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The DSL Slow-Down

Troubleshoot your broadband problem before you call your service provider. Plus: What you need to share a dial-up connection and later upgrade to a cable modem.

By Joe and Ron of Neighborhood Techs

Q. I have a Linksys BEFSR41 broadband router connected to DSL service. Lately, my connection seems like it might be getting slower. Before you tell me to call my ISP, is there anything I can do to monitor the DSL line from the router?

A. While many business-class routers offer the capability to monitor the speed of traffic flow for diagnostic and other reasons, few if any of the small office/home office (SOHO)-class routers have this feature. The BEFSR41, while wildly popular, is among those that lack it.

Like any Internet connection, DSL lines can be subject to fluctuating performance depending on various factors. If you believe that your DSL connection is chronically running slower than it should, you should check your performance using one of the various speed tests available online. (One good one can be found at www.broadbandreports.com, and your ISP may offer one on its Web site, as well.) For the most accurate assessment, run the test at different times of the day over a period of several days.

If the results you see aren't in line with your expectations and are consistently below your stated line speed, then yes, call your ISP. They should be able to confirm the upload and download speeds you are receiving and troubleshoot and correct any problems that might be occurring.

Incidentally, it's worth noting that sometimes, for various technical reasons (distance from the central office being one of the most common with DSL) the ISP may reduce a user's performance, often without informing them -- perhaps because they don't see the users utilizing the full pipe. I've seen this occur on more than one occasion, so be sure have your ISP verify that they're providing all of the bandwidth that you signed up for.

Oh, and you and any other user of the Linksys BEFSR41 should make sure you're running the most up to date firmware right now. It can help performance and in the case of the BEFSR41, it clears up a recently found security issue that can make the router vulnerable to a Denial of Service (DoS) attack.

Q. I have a dial-up Internet access and I'd like to network my PC and my sons' computers to share the connection. I ordered a 5-port 10/100 switch and three 10/100 network interface cards, which I have not yet opened. Do I need something else for a simple home network? Will I be able to expand to a cable modem later on?

A. Before going any further, I should mention that three people sharing a single dial-up connection will almost certainly not make for a satisfying Internet experience for you. However, a shared connection is better than no connection, and as long as all of you are not trying to use the connection at the same time, the performance might be tolerable.

Having said that, with one network card in each computer, each machine connected to the hub, and Window's built-in Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) running on the computer with the modem, the hardware you have purchased should be sufficient to share your dial-up connection with the two other computers.

However, this setup will not be upgradeable to support a cable or DSL broadband modem without purchasing additional hardware. If you want to connect a cable modem to one of the computers, you'll need an extra NIC to accommodate the connection, and then you'll still be able to use ICS to share it.

A better approach would be to use a broadband Cable/DSL router to share the connection. Two benefits to this scenario: a hardware router comes with a firewall to protect your network, and you would not need to leave your machine on in order for the other computers to access the Internet (which is the case with using ICS).

If you plan to get a cable modem in the near future and if you have an external modem, you should consider returning the switch and getting a broadband router (they come with the switch built in) that can dial a modem connection as a backup. This will cost a good deal more than a simple switch, but then you won't need any additional hardware once you get your cable modem. In the meantime, the router will let you to share the modem connection and adding cable modem access later on will be simple.

Q. I am unable to find the Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) wizard on my version of Windows 98 Second Edition. Can I download the drivers for ICS from the Microsoft Web site?

A. If you're running Windows 98 Second Edition or later, the ICS software is included. You'll need to install it from the Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs applet; ICS can be found in the Internet Tools category of Windows components.

You can find some more detailed information on ICS and how to install it at: www.microsoft.com/insider/articles/ics.asp.

Use our feedback form to submit your questions on home or SOHO networking issues. We can not guarantee to answer every question we get, but we'll consider them all



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