Windows Vista : Internet Me (part 2) - Test Your Throughput, Set Up Virtual Private Networking

11/27/2012 12:21:52 AM

2. Test Your Throughput

Throughput is the practical measurement of bandwidth: the quantity of data you can transmit over a connection in a given period of time.

The simplest way to measure your throughput is to visit one of the many bandwidth-measuring web sites, such as ( or Bandwidth Place (

For the most accurate results, make sure you close all superfluous programs before running the test. In addition to calculating your bandwidth and reporting the results, these services typically ask for your zip code and connection type to compile statistics on typical connection speeds in your area. The results should look something like Figure 4.

Figure 4. Use Broadband Reports' speed test page to measure the speed of your Internet connection

Now, according to the results in Figure 4, the download speed is a respectable 1,267 Kbps, which means, in practical terms, that it should take about 6.5 seconds to download a 1 MB file under ideal conditions.

However, ideal conditions are rare; real-life transfers are often much slower, due to overburdened servers and busy networks. Since your connection speed (or lack thereof) is most noticeable during file downloads (compared with web surfing or emailing), you can overcome some of these conditions by using a download manager.

So, what do you do if your connection seems too slow? First, close all open windows, and turn off all background programs (such as the ones that show up in the System Tray in the lower-right corner of the screen, near the clock). Do the same for any other PCs using your Internet connection. Next, examine the lights on your router or broadband modem; if they're flashing, it means that some program is still running on your PC, possibly consuming bandwidth. This is a possible sign that a virus, worm, Trojan horse, or some sort of spyware has made its way onto your PC.

Of course, it's also possible that you're hitting the upper limit of your broadband connection. But whether or not an upgrade from your ISP is worth the money depends on the bandwidth you're getting now and the amount of cash your ISP is demanding for the faster service. If your connection measures more than 1 Mbps (1,024 Kbps), it's unlikely you'll notice a huge difference in real-world speed with a faster connection unless you download a lot of large files (such as music). On the other hand, more expensive connections sometimes offer substantially higher upload speeds, which may be worth the added cost if you spend a lot of time sending files to web servers, or even if you want to host a web site on your PC.

2.1. Do-it-yourself bandwidth test

One of the simplest ways to measure the throughput is to transfer a binary file (such as a .jpg or .zip file) from your computer to another location and then back again, recording the time it takes to complete the transfer each way. Just divide the file size by the transfer time to get the throughput, typically in kilobytes or megabytes per second.

When testing the speed between two PCs on your local network (for instance, when comparing the speed of your wireless network with that of cables), you might be inclined to drag and drop the files in Windows Explorer. Sure, it's a good real-world test, but Windows—and Vista in particular—adds a lot of overhead to this process, so it won't be a true test of raw throughput. If you're feeling adventurous, try using FTP: just set up an FTP server on one PC, either using Windows' built-in IIS service or a third-party freeware alternative, and then connect to that PC with a basic FTP client.

3. Do Download Accelerators Really Work?

There are a number of "download accelerator" software products available, all of which promise to speed up the transfer of files downloaded to your computer. As you might've guessed, none of them are actually capable of increasing the bandwidth or throughput of your Internet connection. Rather, they employ download managers that compensate for inefficiencies in the download process.

These programs work by downloading a file in pieces, via multiple concurrent download streams . While two concurrent downloads would each be allotted half the bandwidth normally consumed by a single download, this boundary only applies when your Internet connection is the bottleneck. In practice, download managers do use a larger percentage of your available bandwidth, and as a result, do tend to shorten download times, particularly for large files.

The problem is that any speed advantage you notice may be offset by the annoying and cumbersome interfaces these programs add to the mix: numerous dialog boxes and unnecessary prompts, not to mention bloated manager applications that take too long to load before they even get started. But in the end, the convenience afforded by some of these programs' extra features may make them worth the hassle.

Here are a few of the better download managers available, all free:

Be aware that some download accelerators contain spyware, so use caution when trying an unproven product.

