Troubleshooting Q&A - April 29, 2004
Troubleshooting Internet Performance Problems
Mysterious problems slowing down your internet connection? This week's Q&A presents some tips and advice for resolving internet performance issues, as well as recommendations for preventing them from occurring in the future.
By Ron Pacchiano
Q. I have a small workgroup at home that consists of two PCs: a desktop and a laptop. These computers share a cable modem internet connection via a Linksys wireless router. The desktop computer is equipped with a USB wireless network adapter and is running Windows XP Home Edition. The laptop computer is using a mini-PCI 802.11b/g adapter, but is running Windows XP Professional.
Over the last few weeks I’ve started to notice a performance problem. My internet connection is running just as quick as it always has on my desktop PC, yet for some reason when I try to access the Internet from my laptop computer, it is extremely slow. Web pages can take almost a minute to load and occasionally time out. This behavior is consistent whether or not the desktop PC is online.
Both PCs can ping each other, and I can print over the network. I have uninstalled and reinstalled the network adapters and even the TCP/IP protocol, all to no avail. A friend of mine suggested I check the vendor’s site to see if an upgraded network driver was available. Sure enough, a newer one was available, but installing it didn’t improve the situation.
As a final act of desperation I even attempted contacting my ISP for assistance. All they were able to do was perform a diagnostic on my cable connection, which checked out fine.
I have tried everything I can think of but so far have been unable to resolve the situation. The most frustrating thing about this whole issue is that it just seemed to develop overnight. I have had all of this equipment in place for almost a year now, and up until this point everything worked fine.
Do you have any idea what else I might try to possibly alleviate this problem? Thank you!
A. Mysterious problems like these are typical when dealing with Windows PCs and are often quite difficult to diagnose, so I’m afraid I don’t have any quick and easy answers for you. The good news is I don’t think your problem has anything to do with your hardware or your network configuration. Just the fact that all of the hardware was purchased, installed, and had been working fine for over a year pretty much rules that out.
Could something have happened to the hardware to suddenly cause the problems you’re experiencing? It’s possible, but the odds are against it. Usually if a network adapter was to suddenly go bad, it would just stop working altogether.
In a wired network, the Ethernet cable could have possibly been damaged, but you said this was a wireless connection. And while it could be interference from another radio source, since the desktop functions just fine when the PCs are running simultaneously, I’d rule that out as well.
Taking all of this information into account, it sounds to me like the problem you’re experiencing has more to do with a software incompatibility or a resource/memory shortage rather than a hardware malfunction.
Unfortunately, trying to isolate exactly what the culprit could be is extremely difficult and would be almost impossible for me to instruct you on with the space we have available here. Actually, even if I was sitting in front of the system with you it could be exceedingly difficult to spot and correct the problem.
The key to correcting this type of a problem usually comes down to identifying exactly when the problem started. You’ll usually find that this time corresponds to when a service pack was applied, a new piece of software installed, or a driver updated.
If you can’t isolate when the configuration was modified, then the quickest and easiest thing I can suggest you do is to simply start from scratch by reinstalling Windows XP on your laptop. I know this is a major hassle, but believe me when I tell you it’s likely to be the most efficient option and will normally yield the best results.
One of the problems I’ve discovered over the years working with Windows-based computers is that in order to keep them running at peak efficiency, they almost religiously need to be erased and 'reset' at least once year. The reason for this is that over time Windows becomes bloated with numerous utilities, applications, driver updates, and security patches. And programs get overwritten or removed, but many of their core elements (like DLL files) get left behind.
This constant changing of the registry in conjunction with these orphaned files can cause the system to become highly unstable and often creates many strange problems, none of which can be easily tracked. Regrettably, resetting the system is usually the only way to effectively rid yourself of these mysterious problems and guarantee the structural stability of the operating system.
The only other suggestion I could make to you before taking on such a daunting task would be to thoroughly scan your system for viruses. The symptoms you described are definitely exhibiting virus-like behavior and at the very least it’s worth investigating to see if there is a virus present.
I experienced a similar problem a few years ago. For some reason my server had slowed to a crawl and no matter what I did, I just couldn’t seem to repair it. Then one day I was out with another technician working on a client’s mail server when I noticed that the symptoms it was displaying were identical to what I was experiencing.
We soon discovered that this server was infected with a variant of the Code Red virus. Sure enough, when I got home that evening I scanned my server and discovered that it too was infected with Code Red. I downloaded and ran the virus removal utility, and within minutes my server was back to normal.
One last suggestion for future use: one of the best ways to resolve this type of problem would be to use a utility like Microsoft’s System Restore before installing or updating anything on the PC.
With System Restore you can save a copy of a working configuration. In the event of a problem, System Restore can use the saved configuration data to restore your system to a previous working state. While System Restore can’t solve every problem, it’s definitely a good safeguard to have.
For more information on System Restore and how to use it, just click on the Start button and select “Help and Support.” After it launches, search for the keywords “System Restore.” I hope you find this information helpful. Good Luck!
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