place to hash out substandard service problems. Scour the Web site for email support addresses and write to them for help. If all else fails, write to the Webmaster, usually at webmaster@your ISP's domain.
If email doesn't get results within a reasonable amount of time, (three to seven days) then call your ISP, with the facts in front of you. That way, the tech support people won't dismiss you as a speed-obsessed crank, even if you are one.
Look for Better Service
If you're still not satisfied, look for another provider. Use our comparison of the best ISPs to start your search and save time.
What's RAM got to do with it?
Improve Your Memory
How's your memory? Is your processor in over its head? Having a bazillion-bits-per-second online connection hooked up to an underpowered computer is like filling a Dixie cup with a fire hose. A slow processor and too little RAM are major setbacks to a vibrant Net connection.If you hear the hard disk thrashing when there's no activity onscreen, you've run short of RAM. Your system is swapping bits of data to and from your hard disk's virtual memory cache. And if the machine pauses unexpectedly, and you don't hear your hard disk thrashing, the poor processor is straining under the weight of all that code you're running.
So, how do you deal with chronic CPU or RAM overloads? Before you rush to invest more money in your system, try closing the programs you're not using. That frees up memory instantly and releases other system resources, too. Sure, it's a pain to open and close Excel or Photoshop several times a day, but it could save you a lot more in connection time.
If that's not helpful, hit the upgrade road. In general, buying more RAM is a cheaper and easier upgrade than buying a new PC, and the benefits are substantial. A shortage of RAM causes the biggest delays in the widest variety of computing tasks, including surfing the Web. If you have less than 64MB on a Windows 98 machine, you need to add more RAM. For other hardware-related tips, read on.
What if my hard drive's slowing me down?
RAM optimization software (PC)
RAM optimization software (Mac)
Optimize Your Hardware
Having a fast processor doesn't automatically give you a fast Internet connection. Performance bottlenecks within your system can still make or break an Internet connection, and your hard drive may be the cause. Your drive contains two important file areas: a virtual memory swap file and a folder that contains your browser's cache files. The drive's ability to access these areas can either speed up or slow down your browser and your Net connection.Defrag Your Drive
Windows allocates both the swap file and the cache dynamically, meaning your hard drive finds space for them wherever it can. If they end up in inconvenient places, your hard disk will waste time looking for them. You'll know because you'll hear the drive spinning as you surf. So it's crucial to keep your hard disk defragmented, or optimized, especially if you hear it milling around as you experience holdups in your Web connection.
Windows comes with its own defragmentation program. For best results, run it once a month.
To use Windows 95/98's defragmentation tool:
1. Double-click the My Computer icon and right-click the hard drive.2. Select Properties, click the Tools tab and Defragment Now. You can monitor its progress (and get a graphic representation of how fragmented your drive is) by clicking Show Details.It's also important to keep your hard drive from getting too full. Large drives are cheaper and faster than ever, so keep that in mind if you're upgrading.
And don't forget to update your software regularly. The newest versions of drivers and utilities are usually faster than the older versions, so always use current Windows service packs and updates, modem drivers, and TCP/IP stacks. If you're not sure what's been updated, check your software vendors' Web sites.
As a shortcut, use McAfee's free PC CheckUp Center to determine which software updates you need.
Pump Up Your Serial Port
Once your hard drive is in tune, take a quick look at your serial port to make sure that it's running at its fastest. To do this, you have to put all of its data buffers (temporary storage areas) to work. As its name suggests, a serial port sends data in a series--a stream of information bits, one after the other. To optimize that data stream, your serial port has two small but important buffers in which it temporarily saves information that piles up when the incoming or outgoing data stream gets out of sync. Each buffer can hold up to 16 bytes of data, just enough to make a big difference when your computer and modem communicate. Windows lets you choose the amount of buffer space your serial port uses, but if you're using a Pentium-grade system with a fast (14.4 kbps or higher) modem, you'll want to maximize those settings. Here's how.
1. In Windows 98, click the Start button. Select Settings/Control Panel, then double-click the System icon.2. Select the Device Manager tab.3. Under Modem, select the one you're using and click the Connection tab.4. Under Port Settings, move the sliders right to increase the capacity of the Receive Buffer.Can I tweak Windows to speed up my connection?
