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Understanding Download and Upload Speeds

Until I upgraded my cable service to the highest speed possible, I did not understand that (1) the actual download speed is only about 85 percent of what weíre told we have, and (2) that upload speeds are considerably less.

According to an article  about bandwidth I found on Pitstop.com (that is no longer accessible), cable modems are typically rated at 1.5 to 3Mbps down, and 400 to 600Kbps up, but sometimes opposite results are seen. If you regularly back up your computer files to a secure site every day, the time of day you upload files can make a big difference in the upload speed youíll get. In the evening, for example, when everyone in your neighborhood gets home from work and hits the Internet, they will most likely be downloading files, so you may find that you can get faster upload speeds then.

The above-mentioned article also explained that, although cable modem users can expect download speeds of from 1000 to 3000 Kb/s, the maximum rate may be capped by the cable company. DSL users get from 256 Kb/s to 2000 Kb/s depending on the level of service they have purchased.

 

Reboot! Reboot!

Here's my special tip (and one the experts must take for granted because none of them mentioned it to me): REBOOT REGULARLY. If you leave your computer on all the time, work a lot of files and programs, and donít reboot once a day, the whole system can slow down very quickly. I still remember the advice a computer user gave me years ago when I was just learning to use my DOS computer. "When all else fails, she said, hit the REBOOT button." It still works wonders today.

 

 

Copyright © 2000-2012
by Barbara Brabec
All Rights Reserved
Barbara Brabec's World
BarbaraBrabec.com

 

 

How to Speed Up Your
Internet Cable Connection
(and Prevent "Time-outs")

by Barbara Brabec

Did you know that the wrong firewall settings can slow your cable connection speed down to a crawl? Sounds simple, but as my experience shows, some computer experts don't know this ... or what causes a cable connection to "time out."  Learn from my experience!

When I bought my latest computer system, I decided the time was right to finally move from dial-up Internet service to broadband cable through WowWay, Comcastís competitor in my area. (I chose not to go with DSL because several people had told me this kind of setup could be problematic and, of course, it isnít as fast as broadband, as the Slowskys on TV so humorously confirmed.)

The fellow who installed the cable setup for both TV and Internet said Iíd have no problems. He was simply using the same lines originally installed by Comcast, except adding a new line into my office directly to my computer. A little modem was positioned on top of my hard drive and the cable was plugged in. Everyone said the speed I was going to see after years of using dial-up on the Internet would knock my socks off.

I first reconfigured Outlook 2003 to receive and send mail, and things speeded up there for awhile, but eventually I began to get error messages. Instead of being amazed by my new Internet speed, I was stunned to discover that accessing the Internet using IE 6.0 was no faster than dial-up; in fact, some Web pages were taking up to three minutes to load. I called the cable company who confirmed something was definitely wrong when I couldnít check my connection speed on the Internet, and they said they would send someone out to check it. That fellow couldnít find the problem, so he called in a computer tech who set up his laptop with my cable connection and proved to me that, on his computer, the download speed was around 3500 KB a second. (The maximum I'm supposed to get is 4 MB a second, and it's my understanding that if I get even 85 percent of that speed, this is considered "normal." See sidebar, left.)

Computer Problems?
"Sorry, Not the Cable Company's Concern"

The fact that I was having trouble downloading and sending email, couldnít get Internet Explore to open web pages, or upload my document files to my secure backup service was MY problem, the cable company said. The "computer expert" wasnít "authorized" to help me with my computer settings or anything. Said I might have a virus, or maybe Windows or Internet Explorer was corrupted. Said none of their other customers had experienced this problem, and Iíd have to figure it out myself.

Oh, good, I thought. Just what I love to do best: figure out computer problems instead of doing my real work. Resolved to do this without hiring a pricey technician, I started by scanning my system for spyware and viruses, but found no problems there. Then I did a system file check, which indicated Windows needed a DLL file in the cache to run properly, which I couldnít provide because I wasnít given a WinXP installation disk when I bought my computer. (Microsoft no longer allows computer buyers to actually have a copy of the Windows XP disk in hand. They just bury these files on your computer and don't tell you how to find them.) (More about this HERE.)

I downloaded the Opera browser (at dial-up speed, of course), and it worked a little faster than IE, making me think IE had been corrupted. I tweaked this and that for a couple of hours, but Internet Explorer still wasnít responding. Waited on the phone for almost an hour to talk to a computer tech at Tiger Direct Warehouse, where I had bought the computer, but never connected. Went to bed discouraged, to say the least.

