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Troubleshooting slow internet connections

Things to try around the house
Things to try with your modem and software
Things to try with Windows 95/98

Things to try around the house:

  1. A very clear phone line
    A modem needs a much clearer phone line than two people using it for a normal conversation. Any amount of static or echo at all will seriously affect a modem connection.

    Every time your local phone company connects a phone call it connects through a different set of switch boxes. So it follows that the quality of a connection (via your local phone company) can differ from call to call. As an example, recall that every once in a while when you make a normal voice call you might get a bad connection and hear static on the phone line. A modem needs a crystal clear connection in order to get a 28800bps (or higher) connection. This is why some times you get connections lower than 28800bps. A 28800bps connection is pushing the phone line to the limit. You must have a very clear and clean phone line to get a 28800bps connection.

    Your local phone company, in fact may not even guarantee any type of throughput on a voice grade line.

    Your phone line inside your house
    It could be the phone line in your house. Things such as radio interference, static, old copper lines will hurt a modem connection. Try plugging in a normal telephone into the same wall jack and call a friend to see if you can hear any static on the phone line. If you have two phone lines in your house, see if the other one is any better.

  2. The number and quality of phones using your phone line
    The number of telephones hooked up on the same line has some effect on the overall quality of your phone line. Also if you have an old or $19.99 dollar (low quality) phone that is plugged into a wall jack somewhere in the house (like the basement, or kid's room), if that phone is plugged in, then it is listening to the phone line for an incoming call and may be sending out feedback and/or echoing, which lowers the quality of your modem connection. Do this: unplug all phones, fax machines, answering machines, call ID boxes, etc. from every jack in every room of your home or office then see if your connections improve.

  3. Strong, steady power in your house
    This is a true story: I spent a summer at my mom's house and brought my computer down with me for the summer. When I was using my computer, my modem would hang up the connection everytime the air conditioning turned on in the house. When the air conditioning turned on, the lights in my room would also dim for a second. This told me that as the air conditioning fans powered on, the current in my mom's house dropped so much that my modem would not have enough power to hold on to the connection. (My computer didn't seem to mind the drop in power). Take a good look around your house for such devices as heaters, air conditioners, toasters, vacuum cleaners, etc.; any of these devices around your house could suck up enough power in your home to affect your modem connection.

  4. Check your wall jack
    High speed connections require clean physical interconnections between your modem and your telephone. Wall jacks and telephone cord connectors are made of copper or other metals and are subject to corrosion and loss of spring tension because of age. Try plugging your modem into another wall outlet in the house. If that works, replace your wall outlet.

    If problems persist, clean the RJ-11 jack (the connector at both ends of your telephone chord) with a rubber eraser. The eraser removes corrosion very nicely on copper. Make sure you air-blow out any leftover eraser particles before you re-install the telephone cable. If this works, invest in another phone cable.

  5. The amount of "stuff" you have between the modem and the wall socket.
    Make sure that your phone line goes directly from the wall to the modem (no answering machines, no phone line splitters, nothing). Your modem should be the first device connected to your phone line.

    Most modems are designed to loop the telephone line through the modem and to a telephone. Remove the telephone and see if the problem goes away. Some inexpensive modems have poor isolation between the load of the modem and the load of the telephone, and this can cause high-speed problems as well. I found that this makes a big difference.

  6. Are you dialing 9 to get an outside line?
    This means that you are using a office network phone. This type of phone line generally has very low bandwidth. Try using a standard normal analog phone line (like the phone that your fax machine is using).

  7. A good quality serial port (n/a for Mac)
    8250, 16450, 16550: These are the three main types of serial ports that you'll find on the average PC. The 8250 is the oldest and slowest and the 16550 is the newest and fastest. The only type of serial port that was designed for reliable connections over 9600bps (much slower than 14.4 or 28.8 modems) are the 16550 serial ports. The 8250's and the 16450's offer very little data buffering, which is a must for using a high speed modem in Windows. If you don't have a 16550 serial port then consider upgrading.

    Now, if you have an external modem then the serial port is inside your computer and is located where your modem cable plugs into the back of your computer. If you have an internal modem then the 16550 serial port (microchip) is located right on your internal modem and you usually don't have to worry about it, although to save money a lot of no-name brand modem manufacturers sell 14400bps modems with 8250 serial ports on them in order to shave a few dollars off the cost.


Things to try with your modem and software:

  1. A good quality modem
    One thing that makes a big difference is the quality of your modem. Cheaper modems are not as good at working with line noise while making connections, and are missing a lot of features that improve speed and error correction. Not all modems were created equal. There are good quality modems and bad quality modems. There is almost $150 difference between the lowest quality modem and the highest quality modem. This is similar to a good quality "Walkman" and a bad quality "Walkman". Basically you get what you pay for.

    Modems based on the general Rockwell chip set and the RPI chipset are definitely modems to stay away from. RPI modems have no compression or error handling capabilities.

    I've found that some of the cheaper brands have trouble connecting, have small compression dictionaries, have trouble holding a connection, and tend to "crash" or "fall asleep" often.

    Normally you will find less problems with external modems than internal. Basically I've found that with an external modem it is easier to reset it, easier to replace it, easier to see if you are connected or not.

  2. Make sure that you have disabled Call Waiting.
    If you have Call Waiting on the phone line that you are using and someone makes a call to your number, your modem will most likely hang up the phone. To get around this just add a *70,, (in Ontario) to the beginning of the number that you are dialing.

