BOOT CAMP 210 (29/01/02)
Most home PC users connect to the Internet via a modem and
dial-up connection, which is fine for sending and receiving emails and browsing
the web but even with a theoretical top speed of 57 kilobytes per second (56kbs)
it can be painfully slow at times, and incredibly frustrating for downloading
Until very recently the alternatives – high speed digital
services like ISDN and ADSL – were simply not economically viable for home and
even many small business users, but that’s slowly starting to change. The cost
of fast Internet connections or ‘broadband; is falling -- nowhere near as
quickly as we’d like -- but a recent decision by BT, to allow home users to
install and set-up their own ADSL connection, promises to reduce prices over the
coming year, so this week we’ll take a look at what’s involved in DIY broadband
via your existing telephone line, (we’ll be looking at the cable and satellite
alternative in a future Boot Camp).
But first why would you want to change if your current set up
is meeting your needs? The most obvious attraction is speed, web pages, complete
with pictures, animation and sounds etc., generally load in a fraction of a
second, which makes surfing a much more pleasurable and productive experience.
Audio files that can take half an hour or more to download on a dial-up
connection come through in a minute or two, you can watch streamed video and
‘webcasts’, move large amounts of data around and play games on-line.
Incidentally, there is no hard and fast definition of broadband but most experts
agree that it means transmission speeds of between 380 and 512Kbps, or roughly
ten times the speed of a typical dial-up connection.
Another major plus point is that broadband connections are
‘always-on’ which means there’s no waiting for the modem to dial up and log on,
and no call charges, apart from the fixed monthly fee, so you can leave your PC
connected to the net 24 hours a day. ADSL technology also frees up your phone
line, which can be used to make and take telephone calls while you are on
Under Windows 9x and XP setting up an ADSL connection is no
more difficult than plugging in a printer. However, the first step is to make
sure that your local exchange and local ‘loop’ (the wires from your home to the
exchange) can handle ADSL; BT claims it should be available to over 90% of the
population, who live with 5.5km of a ‘digital’ exchange. A check will usually be
carried out during or shortly after you talk to the service provider about
signing up. This test should be free and normally your subscription won’t begin
until your connection is up and running. Once your line has been given the all
clear your ADSL modem will be sent to you, along with details of your new login
name and password. If you upgrade your existing ISP subscription to ADSL you may
be able to retain your old password.
Most new broadband-in-a-box services use a USB ‘modem’ that’s
powered from the PC, so there are no mains adaptors to worry about, and it only
operates when the PC is running. You’ll also receive a ‘filter’ box that plugs
into the telephone socket your PC will be using, and a data cable, to connect
the filter box to the modem.
The first step is to load the software CD-ROM, which will
tell you when to plug in the modem; Windows automatically detects the new
hardware and loads the appropriate drivers. The whole process, from beginning to
end should take no more than five minutes and since it doesn’t involve any
tinkering around inside the machine or complicated setup procedures, just about
anyone can do it.
The connection should go ‘live’ straight away though it’s not
unknown to have to wait for an hour or two for BT to sort themselves out at the
exchange end. The last job is to enter your login name and password in the
Windows dial-up connection dialogue box and you are ready to go. It’s a good
idea to set your email and Internet browser programs to log-on automatically so
that as soon as they’re launched the modem connects straight away, typically
this takes about two or three seconds. There are no new conventions to learn,
the little dial-up connection icon in the system tray (next to the clock) is
still there and blinks away as data flows in and out of your PC, in fact the
only practical difference you’ll notice is how quickly web pages appear.
A couple of words of warning, with an always-on connection
it’s vital that you install firewall software, to protect your PC from hackers
and snoopers. Zone Alarm is still one of the best, and it’s free, download it
from: http://www.zonelabs.com/. Finally, broadband makes the web even more
addictive, just remember to eat and sleep sometime…
Next week – Top Ten Shareware, part 1
Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line -- high speed data connection over
conventional telephone line
Integrated Services Digital Network -- high speed data
connection over specially installed telephone line
Universal Serial Bus, high-speed industry standard connection
system for peripherals including monitors, modems, joysticks printers etc.
If you’re using Windows XP Professional with a broadband
connection here’s a tip that may increase your data throughput by up to 20%. A
utility in XP Pro, called Quality of Service (QOS) is only needed when the
machine is connected to a large corporate network, but it is enabled by default
for all users. To switch it off go to Start then Run and type ‘gpedit.msc’. This
will load the Local Group Policy Editor, in the left hand pane go to Computer
Configuration > Administrative Templates > Network, select QoS Packet
Scheduler and double-click ‘Limit Reservable Bandwidth, select Enabled then
enter ‘0’ in the Bandwidth Limit box. Click OK, exit and reboot.