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Do Web Accelerators Work?

Almost all dial-up ISP's offer some type of web accelerator service, usually for a small additional fee. So do they work as advertised? The short answer is yes and maybe no. Without getting too technical we'll explain what they do starting with…

A short history

Dial-up accelerators first showed up in the late '90's in the form of a software program that lived on your computer. The main thing they did was store (or 'cache') a web page's images and other files on your computer so when you visited that site again your computer didn't need to download them again thus making the page load faster. They did work but compared to today's programs they were rather primitive, more of an internet booster. (BTW, some of those software programs are still around.)

Then in 2002 slip-stream technology was born in the form of sophisticated software that lived at your ISP coupled with a software program on your PC needed to connect through the accelerator. What this internet accelerator did was compress everything it could as it left your ISP so that there was significantly less data to try and stuff through your phone line and onto your computer monitor. Thus even web pages you had never visited before loaded noticeably faster. (It also cached images and files so that web pages you visited often loaded even faster.) However, to enjoy the fastest surfing speed you had to settle for viewing web page images that were very compressed and 'fuzzy' looking. Needless to say most people didn't like that.

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Current technology

Like nearly everything computer related, high speed dial-up has seen vast improvement.

Normally your web browser will request one thing at a time and not even ask for the next until the first is fully loaded. In other words, it will load a web page's HTML code, then ask for the images, then the text and so on. This can result in significant delays. Snore!

Current technology allows your web browser to request everything on a web page at the same time. Images initially load 'fuzzy' looking but soon display at normal resolution. What this means for you is a fully usable web page displayed on your monitor almost instantly making it a true DSL alternative.

What you should know

A web accelerator can dramatically speed up general web surfing as well as both sending and receiving email. What it won't do is speed up file downloading or improve streaming video because those types of files are already compressed.

Be sure to check out the system requirements of the web accelerator program you plan to use. If they say you need a minimum of 64MB of RAM what they really mean is available RAM. So if your machine doesn't have about twice that much RAM the program may actually slow down your surfing or even cause your PC to freeze up! (To check the RAM on your machine go to: Start > Control Panel > System.)

Free Web Accelerators

If you use the popular FireFox web browser, then you can download and install FasterFox. It is totally free and has no spyware. It also includes an advanced pop-up blocker that deals with those sneaky new ones that are flash based.

Another web accelerator is Toonel. It's a free download and uses technology similar to ISP based accelerators.

Google has a free broadband accelerator. However we suggest caution with anything that they give away!