Do Web Accelerators really work?

Question

What is a good web accelerator? Free would be nice!

-M. Sherard

Answer

This question was answered on May 12, 2004. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

Many programs claim to be ‘web accelerators’ which in general terms refers to any product or service that can appear to increase the speed in which a web page loads on your screen.

The primary target for these programs are dial-up Internet users that want to squeeze a little extra performance out of their connection.

There are various technologies used to try to achieve this goal and depending upon what kind of content that you surf for, the results can vary from very good to completely useless.

The most common process used to decrease the amount of time that it takes to load a web page is to increase the size of the ‘cache’

The browsers cache is a storage area on your hard drive that contains the files and images from the various web sites that you frequent Whenever you visit a web site, the browser checks to see if the needed files already exist in the cache before it attempts to download them from the remote web server.

By increasing the cache, you improve the chances that the needed files are already on your hard drive, but only on sites that you have previously visited.

Another process used by web accelerators is image compression By reducing the number of pixels in an image before downloading it, you reduce the total file size, which will reduce the time that it takes to download the image The trade off is that images will become less clear or in some cases, downright fuzzy.

Another technology known as ‘read-ahead’ browsing works by pre-loading pages associated with all the links on a given page in the background, while you are reading the primary page

Another method used to reduce the overhead is to reduce the content Many accelerator programs also have content filters that can block pop-ups, pop-unders and other unwanted content that steal bandwidth If it never has to load unwanted content, it won’t interfere with what you do want.

A more technical function of maintaining a constant or ‘persistent’ connection between your computer’s modem and your ISP’s modem can have some impact on overall performance By tricking the ISP’s modem into thinking that there is constant activity, it reduces the time normally spent opening and closing ‘TCP/IP’ sessions.

While these processes may seem impressive from the technical descriptions, the reality is that they fall short in many areas that most people want to increase.

None of these programs, for instance, will do a thing to speed up streaming audio, video or large file downloads.

Free-based programs often include adware or spyware components or in some cases require you to permanently change your start page in order to generate traffic to an advertiser.

If you want to try a program that gets good reviews from many sources, give the trial version of Propel a try at www.propel.com.

Propel’s software technology and cache servers (web storage servers that reduce the distance that your request must go to get the desired content) are used by Earthlink as an accelerator for their dial-up customers.

Because it is software in conjunction with a service, you pay by the month ($7.95) or by the year ($59.95) but you get the additional infrastructure that will make it more useful than a software only solution.

If you really want your Internet connection to be faster all the time, there is no substitute for a real ‘fat pipe’ such as a cable modem or DSL, so don’t expect much from a low cost alternative.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on May 12, 2004