Your Internet connection seems simple. Your modem dials up the ISP's modem, they connect, and then the two throw data back and forth over the Net. But it's not really that easy; Windows just makes it look that way. In fact, the OS's Dial-Up Networking settings are pretty complex and force you to fiddle with the size of data packets, the duration of data transactions, and mysterious acronyms such as MTU, RWin (see below), and TTL.But here's the catch: Windows 95/98's settings aren't optimized for dial-up Internet connections. Instead, they're set for PCs connecting to the Internet using Ethernet. This means that your dial-up connection is probably slower than it could be.
Fortunately, you can dramatically improve your throughput with small adjustments to a few settings. You can do this by editing Registry settings, but dealing with the Registry is risky. It's much easier and safer to use one of three outstanding downloadable programs: SpeedTec, InternetTweak, and TweakDUN. They'll make the necessary adjustments for you and save you the trouble of tampering with the Registry. Remember, it's important to match the program to your operating system because the Windows 98 Registry handles some of these settings differently than Windows 95 does. However, all three programs listed here support both platforms.
To use these programs to optimize your Registry, you must adjust at least one of the four settings below.
MTU (Maximum Transmission Unit)
This IP network setting--known in the Windows Registry as MaxMTU--sets the size of data packets exchanged across the wire. This is important because small packets get through more quickly on a noisy line. With a good connection, however, larger packets are more efficient. By default, a 56k modem connection will be set to 576 bytes. For dial-up lines, most ISPs subscribe to this smaller setting because it reduces the chance of a data packet becoming corrupted on a noisy phone line. If the host and the client computers use two different MTU sizes, the connection runs more slowly because the computers have to negotiate new transmission rates.
It's easy to change the MTU on your PC, and you can do it without using the programs recommended here or going through the Registry editor.
1. Right-click the Network Neighborhood icon on your Windows 98 desktop and select Properties.2. Select the Configuration tab and highlight Dial-Up Adapter in the Network Components pane. Click the Properties button below the pane.3. Select the Advanced tab and highlight IP Packet Size. In the Value pane, select Large for 1,500 bytes or Small for 576 bytes. Click OK and restart your computer.4. Test your connection at MSN Computing Central.MSS (Maximum Segment Size)
The maximum segment size is a value that two Internet hosts use to negotiate the size of the MTU they will use to exchange data. It should be set at a value of 40 less than the MTU size (or 536 on a standard dial-up line). A correctly set MSS ensures that packets are transmitted properly.
RWin (Default Receive Window)
This IP network setting (DefaultRcvWindows) is the amount of data that your computer can receive before it has to send an acknowledgment to the host--the Web site you're visiting--to assure that data is being received correctly. If you change the MTU setting in Windows 95/98, you should also reset the RWin to a multiple of the MSS. Opinions differ widely on the proper multiple to use for this setting. The default setting in Windows 98 is 8,192 bytes; SpeedTec recommends a setting of 16 times MSS (23,360 bytes if you're at an MSS of 1,460 bytes); TweakDUN and InternetTweak both recommend a multiple of 4, although they all tell you to experiment.
TTL (Time to Live)
This network setting establishes the number of hops across servers that a data packet can take before it expires. The Windows 98 default is 128, which is also recommended by SpeedTec. TweakDUN and InternetTweak suggest 64.
Windows 95 users: Don't muck with this setting if you have installed Dial-Up Networking. Otherwise, go in and increase the figure to 64.
All three programs we recommend adjust the four Registry settings well. You just change the settings, save the changes to your Registry, and restart Windows. Then check to see how your Net connection runs. In most cases, things should go a lot faster.
Hand-Edit Your Registry Settings
However, if for some reason, you must do things the hard way, you can go into your Windows 95 Registry and edit it yourself. But this is not for beginners. First review "The Seven Commandments of Registry Editing," paying special attention to commandment number 7, "Don't come crying to us if anything gets broken." Once you've memorized all the commandments, you're ready to do the dirty work.