    • In Windows 3.1, using Trumpet Winsock: to change your phone number, select setup.cmd from the Dialer menu inside Trumpet Winsock and add *70, before the number that you are dialing.
    • In Windows 95/98/Me, double click on the KansasNet icon, then click on Dialing Properties, then put a check mark in the box labeled "This location has call waiting" and select *70, from the pull down window to the right, then click 'OK'
    • In Mac Config.PPP, click on 'config', then add *70, to the number that you are dialing then click on 'OK'
  3. The correct bps setting for your modem
    If you have a 14400 bps modem, then you usually set the baud rate (port speed, bps, etc.) to 19200. Even though your modem will connect to another modem at 14400bps, the actual speed of data transfer is usually higher than 14400, due to the fact that the modem compresses the information before it is sent. Good qualitly modems allow a very high baud rate, such as 38400 for a 14400bps modem and 57600 for a 28800bps modem. If you are experiencing line drops or very slow data tranfers, then it is best to reduce your baud rate.

    For a 9600bps modem use: 9600
    for a 14400bps modem use: 19200
    for a 28800bps modem use: 38400

    This is the speed at which your modem talks to the computer, not the speed of your modem connecting to another modem.

  4. Is your PCMCIA modem over heating?
    If you are using a Notebook computer and a PCMCIA modem (credit card modem) and you are getting dropped all the time, try taking out your modem (after an one hour of use) and see if it is hot to the touch. If so, then you may have a problem with your modem or notebook computer, or both, where your modem is not staying cool.

  5. Your computer should be able to talk to our modem often
    As part of the PPP protocol, our computer will ping your computer once every 15 or so seconds. If your computer doesn't answer about four pings in a row, then our computer will hang up on you. Make sure that your computer is able to talk to your modem at least once every minute. If you computer is taking over 60 seconds to load a program or to write read or write data to your hard drive then you will lose the connection with us. Ask yourself this: Was my hard drive clicking a lot just before I got disconnected? If so, then you might want to consider upgrading your memory to 8 or 16 megs and upgrading from a 386 or slow 486 to a faster 486 or Pentium.

  6. A good quality serial cable (Windows and external modems only)
    Now if you have an internal modem you can skip this section. You have an external modem connected to the computer using a cable. Your cable should not be more than six feet in length. Again, there are good quality cables and bad quality cables. A good quality cable is shielded, which means that actual wires inside the cable are wrapped in a thin piece of metal that protects them from electromagnetic interference, (such from a power supply, radio, telephone, monitors, speakers, humans, etc.). A good quality modem cable also has the right number of pins on the end that is connected to the modem. To check this, just pull the cable out of the modem and make sure all the pins are there.

  7. COM ports
    What COM port is your modem on? A modem that is on COM-2 is given more priority than a modem on COM-1 or COM-3. COM-1 and COM-3 have an interrupt level of 4, while COM-2 has a interrupt level of 3 (lower is faster). You might want to consider switching them if your mouse is on COM-2 and your modem on COM-1 or COM-3.

    Also, if your modem is on COM-4 then it may be be in conflict with your video card, or a SCSI device (such as a hard drive, tape backup, CD ROM player). The setup you want is your mouse on COM-1 and your modem on COM-2.

  8. Of course it could always be the cat chewing through your phone cord!


Things to try with Windows 95/98

  • Install the proper drivers for your modem.
    When installing your modem in Windows95 do not pick "standard modem". If Windows95 can not find your modem, and you don't see it in the list, then first call the manufacture of your modem and demand that they send you drivers (.inf files) for your modem for use under Windows95. Only as a last resort should you pick a "Standard modem". If you know that your modem has a Rockwell chip set, then pick "Rockwell" modem.

  • Do you have a 16550 serial port
    on your internal modem or inside your computer connecting to your external modem? This is a must for 14.4 and 28.8 modems under Windows 95. If you don't have a 16550 serial port then you need to upgrade to one.

  • Make sure that Windows95 is using your 16550 and is using Hardware Flow Control

    1. Go into your Dial-Up Networking,
    2. Right click on your KansasNet icon and select Properties from the list.
    3. Click on Configure, click on Connection, click on Port Settings.
    4. Make sure that "Use FIFO Buffers...." is check marked. (if it isn't then you might not have a 16550 serial port and you should upgrade to one).
    5. Slide both bars over to the far left,
    6. Click on OK
    7. Click on Advanced
    8. Make sure that Use error control and Compress data are both check marked. If one or more of the above are greyed out, it is either because you are not using the correct drivers for your modem, or that your modem does not support these features. Error control is crucial for a fast, stable connection inside Windows 95 and you should strongly consider either upgrading your modem or getting the proper drivers for it.
    9. Make sure that "Use flow control", "Hardware (RTS/CTS) are both check marked as well. DO NOT select "software flow control" If one or more of the above are greyed out, this is either because you are not using the correct drivers for your modem, or your modem does not support these features. Hardware flow control is crucial for a fast, stable connection inside Windows 95 and you should strongly consider either upgrading your modem or getting the proper drivers for it.
    10. Click on OK, then OK once more.
    11. Click on Server Type
    12. If, four steps above, you were able to put a check mark beside "Compress data", then make sure that Enable Software compression is NOT checked marked. This will only slow down your connection. If you are unsure of what to do, then take the check mark off Enable Software compression.
    13. Click on OK, then OK once more.
    14. You're done!
  • Experiment with your baud rate
    Windows 95 sends data to your modem differently than Windows 3.x did. Normally, setting your baud rate four times your connect speed will give you the fastest throughput. But this may also increase the chances of overflowing your modem's buffer, causing a line drop or slower tranfers. The solution seems to be using a baud rate of twice your connection speed for Windows 95:

    For a 9600bps modem use: 9600
    for a 14400bps modem use: 38400
    for a 28800bps modem use: 57600

    If you are still experiencing line drops, decrease your baud rate:

    For a 9600bps modem use: 9600
    for a 14400bps modem use: 19200
    for a 28800bps modem use: 38400

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Last modified: April 17, 2007