Techno buddy: Slow or no connection? Try this

High speed Internet connections — cable or DSL — were once as finicky and unpredictable as a house cat, and just as likely to suddenly want to go out.

Nowadays, most of us go months or even years without a problem. But, those rare outages are more aggravating than ever — we’re now living in an e-mail, Facebook and Twitter world. Our work and much of our shopping gets done online. It’s the same with school assignments and play. Having a plan for restoring the Internet connection should be part of your home computing arsenal.

Like most computer fixing chores, you need to start with the most likely suspects and easiest fixes. Let’s create a checklist that should help you stay well connected.

There’s a magical fix that solves the problem at least half the time. We’ll start there:

n If your connection goes away simply turn off the computer, router and modem and let them sit for a couple of minutes. Then turn them on again. That forces all the players in the equation to join hands and establish good connections. It’s a powerful and simple first step. If it solves your problem, stop tinkering. As is true with many computer ills, tinkering can create more problems than it fixes.

n If you’re still offline, it’s time to get the router or hub out of the picture. Plug the cable from your modem — cable or DSL — directly to a computer. This is also a good time to make sure none of the cables that connect your devices have worked loose. So remove them and snap them firmly into place.

Trying to establish a connection without the router or hub helps you narrow down the source of the problem — it removes a variable. As you probably know, a router helps distribute the data to your home network. A hub does similar work but is a much simpler gadget. If you’d like to know more about these devices and the difference between them, here’s some good reading:http://tinyurl.com/5f6l7

If the problem persists with the router or hub out the loop you can be pretty sure the problem is either a faulty modem or that it’s the fault of your provider.

n Next step is to call your Internet provider and ask for help. I know it’s aggravating and realize you are likely facing long moments of listening to bad music as you wait. But there are solid reasons for doing this before trying any do-it-yourself cures.

For one thing, the fault could lie with the Internet provider. If so, all the fancy tricks in your repertoire won’t make things right and likely can make things worse. Even if the problem is on your end of the line you’ll be taken through fixes you may have overlooked.

Now about that unpleasant interlude on the phone: You can speed it up by having some information on hand. Write down the brand and model of the modem you’re using along with some basic information about your computer — the operating system that you’re using, the amount of RAM, and the type of router or hub you are using.

Between your efforts at home and those of the tech from the Internet provider you’re almost sure to find the problem and get your Internet connection up and running.

But connection problems aren’t always just a question of your Internet service working or not working. Often times a connection can be slow beyond belief. You can test the speed of your connection by going to special Web pages that automate the process. The one I use can be found here:

http://www.speakeasy.net/speedtest/

It’s a good idea to try the test a couple of times. You’ll find links on that page that help you evaluate the results. If the test results confirm your belief that your connection is too slow there are a few things you can try.

n First make sure your computer is free of adware and spyware. These tiny programs (usually called malware) are not as harmful as a virus but can slow down a computer. Most of them monitor your Web use and report back to their evil bosses using your online connection. So they not only cause an extra load that slows your computer, they also can take up valuable bandwidth on your Internet connection.

n Windows comes with a free program, Defender, that checks for malware. Type that name in your help menu to make sure you have it enabled. Commercial programs such as Norton 360 offer even better protection. There are also free programs such as Lavasoft’s Adaware Free:

http://www.lavasoft.com/products/ad_aware_free.php

n You’ll also find help for a slow connection at these sites:

http://tinyurl.com/putkof

http://tinyurl.com/pc3jz2

Computer hobbyists will tell you that there are various programs and methods of tweaking the settings in your computer to get the maximum speed from your connection. That’s true. But I’ve also received e-mail after e-mail from home users who have managed to tweak their connections right out of existence. So my advice is this: If you’re a pro and know about these tweaks, have at it. But if not, either avoid the tweaking temptation or hire a professional to do it for you.

Follow these tips and you are almost guaranteed to be among the world’s well-connected.

Bill Husted, a former Atlanta Journal-Constitution technology writer, writes on computers and consumer technology subjects. He cannot answer every question, but may choose those of general interest for publication.E-mail: tecbud@bellsouth.net

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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