September 13, 2014 Jessica Sims
Improving Broadband Performance

Improving Broadband Performance

If you have a high speed broadband connection but are not feeling the bandwidth love, you may have some tweaking to do.  Be sure to start off with ensuring that everything is functioning properly, then update software drivers and firmware, and then really get to tweaking.  The entire process should not take very long and all you have to lose is those moments you are idle waiting for your broadband connection to prove its worth!  After all, even the latest FiOS connection or top end Comcast XFinity system could be completely crippled if some technical error is holding you back.

Before Getting Started

Before you get started it is imperative that everything be functioning properly.  There is no sense in troubleshooting something that may not be working properly.  Instead try troubleshooting to be sure that everything is working from the outset by running broadband speed tests.  Once reliable, repeatable results are the norm then it is time to proceed.

Updating Drivers/Firmware

Updating drivers and firmware on any and all equipment is highly recommended before proceeding.  Check drivers for WiFi cards and Ethernet chips by first discovering what make/models you use.  Windows users can find this information in the Device Manager, but users of other OSes will need to know their OS well enough to find it on their own.  Thankfully, Mac OS makes driver updates a cinch as the company controls both the hardware and software, so a driver update will be found in the Software Update utility whenever available.  Windows and other OS users can usually search the web using Google to find the latest drivers.

Routers and switches also have drivers, but they are called firmware.  Sometimes the firmware contains an update check functionality, but if not be sure to locate the model # and do a Google or similar search just as you would have for the drivers of a network card or WiFi adapter.  In some cases it might be better off to start searching on the manufacturer’s site if a Google search does not lead you directly to what you want.

Remember, updating drivers and firmware ensures that you have the most up-to-date and error-free software controlling your hardware.  Just as there is little sense in troubleshooting a buggy piece of equipment, there is little point in proceeding with tweaking something that is not fully patched and up-to-date.  For all you know those updates could resolve your performance issues, so run a few broadband speed tests and see how real life usage has changed before proceeding.  If you are happy, there is no need to tweak further.

Tweaking Performance Made Safe & Easy

The Internet speaks its own language commonly referred to as TCP/IP.  TCP/IP has a number of settings that can be tweaked directly via the Windows Registry, including TCP receive window size, maximum transmission unit, maximum segment size, and time to live.  Each of these settings automatically comes pre-set for maximum compatibility when Microsoft Windows is installed, and tweaking them may result in greater speed at the expense of compatibility.  There are certainly ‘safe zones’ where modest gains can be had without sacrificing compatibility with known applications, but you really need to understand networking at a very deep level to accomplish this.

Instead, it is far better to use software that automatically applies these settings for you.  There are many web accelerators that will tweak these settings, but there are other considerations as well.  For example, if downloading files is the problem then consider looking at a download accelerator that will split files into multiple parts to take better advantage of the bandwidth available at the expense of additional CPU/memory access and the possibility that some websites will be incompatible or intentionally block users from using such technologies in order to conserve bandwidth.  Either way, knowing what you want and finding a program that alters settings for you may be the way to go unless you are already a Windows Registry guru and network engineer.

Consider New Equipment

Finally, consider looking at older networking components for a speed boost.  Many older and even some newer budget equipment might have physically connections that meet certain speed standards, but they could be easily overwhelmed.  You ultimately get what you pay for and some of the fastest broadband connections in the nation can easily be held back by a sub-par switch or router.  The same can be true of low-cost wiring or even sub-par wireless connections.

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