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The On Ramp

The Blue Mountain Internet Customer Newsletter

 Issue # 34 August 2006 
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    by Matt Stephens
    August 2006
    Greets to all of our wonderful Blue Mountain Internet subscribers! You may remember that last month I asked for suggestions about topics to discuss in the newsletters. I am happy to inform you that over the past month I received a few suggestions. So, I picked one that I thought many of you wonder about from time to time. Connection speeds

    The question posed to me was "Why do my connection speeds vary from time to time? Typically connection speeds will vary depending on several factors: Phone line quality, internet traffic, and the computer you are using.

    What is poor phone line quality? That's a very good question. Your phone lines are hard wires that route from your home to a central phone office and on from there to where ever it is that phone lines go. From the central office to your home, the lines are outside - sometimes they are above ground and sometimes under ground. Things like the weather and animals can affect the quality of these lines.

    Let's say that your lines are above ground. During the spring and summer animals are on them and they experience large temperature changes. The animals will claw at the lines causing little breaks and expose bare wires in many cases. The temperature changes will cause the lines to expand and contract, in turn causing these little breaks in the lines to get larger and weaker. This will cause a small amount of static on your phone lines. Then when the wet season arrives, such as fall and winter, the moisture will seep into the lines and cause even more static. The extent of damage will make your connection speeds vary.

    "But my lines are under ground". Okay, this is just as typical. Underground wires have the same fundamentals. Through ground movement, insects and other things, the lines have a tendency to become "weathered" over time. This allows moisture to get into them as the seasons change. It causes static on the lines (known as line noise) which in turn makes your connection speeds vary.

    "What about internet traffic?" Every day, millions of people get online. Some sites such as MSN, Yahoo, Google or other very popular sites, may experience slow downs during heavy traffic times. Typically around 3:00 p.m. the internet will start to slow down, and then it takes another dive around 5:00 p.m. Why, you may ask? Well, kids are out of school, parents are arriving home and everyone is getting online. When more people get online and try to go to the same popular sites you are trying to get to, things will inevitably slow down. Your connection will still show a normal speed, but pages may load slower. A good solution to this is to try and do your internet work later in the evening, usually after 7:00p.m.

    The last thing that I mentioned is the computer you are using. How often do you shut your computer off? How old is your computer? Are you running a newer operating system than what your computer came with? When was the last time you formatted your computer and started from scratch?

    All these computer variances can affect your online experience. I'll explain them one at a time.
    • First, how often do you shut down your computer? This means how often do you turn the computer completely off? Many times I have found that computer techs tell customers not to turn their computers off because of one reason or another. I find this very hard to digest.

      The main reason is that when you leave your computer on all the time, your computer's memory begins to fill up. Every time you open a program, a small piece of that program remains in memory until you shut the computer off. This is so that the next time you open that program it loads faster. However the down side to that feature is that when you leave your computer on all the time the memory fills up and it begins to slow down dramatically. My personal belief is that shutting your computer off once a day will keep it running smooth.
    • How old is your computer? You may be wondering why that matters. Well, the funny thing is that electronic components are not much different than people. Age slows us all down.

      Your computer heats up and cools off a lot during its life and with that comes wear and tear. Memory will start to function differently; the processor may start to have issues as well. Also, the information on your hard drive will get scattered through installation and un-installation of programs. All of this will cause "wrinkles" in the skin of your computer and cause it to slow down.

      Preventive measures can be taken to slow down the aging process though. Things like frequent virus scans, adware and spyware removal tools, and of course safe surfing. Just like your car, your computer requires frequent maintenance, and once you know how to do it, it's very simple to do and doesn't take a whole lot of time. On my home computer, I run maintenance every time I change the oil in my car. It all happens together at the same time. While the oil is draining out of my car, I start the cleaning programs on my computer.

      Check with your local computer tech for maintenance suggestions and a schedule that best fits your computing needs. If you don't have a local computer tech, call our office at 800-485-5006 and we'll see if we have a partner in your area.
    • Are you running a newer operating system than your computer came with? You may think that a newer operating system will speed up your computer. In fact, it may do just the opposite.

      Your computer was designed with the requirements of a specific operating system in mind. Let's say your computer is 10 years old, and was made with Windows 95 in mind, but you wanted to join the 21st century with Windows XP. So you took your computer in and had Windows XP loaded on it. Sure, it turns on and functions, but did it speed up? I didn't think so.

      The reason for this in most cases is that people don't know what makes their computers run fast. Memory, current and correct drivers, and extra programs not running all help a computer to run faster. Again, this is much like your car. If you upgrade your stereo, but you don't change your speakers, you aren't going to get better sound. If you upgrade your operating system in your computer but you don't touch the hardware, you won't be able to utilize the new operating system.
    • When was the last time you formatted your computer? Now this one is not for the faint of heart. A format or complete reinstallation of your operating system and programs should always be done by a qualified technician.

      So why do I bring it up? Well, let's say that your computer was new about 5 years ago. It's running Windows XP. Over the past 5 years you have added games for your kids, and then removed them as the kids out grew them. You have been online from day one, but you haven't run any security software because you really only check your mail and occasionally go to websites to look for things. Over the course of 5 years your computer has seen things come and go. It's getting slower and you can't really figure out why. Well, once again, when you add and remove programs, the hard drive becomes fragmented. That means that there are pieces of programs and files all over the span of your hard drive.

      Think of it like this. The music on a CD is recorded in order. A hard drive is a lot like a CD. However when you add and remove programs, the information "burned" on the hard drive is now scattered all over the place. That causes your hard drive to have to search all over the drive surface for the information that it needs. You could run the defragmentation program in Windows but there is danger in that as well. I have seen a couple of times where running that program will cause loss of system information and cause the hard drive to actually crash.

      Now I'm not saying that you need to format your hard drive once a year or anything. But when you notice that it's getting slow, and you have run programs to try and clean it up, and it's just not like it used to be, you may want to think about having it reloaded. Most computer shops will be able to perform this for under $100. Your computer will be back to running like it was brand new again.
    So, while this was pretty lengthy, you now have a grasp at why connection speeds will very so much from connection to connection. The most common is phone line and weather conditions. But it all flows down hill. If your phone lines aren't great, and your computer is old and over run, then you will do nothing but continue to slow down.

    Keep your suggestions coming for article ideas. Next month I will be talking about ways to keep your computer "tuned up" and a good maintenance schedule for the average person to follow. Take care everyone.
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