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.
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.
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
Copyright © 2000-2012
by Barbara Brabec
All Rights Reserved
Barbara Brabec's World
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.)
"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
"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
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
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
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:
Why Your Cable
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
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.