By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
In the good old days, you could get a hamburger and fries at McDonald's in about 60 seconds flat. The secret? McDonald's used the "look-ahead" technique.
The manager of each McDonald's restaurant looked ahead to guess the number of customers likely to come in during any part of the day, then made sure the hamburgers, cheeseburgers, Big Macs and fries were cooked ahead of time. The idea worked—sort of. McDonald's stopped using the "look ahead" method when customers started heading elsewhere for fresher food.
But good ideas have a way of hanging on. Building up an inventory during slow times—looking ahead to see what might be needed later—has become the latest rage to accelerate Web browsing. You install a program that piggybacks on your Web browser so that it looks ahead at the links in pages you're viewing. When you're just sitting there chuckling at the latest Dilbert cartoon or looking at the news on CNN's site, the helper program goes out and starts pulling in those other pages. It all happens in the background.
When you click on one of the links on that page, the look-ahead program hands it to the browser instantly. Go back to that main page and click on another link and it, too, produces a page in a flash. It's just as if you chucked out that modem and got connected to the Internet through a big, fast pipeline.
One of the leaders in this field is PeakSoft (), which markets the PeakJet browser accelerator. PeakSoft says its latest accelerator program can make your Web browser 20 times faster. This may seem like an outrageous claims, but I have no doubt that anyone with a very slow dialup connection could, in some cases, get just that kind of speed increase.
Peak Technology's original Web accelerator, PeakJet, is now in version 1.5. It's still available for about $25. You can get PeakJet online fromhttp://www.egghead.com/. (Be sure to click the "Downloads" button at the left when you get to the main page.) The current accelerator is PeakJet 2000, which sells for $30. You can order it from the PeakSoft site, and you can download an upgrade from the older version to the newer one for $10. A 30-day trial version can be downloaded for free.
Both work only with Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT. You need Microsoft Internet Explorer versions 3 or 4 or comparable versions of Netscape's browser. (They won't work with AOL's Web browser.) Both work over a standard dialup connection or direct line to the Internet, and can be configured to operate through a proxy server such as the kind that allows many PCs at a home or office to access the Internet through a single connection
I tried both versions. The newer one is faster and easier to use and offers many extra features, but both did a good job of speeding up Web browsing. Because I already have a very fast Internet connection—a cable Internet connection that normally runs at two to three times the speed of a T1 line—I didn't expect the PeakSoft accelerators to add much more speed. You can imagine my surprise and delight when I found that all pages, not just ones from faster remote sites, snapped onto my screen instantly when I used the PeakSoft accelerators.
This did not happen all the time. When I opened a page I'd never been to before, looked at it for only a few seconds and then went on to a link on that page, PeakJet usually didn't help much. The accelerator's look-ahead system was still grabbing pages when I jumped ahead.
But when I browsed my usual way, by lingering for at least a minute on any new page, the links on that page nearly always came up in a flash. If you have a dialup connection running at 56k or slower, PeakJet will take longer to grab linked pages, so your "linger" time will have to be stretched out to get the same effect.
PeakJet monitors your browsing habits and stores the pages you access most often. This means sites that you've visited before will open up more quickly than usual. (Unlike the cache that's already used by your browser, the one built into PeakJet is managed and maintained very cleverly. This feature is one of the best functions of PeakJet 2000. The older version does not do as well.)
For optimum use of the PeakSoft accelerators, your PC should have at least 32 megabytes of memory—RAM is about a dollar a megabyte, so add memory if your PC needs it—and a reasonably fast hard drive. You can use the default setting and keep the disk cache to 5 megabytes, but I recommend four times that amount.