Secret Tweaks

Networking: Optimize Your Net Connection

Boost your network's reliability and speed by tuning two important network settings in Windows: RWIN, short for Receive Window, and MTU, or Maximum Transmission Unit.

You can use Regedit to set these values in the Windows Registry following the instructions from Annoyances.org, or you can download and run the free DrTCP (Figure 8

Figure 8: Tweak critical network settings with the free DrTCP app.
).

The RWIN setting alters the TCP/IP received-data buffering on your PC--the more you have, the faster your downloads, within limits. Most users have found that an RWIN value of between 32768 and 65536 yields the speediest downloads (if you don't set this, RWIN defaults to four times the MTU value).

MTU sets the maximum size of data packets sent and received, and it must match the type of connection you have--dial-up, PPPoE (most DSL and cable), or LAN. The standard maximum value for TCP/IP is 1500, but for dial-up connections it should be 576 to ensure minimal packet fragmentation. For PPPoE, an MTU of no more than 1492 is recommended. Some ISPs and virtual private network connections require a setting as low as 1300 to allow for the differences in all the networking gear in the system and for data encryption overhead.

For a little extra oomph, also tweak the number of simultaneous connections your PC can make to one server. If you have a fast cable or DSL connection, boosting this setting from its default value of two to four or six can help pages load faster. Some Web servers limit you to two simultaneous connections, so you won't see a speed increase on all sites you visit.

You will have to restart Windows for the changes to take effect. Determine the settings recommended for your PC and test them using the Tweak Test. It may take some time to find the best settings for your Internet connection.

Increase Your Wi-Fi Range

Wireless networking is one of the best things to happen to personal computing so far this century. But it isn't perfect, and many users expect a lot more range and a lot less interference. Unfortunately, you can't just buy a bigger, more powerful access point or Wi-Fi adapter because the FCC limits the power of such devices. Instead, you'll need to use a better antenna at one or both ends to improve the signals and reduce interference.

Almost every wireless access point uses detachable antenna connections, but only a few Wi-Fi adapters provide external antenna connections--Orinoco/Avaya models are the most common ($30 to $80 price range). For these, you can purchase a connector called a pigtail adapter (most go for about $20) and a suitable length of low-loss coaxial cable to connect to your choice of desktop or outdoor antennas. That will let you reach hotspots that are weak or distant from your card, or extend the range of the access point. I like to shop for Wi-Fi supplies at HyperLink Technologies, which offers one of the most comprehensive selections of Wi-Fi hardware and helps you determine which cable adapters will fit your networking hardware.

For a quick-and-dirty way to extend your Wi-Fi range, try the Super Cantenna, or build your own from a tin can and a few parts, following the directions here.

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