1. Back up your Registry. Refer to the second commandment of Registry editing.2. In Windows 98, click the Start button and select Run. Type regedit, and click OK.3. Find the key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Enum\Root\Net. Below it is a series of numbered subkeys (0000, 0001, 0002, and so on). Highlight each numbered subkey in turn until you find the value DeviceDesc equal to Dial-Up Adapter.4. Now drop another subkey level to Bindings. Highlight that subkey and look for a string that begins with MSTCP. It will be followed by a four-digit number (for example, MSTCP\0000). Write down the number.5. Find the key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Enum\Network\MSTCP and highlight the subkey with the four-digit number in Step 4. Look for the Driver value, which will be equal to NetTrans\0000 (or 0001, and so on). Note that four-digit number for the next step.6. Drop down to the key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\Class\NetTrans, and highlight the subkey that shares the four-digit number from step 5. Right-click and choose New/String Value. Name the string value MaxMTU. Right-click the value, choose Modify, and set the value to 1500. Next, add a string value named MaxMSS. Set it to 1460.7. Exit the Registry. Restart your computer.You're not finished yet, but you shouldn't make many changes to the Registry without testing the system. Restart your system now. If it restarts smoothly, proceed to the next step. If not, restore the old settings from your backup and try again, if you dare.
1. Back up your Registry under yet another name, different from the one before.2. Click the Start button and select Run. Type regedit and click OK.3. Click HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\VxD\MSTCP.4. Right-click a blank space in the right-hand pane and select New/String Value. Name the string DefaultRcvWindow. Right-click the DefaultRcvWindow string and select Modify. Enter the Value data as 5840 or 8760 (four or six times the MaxMSS value).5. Right-click a blank space in the right-hand pane and select New/String Value. Name the string DefaultTTL. Right-click the DefaultTTL string and enter the Value data as 128.6. Click the Registry menu and select Exit.7. Restart Windows.If anything goes wrong, restore your original backup of the Registry using Regedit's commands. Refer to the third and fourth commandments of "The Seven Commandments of Registry Editing" for instructions. And if you have any trouble, remember, we told you to use SpeedTec, TweakDUN, or InternetTweak!
It takes forever to connect to my favorite sites. Help!
Create an IP Address Book
You're wasting time and bandwidth each time you enter a Web address in your browser. Why? The Web's addressing system doesn't use names such as www.cnet.com. Those are for the convenience of people, who remember names better than numbers. The Web speaks IP (Internet Protocol) and understands only numbered IP addresses such as 188.8.131.52. (Just for fun, enter that number into the location field of your browser.)When you type the name of a site into your browser, it first finds a server that holds a copy of the domain name system (DNS) database. The DNS server reads the domain name you entered and looks up the corresponding IP address, then substitutes that IP address for the domain name in the Web address you entered. Doesn't that sound like a big waste of time? Sometimes it can be.
To get around it, keep your own DNS database. You can store a list of host names and corresponding numeric IP addresses in a special text file (a cache file) on your hard disk called hosts. Once you've created the hosts file, your browser will get the addresses from there instead of from the DNS. You can even create shortcuts in that file that let you enter a short version of a long domain name, and your browser will still know where to go. Of course, this plan may backfire if one of your Web sites changes its service provider and its IP address. While that's rare, it does happen. We recommend updating this list once a month.
The easiest way to collect and cache those IP addresses is to download SpeedTec or TweakDUN. Their button-driven interfaces let you amass a hosts file without typing anything. Both programs are stable, inexpensive, and a snap to install and use.
Of course, if you like to take the long way around, you can build a hosts file yourself. First, you need to accumulate the IP addresses of the sites you're interested in. You can do this by pinging them.
1. In Windows 98, click the Start button and select Run. Type command.2. In the Open window, type ping, followed by a site's name (for example, ping cnet.com).In the first line of text, you'll find the site's IP address within brackets. Copy the number. Armed with an IP number and the domain name, you're ready to create your own hosts file.
1. In Windows 98, click the Start button and select Programs/Accessories/Notepad.2. Type the IP address you just copied into the text file and follow it with a space and the domain name (for example, 184.108.40.206 cnet.com).3. Under the File menu, select Save and save the file in your Windows folder as "hosts" (not "hosts.txt").Go back to your browser and type the nickname (in this case, cnet.com) in the location field, and you'll go straight to the IP address. You can shorten the process even more by abbreviating the site's name in your hosts file. For example, use nyt to get to the New York Times. And you can add optional comments to remind you of shortcuts. Enter a number sign and an equal sign (#=) before your comments.
Here are some examples:
220.127.116.11 HB #=enter HB in the browser for a shortcut to HotBot
18.104.22.168 IS #=enter IS in the browser for a shortcut to InfoSeek
22.214.171.124 MS #=enter MS in the browser for a shortcut to Microsoft
Must I load Microsoft's home page whenever I launch my browser?
