Do you need faster Internet, or just TCP Optimizer?

Last Updated on October 29, 2011 by Dave Farquhar

A longtime reader wrote in this week recommending TCP Optimizer. I’ve used this program off and on for years, but don’t seem to have ever mentioned it on the blog.

I talked about similar programs in my book, but TCP Optimizer works with all modern (and many ancient) versions of Windows, and it can make a tremendous difference. It’s a small, self-contained program that doesn’t require any installation, the way programs ought to be.

It won’t turn my 1.5 megabit DSL connection into 10 megabits, but it will use the bandwidth you have more intelligently, and improve latency. Think of bandwidth like top speed, and latency like 0-60 speed. And when it comes to loading modern web pages, with lots of separate files, the latency is just as important as top speed, if not more so.

If you stream a lot of video, you may very well need more than a 3-megabit connection. But for everything else, TCP Optimizer may help more than getting more bandwidth will. And it doesn’t cost anything to find out.

One thing you should definitely do when running TCP Optimizer is click on the MTU tab, click Largest MTU to find out what your MTU setting should be. The default of 1500 is the most common, but is by no means universal. Mine is 1492. Yours should be either 1500 or 1492, but if it isn’t, this program will figure out what the optimal setting for yours is. This depends on your ISP, and to some degree, the trials and tribulations of its network engineers, so for the best results, try it out for yourself.

After finding the MTU speed, I click the custom button on the first tab, enter the MTU speed, then adjust the slider to my upstream Internet speed, and click the optimal button. You have to reboot for the full effect, but some of the settings take hold immediately. If you’re a tinkerer, you can visit Speedguide’s analyzer before applying settings to see

You can do separate settings for your wired and wireless NICs, if desired.

And if you’re a road warrior, it’s not a bad idea to keep TCP Optimizer on your laptop and run it after you set up your laptop and get it onto the hotel’s network.

If you don’t know your upstream speed (and you won’t when you’re on the road), run Speedguide’s Speed Test before running TCP Optimizer. Take those results and round up to the nearest value.

Between TCP Optimizer and DNSBench (another excellent small, self-contained program), you can dramatically improve your Internet connection in a matter of minutes. It takes most of the tinkering and even more of the guesswork out of it.

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