Of these tools, probably the slickest is Download Express, shown in Figure 5. If you use Download Express, there are two changes you should make. If you're an Internet Explorer user, open Download Express, click Advanced, and then choose the Integration tab. Turn on the Use alternative integration method option and click OK; you'll need to exit and relaunch Internet Explorer for the change to take effect. Or, if you're a Firefox or SeaMonkey user, install the MetaProducts Integration extension, available at

Figure 5. Download Express can speed up downloads without forcing you to fill out a page of options every time

The real advantage of products like these is not so much in the speed increase, but in the perks. Some programs also can resume aborted downloads, find alternative servers from which to download your files, and schedule downloads for off-peak times.

4. Set Up Virtual Private Networking

Virtual Private Networking (VPN) is a system involving a workgroup of two or more computers connected by an Internet connection rather than a physical cable. In theory, VPN provides the security and privacy of a closed environment, without the astronomical cost of a private wide-area network.

Need privacy on a public wireless network? Set up a VPN to transfer data between PCs securely. 

The technology used in VPN—either the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) or the Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP)—allows you to create a private "tunnel" across the Internet connection. With a VPN, you can accomplish tasks previously available only over a LAN, such as file and printer sharing, user authentication, and even networked games. Figure 6 illustrates a typical scenario with a tunnel connecting a single computer to a remote workgroup.

Figure 6. Form a virtual private workgroup through a tunnel across the Internet

Before you can set up VPN, you need a tunnel server. If you're connecting to a large company, the VPN administrator will provide the necessary settings (and software, if necessary) to establish a connection. Otherwise, you can use a Vista PC as a tunnel server by following these instructions.

4.1. Part 1: Set up the tunnel server

Although there's no mention of it in Vista's Help and Support, Windows Vista can indeed serve as a VPN server; you don't need any extra software.

Here's how you do it:

  1. Open the Network and Sharing Center, and click the Manage network connections link on the left.

  2. Press the Alt key to show the menu, and then select File → New Incoming Connection.

  3. On the "Who may connect to this computer?" page shown in Figure 7, place a checkmark next to each user account you wish to use as a login for VPN clients. Unless you're using this VPN connection yourself, you'll probably want to click Add someone to create a separate user account for others to use (otherwise, you'll have to share your own username and password with those who will be connecting). Click Next when you're done.

    Figure 7. This page lets you choose who can connect to your PC and join your network over a secure VPN connection; click "Add someone" to create a new account on the fly

  4. On the next page, turn on the Through the Internet option, and then click Next.

  5. On the next page, highlight Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) and click Properties. Turn on the Allow callers to access my local area network option, and then specify how you'd like to assign IP addresses to incoming connections; you can optionally assign a range of addresses here.

    Click OK and then Next when you're done, and then click Allow access to complete the wizard.

  6. If you're using a router on the server end, you'll need to set up Port Forwarding to route VPN traffic to the IP address for your tunnel server. VPN over PPTP uses port 1723, and IPSec uses 500, 50, and 51.

Next, set up at least one other PC as a VPN client to connect the two.

4.2. Part 2: Set up the VPN client

Although there only needs to be one VPN tunnel server, you can have as many clients as you like (that is, until you reach the limit specified in the tunnel server's configuration). Here's how to connect a Windows Vista PC to an existing VPN network:

  1. Open the Network and Sharing Center, and click the Set up a connection or network link on the left.

  2. Select Connect to a workplace (you may have to scroll through the list to see it), and then click Next.

  3. Click Use my Internet connection (VPN).

  4. In the Internet address field, type the IP address ( or the host name (

  5. Next, choose a name for the new connection (it can be anything you want), type it into the Destination name field, and click Next.

  6. On the next page, type your user name and password on the tunnel server; this is either the login for a valid Windows user account on that PC, or a login provided by the tunnel server's administrator (if it's not you).

  7. Turn on the Remember this password option, and click Connect (or Create, if you opted not to connect on the last page).

    As soon as you're connected, you should have access to the additional resources shared on the remote network. Later on, you can connect by double-clicking the VPN connection in the Network Connections window.

  8. If you connect to the Internet through a router, you'll most likely need to turn on the IPSec option in your router's setup to get VPN to work. 

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