BOOT CAMP 207 (25/12/01)




Following on from our brief introduction into the inner workings of your PC’s dial-up connection with the Internet, this week we’ll be looking at some common problems, how to solve them, and how to avoid them happening in the first place.


From the many tales of woe we receive at Connected the number one cause of Internet and dial-up malfunctions is Internet Service Provider (ISP) set-up discs. They can be a real menace, interfering with settings without permission, denying access to other services and plastering logos and banners all over the place.


Unfortunately they’re difficult to avoid if you’re signing up for a service that uses its own, or highly customised browser and email programs but the vast majority of ISPs use good old Internet Explorer and Outlook Express and the near-universal POP3 email system in which case there’s nothing to stop you setting up the connection and configuring Outlook Express manually. It’s not difficult and usually only takes about five minutes. Most ISPs provide the necessary information on their home pages or have a look at Boot Camps 159, 160 and 161.


Sudden drastic slowdowns are often a result of temporary Internet congestion, problems with your phone line, the exchange or your ISP’s server computer. To discover whether the problem is at your end – i.e. your modem and PC – or somebody else’s fault further up the line try some simple tests. See what connection speeds are like first thing in the morning, if they are substantially higher there’s a good chance your ISP or the local connection is having trouble coping with the volume of traffic at peak times. Check the ‘Technical’ or ‘Service’ links on your ISP’s web site, failing that contact BT or your telephone service provider and ask them to check the line.


If your connection is permanently slow or unreliable, and it was previously okay, then it may be due to recent changes made to your system, such as the installation or removal of software. Often it’s a program with an obvious Internet association, like a badly configured or buggy firewall or virus scanner, but these days many programs and applications maintain some sort of link to the Internet, for automatic updates or on-line registration and these can and do meddle with critical settings or conflict with other applications. To find out if one of them is misbehaving start by closing any Internet monitoring programs in the System Tray (usually by right-clicking on the icon) and re-check your connection speed.  If that makes no difference try closing down programs that load automatically with Windows and operate in the background. In all versions of Windows (except Win 95) go to Run on the Start menu, type ‘msconfig’ (without the quotes) select the Start Up tab and uncheck any unfamiliar or suspicious programs, one at a time, re-boot and try your connection again.


If you cannot connect to the Internet from your browser or email program the fault probably lies in one of three locations: the modem, Dial-Up-Networking (DUN), or your Internet and email programs. Start with DUN, open the folder, (or Network Connections in Windows XP) which, depending on your version of Windows you’ll either find in My Computer, Control Panel or Settings on the Start menu. There you will find your dial-up connection(s), to test it double-click on the icon, check that the dial-up phone number is correct then click on the ‘Connect’ or ‘Dial’ button.


If a successful connection is made then you need to investigate the settings in your browser and email programs. If the modem picks up the line, dials and gets through but you receive an error message from the server it’s most likely an incorrect log-on name or password though there’s an outside chance something could be amiss with your Network configuration. The latter can be found in Control Panel in Windows 9x, and in Network Connections in Windows XP; double click and select the Configuration tab. On most non-networked Windows 9x PCs (Windows XP is configured differently) the default ‘installed components’ should be ‘Client for Microsoft Networks’, Dial-Up Adaptor’ and TCP/IP Dial-up Adaptor’. If any of these are missing click the ‘Add’ button and follow the prompts.


If the modem doesn’t respond or you get an error message when you click the Connect button then the fault is likely to be the modem itself, or more likely its associated driver program. The quick and dirty method for resolving a lot of driver and hardware problems is to force Windows to re-install the modem but only try this if you have the driver disc or software to hand.  Right-click My Computer, select Properties and the Device Manager tab/button, scroll down the list to Modems, click the plus sign and highlight your modem’s entry and select Remove. Exit Device Manager and re-boot. Windows should automatically detect the modem and attempt to re-install the driver. Follow the on-screen prompts and load any discs drivers as required and try again. If the problem persists it’s worth trying another modem, you may well have an old external model lying around if not and the worst comes to the worst internal modems are easy to install and relatively cheap and you can pick one up for less than £20 from on-line stores like


Next week – Freeing up disc space





A file or small program that tells Windows how to communicate with and control a particular item of hardware



Program that protects your PC from attacks by Internet hackers and prevents other programs, knowingly or unknowingly loaded on your PC, from accessing the Internet



Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, the common language of the Internet that allows computer networks – even if they are technically very different – to communicate with one another




Does your PC talk to you?  If it does, and you haven’t got Windows XP or installed a speech synthesiser program you might need help, but if it remains stubbornly mute, and you’d like it to read back your word processor documents, emails or web pages then have a look at a shareware program called TextAloud. It’s a sophisticated text to speech program and the delightful ‘Mary’ will read anything you paste into the Windows Clipboard or type into the text window. If you’d prefer to listen to another voice, or even another language there’s a good selection of free add-ons from the TextAloud website. The program file is 4.2Mb and the trial lasts for 20 days but it’s all yours for a registration fee of around £15. More details and the link to the download can be found at:

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