The internet is a vital part of our lives. Just like your car, body, and robot underlings, your internet connection can be fine-tuned and made to work more efficiently. With just a little bit of effort, your surfing experience can be noticeably improved.
DNSThe quickest and easiest way to improve your internet surfing is to change your Domain Name System (DNS) service to OpenDNS. Not only are you very likely to see faster DNS resolution than your ISP’s DNS service, but it comes with a whole host of features. Anti-phishing, usage reports, and parental controls are built right in, and it’s as simple as changing a few numbers in your router or computer’s settings.
If there is a specific server or two that is always slowing down your page loads, you can simply keep your computer from reaching them by editing your hosts file. Hosts is a simple text file that can override your DNS service’s resolution to specific IP addresses. If you’re tired of an ad server or third-party service like Twitter wasting your resources, just set their domains to hit your localhost (127.0.0.1). Now when your favorite website tries to load that Twitter iframe, it will appear as if that server is offline.
If you’re running OS X, there is a very neat preference pane called Hosts that allows you to change your hosts file within System Preferences. Everyone else just needs to find the file, and customize it in your text editor of choice.
Traffic shapingOn heavy-traffic networks, sometimes the best you can do is triage. Many routers, especially those designed for businesses, have Quality of Service (QoS) settings. This allows specific types of traffic to have priority over others. For example, if your peers are flooding the router with BitTorrent traffic, you can configure the router to prioritize web traffic so you’ll be less inconvenienced. This is also extremely important if you’re planning on using VoIP. You don’t want that HD video downloading on iTunes to take priority over your important business call, so QoS will certainly come in handy.
Speeding up DSLIf you’re a DSL user, you might have heard about interleaving and FastPath. Interleaving is an error correction mechanism that makes sure you get all of your packets in an uncorrupted form. If your connection is bad, it can make a big difference when left on. However, people with good DSL connections might want to consider asking their ISP to turn this setting off, thus enabling FastPath. For example, you might want it off if you’re a big gamer because it can lower your ping time, and it’s not vitally important that every packet is received properly. The pros and cons vary heavily depending on your situation, so don’t assume turning it off will make your connection better.
DSL users may also have the option of changing their profile to more aggressive settings. If you are close to the local telephone exchange, there is less line noise, and thus higher connection speeds are possible if your ISP and router are correctly configured. To change your line profile you will generally need to contact your ISP (and you may need to speak to an engineer, rather than a customer service rep).
CompressionNot all of us can have FiOS or Xfinity. Some people are stuck with slow DSL, satellite, or even dial-up internet connections. For these poor souls, there is a way to dramatically decrease your load times: compression. While there are a few services that offer this, the simplest way to get dynamic image compression is with Opera Turbo. Install Opera, turn on the Turbo feature, and it will automatically detect when you’re on a slow internet connection. It will then start passing every website you visit through their servers, and squashing the elements on the page. The quality of the images will suffer, but at least your bad connection will be usable.
Extend your wireless networkIf your internet connection is fine, but you lose WiFi connection in certain parts of your house, this can be fixed too. What you need is a wireless bridge. Using the Wireless Distribution System (WDS), you can use a second wireless router to extend your WiFi range. When you’re shopping for a bridge device, look for terms like “Wireless Bridge” or “WDS” in the product description. If you have a router laying around, and the official firmware doesn’t support what you want, you can consider a third party firmware to make your life easier. Something like the Tomato firmware can make locked-down consumer routers easier to configure and use for just such purposes.
Bear in mind that simply plugging your computer into a physical, wired connection can also significantly reduce latency and increase throughput.
If your surfing is slow, these tweaks and services can make a big difference. However, these won’t solve every problem under the sun. Try these out, and hopefully it will cure what ails you. If not, your best bet will be calling your ISP, and asking for help. Even the nerdiest among us can’t get around that sometimes, so don’t feel bad.
Now read: The Global Internet Speedup initiative
[Image credit: Ben Sutherland]