Montana Software SpeedTec 2.0 (PC)
Patterson Design Systems TweakDUN 2.23 (PC)
Change Your Home Page
Yes, something as simple as changing your home page really can speed up your connection time. Think about it this way. Do you need to log in to Netscape's or Microsoft's Web sites every time you open your browser? In fact, do you need to log in to any site at all? Probably not. Consider loading a blank page when you start up and not surfing until you enter the URL that you actually want to view.To load a blank page in Netscape Communicator 4.x:
1. Under the Edit menu, choose Preferences/Navigator.2. Under Navigator Starts With, select Blank Page.In Navigator 3.x:
1. Under the Options menu, select General Preferences and choose the Appearance tab.2. Under Browser Starts With, select Blank Page.In Internet Explorer 5:
1. Under the Tools menu, click Internet Options and select the General tab.2. In the Home Page dialog box, click Use Blank. The next time you open your browser, it will open the blank page file (about:blank).In Internet Explorer 4:
1. Under the View menu, select Options and choose the General tab.2. In the Home Page dialog box, click Use Blank. The next time you open your browser, it will open the blank page file.Loading graphics takes forever!
Cut the Graphics
Of all the tweaks you can make, the biggest speed gains you're likely to see come from improving your browsing habits, which means you have to reduce the amount of junk moving down your wire. You really don't need to see every single graphic and every line of text from some huge, poorly designed page.You have the power to stop the bandwidth busters. In midsurf, you can hit the Esc button or click the Stop icon at any stage. These provide momentary relief, but you might also cut out some text you want to read. A better idea is to change your browser settings to kill the clutter--and only the clutter. Do that, and you'll get text and get it fast.
To turn off graphics in Navigator 4.x:
1. Go to the Edit menu and choose Preferences.2. Select Advanced and uncheck Automatically Load Images.To turn off graphics, animation, and sound in Internet Explorer 4:
1. Go to the View menu, select Options, and choose the Advanced tab.2. Uncheck the appropriate boxes.In Internet Explorer 5:
1. Go to the Tools menu and select Internet Options.2. Choose the Advanced tab and uncheck the Multimedia settings.Even if you've turned off the graphics, you won't be left in the dark. Many sites provide alternative text, which shows up to describe the graphics your browser doesn't display. The text's primary function is to let you know what the graphical links connect to. But if you need to see a navigational image map, click Navigator's image placeholder or right-click Internet Explorer's image placeholder and select Show Picture.
To get rid of Java in Navigator 4.x:
1. Go to the Edit menu and choose Preferences.2. Select Advanced and uncheck Enable Java.To get rid of Java and ActiveX in Internet Explorer 4:
1. Under the View menu, select Internet Options and the Security tab.2. Under the Internet Zone, choose Custom/Settings.3. Choose options that let you turn off or be warned about ActiveX Controls and Java applets.To turn off Java in Internet Explorer 5:
1. Under the Tools menu, select Internet Options and the Security tab.2. Click the Custom Level button.3. Choose options that let you turn off or be warned about ActiveX Controls and Java applets.Increase my cache size? How will that help?
Augment Your Cache
If you're the kind of surfer who often revisits the same site several times in one session, this speed tweak is for you. When you visit Web pages, your browser stores HTML and graphics from those sites in a folder called a cache. The cache helps you get files fast when you hit the Back button because they're coming from your hard disk, not over a phone line. To see all the files currently stored in your cache folder, look in the browser folder (C:\Program Files\Netscape\Users\default, for Netscape; or C:\Windows\Temporary Internet Files, for IE 5).For best surfing speeds, we recommend that you allocate at least 10MB of your drive to the browser. But whether you have a very small or a spacious hard drive, the rule of thumb is to use about 5 percent of the drive. If your cache is more than 10 percent, you'll actually see a diminishing return. Cached data comes from the hard disk, so if you're tight on drive space, you won't be able to increase your cache size.
