4 Tips for Troubleshooting Your Broadband Blues
by Kim Komando
Reprinted with permission from the Microsoft Small Business Center

Many small-business owners shell out big bucks for high-speed Internet access. The savings in time are usually rewarded with higher productivity.

If your high-speed system happens to be running slower than a clogged drain, don't complain just yet. Before you pay for an expensive in-office visit from your Internet service provider's tech support, here are four things you should consider.

1. Know your speed. You can sit at your computer with a stopwatch to see how long it takes to connect to your favorite Web site. But this is not a very good indication of download speed. Believe me, I've tried it. There are too many variables involved. I suggest you call the ISP and ask. The ISP probably can check download speeds on your line remotely. The number you get from the technician will probably be a best case figure; real-world Internet traffic can be bogged down. Or, you can also easily check your speed online, through MSN Tech & Gadgets' Internet speed test. Two other good sites are at BroadbandReports.com (formerly DSLReports) and Bandwidthplace.com. All three sites send data to your computer. The tests calculate the connection speed based upon the elapsed time it takes to download and upload the data.You may receive different results based on which test you use and where that test's server is located. For example, BroadbandReports offers servers throughout the world, while Bandwidthplace's test server is located in Texas. The further away you are from a server, the greater chance you'll encounter bottlenecks. The speed tests can give you a baseline speed. To establish that baseline, test your connection speeds throughout the day and keep a log. If there is a noticeable difference during specific times of the day, you'll be able to troubleshoot better.

2. Start at the source. You could have one of the fastest connections in the world. But if your computers are old, it won't matter much. When surfing the Net, you are downloading information. Some Web sites are simple and don't require much processing power. But most are heavy on graphics and code. A modern, fast chip will process and display the pages quickly. Memory is crucial, too. A Web page is loaded into your computer's memory. If there's not enough memory, some data is saved as a swap file on the hard drive. This can really slow things down, especially if you are running multiple applications. If you are using Windows XP or Windows 2000, you need a minimum of 256 megabytes of RAM. Windows 98 and Windows Me require 64 MB. Don't worry about purchasing a separate video card for your company's computers. Video cards are great for processing intense graphic images you'll encounter in games and video editing. When it comes to the Net, you won't see much difference between a system that uses an integrated video card and one with a video card separate from the motherboard. 

3. Clean the cache. If you have the latest and greatest processor with plenty of memory, your Web browser may be causing the slowdown. After weeks spent on the Internet, your Web browser can get bogged down from temporary files. It's time to do some spring cleaning. Go into your Web browser and clear out your history and temporary files. To do this in Internet Explorer, click Tools and Internet Options. On the General tab, click Delete Files (place a check mark next to Delete all offline content) and Clear History. In Netscape, click Edit and Preferences. Under Navigator, find History. Click Clear History. Under Advanced, click Cache. Click Clear Disk Cache. If you're using Apple's Safari, click Safari and Empty Cache. Reboot the computer.

4. Tweak your settings. You may need to configure your computers' settings to take advantage of broadband. BroadbandReports has a "Tweak Test" that will examine your computer's configuration (from the BroadbandReports home page, click on "Test & Tools" at left). After the test, enter the service you have (cable, DSL, etc.), advertised speed, operating system and connection type. Click recommend. You'll find a series of settings that can be changed along with notes and recommendations. Recommendations are broken into five categories, ranging from "something good" to "big problem." If your computer is not optimized to maximum, you'll probably find that DrTCP is recommended. This is a small, free program at BroadbandReports that acts as a GUI interface into your registry. Before changing any of your settings, I recommend you read the FAQ on the program at the BroadbandReports' site (www.dslreports.com/faq/578).  If you are still experiencing unusually slow speeds, you might have to call in an expert. Your ISP's small-business tech support might have to come to your office to evaluate the situation. There may be an internal hardware issue (your router, modem, networking wires, etc.) causing the creeping service. Lagging service can also be caused by the lines outside your company's walls. There are many outside influences that can cause slow-surfing problems. The Internet is a system of countless networks. When delays occur, it's not necessarily your fault.

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