Dial up faster Net connections

January 03, 2002|By Doug Bedell | Doug Bedell,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Do you suffer from modem malaise? Does your 56 kbps Internet connection languish at a paltry 28.8? Are you pulling your hair out waiting for tiny graphics to ripple onto your monitor?

Don't fret. You are in good company. Dial-up Internet subscribers vastly outnumber broadband users in the United States, and very smart people are constantly working to find ways to squeeze every last kilobit-per-second out of home computer connections.

According to a new survey from Parks Associates of Dallas, Internet connections over standard telephone lines can be remarkably satisfying for the majority of 46 million American dial-up users. The firm's report estimates that 75 percent are content with the quality of their connections.

When consumers can consistently connect at 40 kbps or faster, they evidently find little need to upgrade to ultra-fast, more expensive broadband DSL or cable subscriptions.

If you'd like to join the satisfied, thrifty majority, there are plenty of tweaks and tests that might lead you to membership.

Here is practical advice for those in the dialup doldrums:

Check your settings - even the slickest dialup Internet connections never achieve the 56 kbps advertised for "56k modems." Theoretically, if you have a clean line with little background noise and a wonderful Internet service provider, you could achieve a maximum of 53 kbps.

Notice the connection speed you see when you dial in. If you have a 56 kbps modem and regularly see rates slower than 45 kbps, check the settings for your modem and communications port. In Windows, go to My Computer, then Control Panel, then Modem. Make sure you have the maximum connection speed set as high as it goes.

Scrutinize your line - pops, clicks, static and other telephone line aberrations can degrade Internet connection performance. If you have a line splitter attached to the modem for a fax machine or handset, it could add noise, experts say. Try disconnecting all other devices and connecting to your Internet service provider again.

ISP dial-up roadblocks - contact your ISP or go to its Web site for an up-to-date list of dialup numbers. Some ISPs offer separate lines for different maximum speeds and modems. It may be worth experimenting with different numbers at various times of the day to find the best combination for your hardware and the ISP's equipment. Generally, performance is contingent on the distance to your ISP's central office and the number of switches your call has to navigate to reach the provider.

Online speedometers - several Web sites will give you a reading on the actual speed at which your machine is downloading Internet content. CNet (http://webservices.cnet.com/bandwidth), MSN (http://computingcentral.msn.com/internet/speedtest.asp), and Bandwidthplace (www.band widthplace.com/speedtest) are among the most popular test sites.

Get a second modem - many Mac and Windows systems are capable of MultiLink, a software technology that allows you to increase speed by plugging two phone lines into two different modems attached to the computer. Check your system documentation and ISP for details.

Add system memory - computers low on RAM are slow on the Net. Adding memory can often speed performance, even on bad Internet connections.

Ramp up download speeds - a whole class of software programs called download managers can help users download large files on slow connections. These utilities essentially search out the fastest Internet route to the files you're trying to download. Download.com has an extensive list, while many experts praise Download Accelerator Plus (www.speedbit.com) as the ultimate, free solution to dial-up troubles.

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