To increase your cache size in Navigator 4.x:
1. Under the Edit menu, select Preferences, double-click Advanced, and select Cache.2. Change the disk cache to 10,000K.In Internet Explorer 4:
1. Under the View menu, select Internet Options and choose the General tab.2. Under Temporary Internet Files, click Settings. Under "Amount of disk space to use," drag the slider to the right. The amount to use depends on the size of your hard disk, but it should be about 5 percent. (If you have relatively little RAM and visit graphic-intensive sites, add a bit more to your cache.)In Internet Explorer 5:
1. Under the Tools menu, select Internet Options and choose the General tab.2. Under Temporary Internet Files, click Settings. Under "Amount of disk space to use," drag the slider to the right. The amount to use should be about 5 percent of your hard disk.If you surf a lot without returning to the same sites very often, it helps to purge the cache in the middle of your session.
To clear the cache in Navigator 4.x:
1. Under the Edit menu, select Preferences, double-click Advanced, and select Cache.2. Click the Clear Memory Cache button.In Internet Explorer 4:
1. Under the View menu, select Options and choose the General tab.2. In the Temporary Internet Files dialog box, click Settings/Delete Files.In Internet Explorer 5:
1. Under the Tools menu, select Internet Options and choose the General tab.2. In the Temporary Internet Files section, click Delete Files and confirm the deletion.Keep in mind that your browser's cache isn't selective. It just stores what you've already viewed. Smart caches (such as the disk and memory caches in your PC) read ahead, anticipating what you may ask for, so the information will be ready and waiting for you. That's the premise behind PeakJet 2000, a utility you can download and demo for free.
PeakJet 2000 can dramatically improve your online performance by browsing ahead while you read Web pages. The catch? The program may drag down your system if its processor speed is slower than 100 MHz and if it has less than 32MB of RAM.
Does phone static affect my browsing?
Clean Up Your Connection
One of the biggest throughput problems, line noise, is easy to detect. You can hear it even over a dial tone. Noise is never a problem with digital connections such as ISDN lines, cable modems, or DSL, but on a regular phone line, it can be a killer.You can check your line's noise by logging off your computer and then picking up a phone that's on the same line as your modem. If it sounds as though someone's ripping open birthday presents, you have line noise. It's caused by a variety of factors, from poor wiring at your own location to moisture in the phone company's junction boxes. What can you do about it? By yourself, nothing.
You can pester your phone company to fix the connection, but be warned: telephone companies have a tendency to try to turn the tables with excuses such as "Your phone is probably faulty," or "It's your problem if you have a computer on this line."
And there may not be anything the phone company can do. The circuit could be spoiled by cross talk (overlapping signals) from phone wiring and unshielded power lines or from other devices that emit electromagnetic radiation. It's also possible that moisture or cheap components in your phone receiver could create crackling. You can figure this out by testing an apparently noisy phone line with more than one telephone.
If your building has a network interface device junction box (most buildings with multiple phones lines have one--a small gray junction box mounted outside), plug a phone in there to listen for line noise. If you hear no noise at the junction box but do hear noise on your extension, the line noise is caused by the wiring or an electromagnetic radiation problem inside your building.
If this is the case, call in your phone company's service engineers. If the bad wiring is inside your home, the telephone company will probably charge you for inspection and repairs. Always ask how much they will charge before you invite a service representative into the building.
Replacing wiring yourself can be tedious and costly. But if you decide to do it yourself, use shielded cable for long runs, especially if you're installing more than one line. A handy tool to have, and one the professionals use, is a phone wire with a phone on one end and a pair of alligator clips on the other. Use it to check wires at each junction along the way. You can make your own with Radio Shack parts.
What a hassle, right? That's why digital lines are such a great idea.
DSL? What's in it for me?
Upgrade Your Phone Line
If you cleaned up your phone line, customized the Windows Registry, and followed our other tips, and you still crave speed, consider abandoning your traditional connection altogether--or at least modifying it drastically. Your current options for high-speed Internet access are cable connections, digital subscriber lines (DSL), and ISDN.Cable Modems
Cable connections to the Net, provided by companies such as RoadRunner, typically cost a flat rate of about $40 per month and can theoretically download data at an enormous 30 mbps. But cable still hasn't penetrated much beyond metropolitan areas. Check CNET's Web Services page to understand why that is and where the providers are in your area. If you live in an area with cable Net service and spend a lot of time online, consider spending a little extra money for a lot of extra speed.