The next morning, I stomped over to Tiger Direct and caught one of the tech guys, who gave me fifteen minutes of free consultation. I learned more in that fifteen minutes that I could have learned reading manuals for hours. First, he explained how to find the Windows XP files in case I needed them the next time I did a system file check. Then this knowledgeable fellow explained that Windows and IE were probably fine, that my problem was most likely with my security/privacy/firewall settings.

Firewalls and Cookies

At Tiger Direct's recommendation (and because of my own frustrating experiences with Norton in the past), I decided to install the eTrust Internet Security Suite on my new computer (which had glowing reviews on the Web). For the month I used this program prior to hooking up to cable, it was doing a great job in blocking spam, viruses and spyware. It also stopped over 5,000 hacker attempts (and you think you donít need a firewall?). Firewall settings are complicated, and I quickly learned that it takes about as long to train a computer user to use a firewall program as it does to train the firewall itself to do what you want it to do.

I configured the program as best as any computer novice can do, and thinking it smart, I elected to refuse to accept most cookies. Turns out that THIS was what was slowing my broadband speed down to a crawl. As soon as I allowed cookies on all Websites (except for persistent and third-party cookies), and added a bunch of URLs to the list of sites I wanted to access, upload files to, and download files from, the speed was suddenly there. This whole experience was stressful and frustrating and, in my opinion, totally unnecessary.

I am constantly amazed by my ability to eventually find the solution to technical computer problems through networking and experimentation—things some so-called computer experts should know, but donít, like the computer expert at the cable company, for example. Why didnít he know that a userís firewall settings can affect cable connection speed? That would have been the only tip I needed to solve the problem, and it would have saved WowWay the expense of two tech calls to my house.

Maybe there is just too much for any one person to know, and even the techie guys have trouble. (The fellow at Tiger Direct said it took him six months to "train" his firewall, and he almost threw up his hands in defeat.)

Some Firewall Tips

So, if youíre paying for broadband and your speed isnít up to par, look first to your firewall settings for the answer. I'm still green behind the ears on this issue, but here's what you might try to speed up your own cable connection speed. Begin by accepting  cookies because you can easily delete them manually with the TOOLS tab on Internet Explorer. Then make sure all the sites you need full and fast access to are on your approved list in your firewall control center—with the EXACT URL you are trying to access—and that youíve clicked the appropriate security options for each one. You can also speed up your Internet surfing and download speed simply by closing all programs and applications youíre not using at the time. (Remember that all those little icons down at the right are running even when you arenít using their related programs, stealing RAM and speed from your cable connection. Simply exit them and bring them back when you need them.)

There are several Websites that offer free Internet Speed checks. Try several because you'll get different readings depending on the time of day and the volume of traffic on your ISP.

When I first began to experience speed problems with my cable company, and before I upgraded my service, I was advised to check my Internet speed by going to Speakeasy.net to do a speed test (select the largest city near you for this test). Iím now getting a download speed of 6496 kbps and an upload speed of 666 kbps, which Iím told is as good as it gets. I was advised that anything less than a download speed of 3,000 and an upload speed of less than 500 could signal a problem with the cable service, and might require a service technician to check it.

Here are two others I've used:

BandwidthPlace.com

PerformanceToast.net

Why Your Cable Internet Connection
is Timing Out

In checking out routers on the Web, I came across a site that was discussing cable connection problems with the Linksys router. A fellow said he kept getting "timed out" messages (the Internet connection would be there for awhile, then his cable, connected through a USB hub, wouldnít work). Because I had been getting messages in both Outlook and FrontPage saying the service had "timed out" (which I thought was impossible with cable), I was happy to find the answer on a site linked to this discussion.

DID YOU KNOW THAT. . .in Windows XP there is a default setting that tells the computer to turn off the root USB hubs to conserve power if things are inactive for awhile? (Conserve power? On a machine powered by electricity? Come on, Microsoft, get real!) All I had to do was uncheck this setting to keep the cable on all the time. I wonít give you this kind of technical information, but here is where you will find the simple instructions for how to "Fix problems with USB DSL/Cable modems." 

 

2012 Update re above: In 2011, when my computer started slowing down and giving me signs it was in distress, I discovered that eTrust had not automatically renewed my firewall and anti-virus protection, and I'd been working on the computer for two weeks with my door wide open, so to speak. I only learned of this when they sent me an email asking if I wanted to renew. In calling friends to see who I could call for help, I was fortunate to connect with Al Karman, a computer expert in my neighborhood who made house calls. He came to my home for a three-hour "computer clean-up/speed-up session," and by the time he'd finished, my computer was blazing hot. He'd set me up with three of the best anti-virus, spyware, and malware tools around, put Windows' firewall back in place, and I haven't had any problems since then. Each week I run the programs to clean my registry, check for spyware and malware, and the AVAST software protects my incoming email and alerts me to websites that have malicious programs on them.

 

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