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99. Making the most of dial-up

By Andrew D. Wright

Dear Mousepad. I live in an area where all I can get is dial-up Internet service. Is there a type of modem that will give me faster connections? Are there some settings that can help me download faster? I usually connect at 21.6 but a friend a few houses from me connects at 34.2 all the time. We both have the same machine.

Peter Donovan
Leitches Creek, N.S.


Dial-up Internet access converts data into sounds that are sent over the phone line then converted back to data. Any other noise on the phone line will interfere with this process. When you connect, the modem negotiates the fastest speed it can reliably send and receive data.

If you have more than one phone outlet where you live, try hooking the computer up to a different one. Some phone outlets are wired up better than others. Use as short a cord as possible from the computer to the phone outlet and don't split off the phone line before it reaches the computer. You want a simple, direct connection from the computer's modem to the phone outlet.

The ideal modem is a 56K v.92 hardware modem. 56K is the theoretical top speed of the connection. The v.92 standard (which is not supported by all dial-up service providers) allows for better compression of information and faster upload speeds. A hardware modem tends to be better made, better performing and more robust than cheaper software modems or win-modems.

Check that you have the most recent drivers for your modem. If your computer was made by a large manufacturer like Dell or HP and the modem came with it, check the manufacturer's site for updated drivers by looking up the computer's model number.

If your modem is not original equipment you may need to look at the modem circuit board for a manufacturer and model number you can use to find new drivers on the Internet. Try to get drivers from the original manufacturer of the modem when possible. Failing that, you can usually find reference drivers from the maker of the modem chipset. Look at the largest chip on the modem to identify the maker of the chipset and get a part number for it.

Initialization strings, or init strings for short, are very powerful tools for fine tuning a dial-up connection. Do a search for your modem and "init strings" to find some init strings for it.

These init strings are a chain of commands for the modem to follow. They are entered in the Advanced tab of the modem properties in Windows. Finding the init strings for your modem that will work best for your particular situation will be a case of experimenting with different strings and judging the results.

Typically, getting a better connection over bad lines means init strings that disable faster connection features in favor of slower but more reliable connections. For example the v.44 compression of the 56K v.92 standard might be reduced to the v.34 compression used in 28.8K connections. If less data is lost in transit and has to be sent over again the slower connection speed can actually mean faster downloads.

Some modem init strings:

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 31 December 2006


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