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Tests show cable modem up to 286 times faster than dialup
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

My tests show Road Runner's cable service is up to 286 times faster than my dialup connection 

Bit Player for June 28, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

Speedy isn't the word for it. Road Runner, the cable Internet service from Time Warner, is blazingly fast.

Time Warner says you might get speeds 100 times faster than a dialup connection. Time Warner is too cautious. I'm getting more than 250 times the speed I get with my regular modem.

In a series of tests using my own Road Runner connection, I've been able to transfer files across the Internet at 658 kilobytes per second. I used an ftp program called LeechFTP—which I'll tell you more about another day—and downloaded thousands of files from Microsoft's main ftp server. LeechFTP clocked all the downloads and gave me a readout of the maximum transfer rate. (Yes, by "thousands" I mean thousands. At one point the number of files cued up for transfer hit more than 42,000.)

My dialup connection normally yields about 2.3 kilobytes per second to 5 kilobytes per second. The speed I obtained through Road Runner makes the cable connection at least 131 times faster. If you take the low figure for the dialup connection, which tends to be the typical speed in my usage, Road Runner is as much as 286 times faster.

A lot of people would be happy if their cable Internet connection were 10 times faster than their dialup service. Time Warner says you can expect speeds up to 100 times faster. I'd say Time Warner is being conservative.

Let me explain how this kind of speed rating works. Your telephone-based, dialup modem is rated in terms of bits per second, not bytes per second, so you need to do some conversion to compare modem speed to cable Internet speed. There are 8 bits to each byte, and they're sent along with a single bit at the beginning of each byte and a single bit at the end, so you end up with 10 bits to a byte in telecommunications.

You'd think that would mean a 28.8 kilobits-per-second connection would have a maximum speed of 2.88 kilobytes per second (28.8 divided by 10). But modern modems try to compress the stuff they send back and forth, so something that is highly compressible (a database file, for example) is actually sent at an apparent speed of three to four times 28.8 kilobits per second. If most of your downloads are ZIP files or compressed program files (which are just like ZIPs), the modems at each end can't compress the files any further, so the rate drops right back down to 28.8.

So download speeds in bytes per second tend to be, at most, one-tenth of your rated modem speed when you're cruising for shareware. If you have a 28.8 modem, figure on 2.3 to 2.7 kilobytes per second. If you have a 56k modem, you're probably getting actual connect rates in the 40s, which would produce transfer speeds of 4 to 5 kilobytes per second.

That's why transfer rates in the hundreds are so impressive. Expressed the way normal modem speeds are listed, you could say Road Runner's Motorola cable modems can achieve speeds of more than 6,000 kilobits per second. Think about it: 56k vs. 6,000k. That's a lot of speed.

If you have a Windows 95 or Windows 98 PC, you probably won't get the same speed in your Road Runner setup unless you make some changes to the way Windows handles the stuff that is sent back and forth across the Internet. And you'll also need a healthy Pentium-class PC. (A 486-class PC won't have the horsepower in most cases.)

The things you need to change are in the Windows Registry, in the settings for TCP operations. Here is my own description of how to change those settings.

If you have a home PC network, here's how to set up a WinGate proxy (free for two users) using only one network card in the host PC.

Note: I received a letter from a Time Warner cable-service installer critical of this article, and, after I published that letter, I received a letter from a customer he refers to in his letter.

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