DSL and Other Alternatives
Digital subscriber lines piggyback on your phone line to deliver data at up to 6.1 mbps, yet they still leave room on the phone line for you to make a regular voice call. You may not see that kind of speed where you live, however, because slower forms called CDSL (consumer DSL) and G.Lite (or DSL Lite) can bring digital lines to your house without some of the costly hardware requirements. Look for speeds of about 1.5 mbps from these versions, which still is about 30 times faster than a 56-kbps modem at its best.
The only downside to DSL is that right now it's available only in urban parts of the country. DSL service pricing is all over the map, ranging from $40 per month for a slow (640 kbps) Bell Atlantic deployment on up to about $200 per month or more for corporate users. FreeDSL, an attractive-sounding alternative, is available only where DSL is already installed, and it's free because you're forced to watch advertisements constantly scroll by in addition to those carried on Web sites.
Your last two options are less than ideal. ISDN is slower than and just as expensive as DSL. But this type of connection is still faster than an analog modem because ISDN combines two 64-kbps data channels for a total of 128 kbps for data transfer. Your final option, a satellite link, delivers data at about 400 kbps. But it costs $300 to $600 for the dish, plus installation, plus a subscription plan, and you'll need to keep your modem and ISP because it's only a one-way system--you can't upload data to it. This will not be the Net technology of the future. In fact, it's already slipping into the past.
Should I get a faster modem?
Crank Up Your Modem Speed
So, those of us who aren't jacked in to cable modems or DSL lines are dialing in with 56-kbps modems, right? If not, you should be.If your ISP offers 56.6-kbps connections and you have a 28.8-kbps modem (see "Clock Your ISP"), you're not getting the most out of your Internet service. Upgrading to a faster modem will let you take advantage of every drop of speed your ISP provides.
But don't expect any miracles. Stepping up from 33.6 kbps to 56 kbps may not increase your connection speed by that much. For one thing, a true 56.6-kbps connection is against the law. The Federal Communications Commission put a cap on the amount of data you can send through a phone line because more powerful signals bleed over onto adjacent phone lines, causing cross talk. So, for the time being, 53 kbps is your functional limit, but even that speed is tough to achieve. Connection speed depends heavily on phone line quality, which can be a real crap shoot. Most tests show that throughput in the mid-40s is more the norm, so if you manage to connect at 48, enjoy it.
With all those obstacles, why should you bother to upgrade? Because it makes good sense. A 56-kbps modem gives you the best chance to achieve the fastest connection your phone line allows. Besides, modems aren't that expensive these days. There's no reason not to upgrade. So, all you 14.4 holdouts, what are you waiting for? Click here to compare the prices of internal and external modems.
Shop With Caution
As you shop, be aware that one type of modem (usually called a Winmodem) borrows your system's resources to do some of its work. If you're running anything slower than a Pentium II, this can hobble your speed. Winmodems typically cost less than the more independent models. But unless you run a superfast system, it may not be worth the upgrade.
Two Modems, Twice the Speed
So, what else can you do to crank up your connection speed? Dial-up modems aren't expected to become any faster; for that, you need DSL or a cable modem. But it's possible to use two modems, two phone lines, and a special account with your ISP for a connection that can top 100 kbps. It's called multilink bonding, and any Windows 98 machine supports it.
When you use a multilink connection, the first modem dials and connects to the Web, then the second modem kicks in. Information is divided between them, putting most of the load on the first modem. To set up multilink bonding, you have to connect two modems to your computer and be sure that they're not competing for interrupts, signals that your computer hardware uses to assign tasks to its various devices. COM1 and COM3 by default share an interrupt, as do COM2 and COM4, but Windows 98 (not 95, however) automatically reassigns interrupt numbers where possible. Each modem must be on its own phone line, and your ISP must support multilinking. If it does, your phone service cost may double. So, if DSL is available in your area, you may want to go that route instead (see "Upgrade Your Phone Line").
To establish a multilink connection on a Windows 98 system:
1. Click the Start button and select Programs/Accessories/Communications/Dial-Up Networking.2. Right-click your Internet connection icon and choose Properties.
If you don't have a connection already configured, double-click Make New Connection, type multilink, and select your fastest modem (if there's a difference). In the next window, enter your ISP's access number and click OK. Right-click the resulting icon and choose Properties.3. Select the Multilink tab. Click Use Additional Devices and select your second modem, listed in the window below. Type in the phone number the second modem will dial (it may be the same as the first number; your ISP will tell you).That's all you need to do. Just dial in and enjoy the ride.
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