All About Broadband

All About Broadband

So you’re interested in a faster internet connection.  What choices do you have?

Depending on where you live, you may have been offered DSL  (Digital Subscriber Line)  from the phone company, cable access from your cable provider, or even satellite DSL from a handful of other providers.  How do they stack up?

First off, they’re all significantly faster than your modem.  They’re all “always on”.  Any of these will change the way you use the internet.  Now for the specifics.

— dsl —

DSL is offered through the phone line.  It comes in different speeds, but most residences and small businesses are happy with the asynchronous (ADSL) type.  That just means your download speed is much higher than your upload speed.  Most of the time you are getting data and not sending it  (reading web pages, downloading e-mail, etc.), so this is a good solution.  Typical speeds are 768kbps  (kilobits per second)  download, and 128kbps upload.  DSL is a “star” topology, which means that you have a line directly from you to the provider, with no one else on that line.  If both you and your neighbor have DSL, each of you has a separate line from your respective houses to the telephone company’s central office, and your speed will always remain the same.  It can be easily used with Windows machines, Macintosh, Linux, or anything that can handle an ethernet connection.  Price in our area  (the tri-state area)  starts at $40 per month.

— cable —

Cable is offered through your cable TV provider, and comes in on the same coaxial line.  It is hard to say what speed cable is, but it ranges from blazingly fast to downright painfully slow.  The reason for this is that unlike DSL’s star topology, cable is offered in a daisy-chain, or “bus” topology.  This means your neighbors are very likely on the same physical cable line as you are.  Let’s say you get cable, and so do 9 of your neighbors who happen to have kids.  Let’s also say that you work at home.  In the middle of the day, chances are your connection will be fast — on the order of 2.5 to 5Mbps (megabits per second) — about 3 to 6 times faster than the average DSL connection.  Once those kids start to come home from school, however, they will all be going online, and your speed will drop.  You and your neighbors are all sharing the same internet connection, and are at the mercy of peak usage time.  It can be easily used with Windows machines, Macintosh, Linux, or anything that can handle an ethernet connection.  Price in our area starts at $40 per month.

— satellite dsl —

For those of you in areas too far from the telephone company’s central office (you have to be under 18,000 feet, about 3.4 miles)  for DSL, or are not offered cable internet access, you can fall back on satellite DSL.  The satellite company installs a small 24″-36″ dish on or near your house, and places two small boxes near your computer.  These boxes, called CSU/DSU then connect to your computer and the satellite.  It provides you with a two-way, always on connection, much like DSL or cable.  Download speeds can reach about 400kbps, just over half of a regular telephone DSL connection.  Upload speeds are generally about 2 to 3 times as fast as a modem.  Unfortunately, satellite DSL suffers the same “sharing” problem as does cable — there are a limited number of satellites, and the residential service usually puts about 2,000 houses per single satellite.  Thus, if you compare speeds at peak vs. offpeak times, you’ll see a marked difference. It uses a USB connection, so it can only be easily used with Windows machines.  To use it with a Macintosh, Linux, or anything else would require you to buy a cheap Windows system, set up a small network, and have it act as a gateway system.  Price ranges from $60 per month on up, you have to buy the equipment for $600, and have it installed, which can range from $100 to $400.

— what to get —

Our recommendation, in order of preference, is to get DSL or cable if they are available to you.  Satellite DSL should be the last on your list, since it’s so expensive and the response times are slow.  For specific opinions on providers, equipment, etc., give us a call.


DSL Cable Satellite
(vs. modem)
~12 ~3-100 ~1-6
(avg. month)
$50.00 $45? $75.00
(ping time, compared to modem, higher is slower)
1x 1x 10x
Reliability Good Good Depends on environmental conditions



What’s Your Backup Strategy?

What’s Your Backup Strategy?

A backup strategy is not like an insurance policy. An insurance policy is something you buy just in case something goes wrong.

The brutal fact of the matter is that computers and software are prone to failure and that your systems will crash someday. On that day, will your data be ready to move to a new or repaired system?

We recommend a small start for our customers, and then expand on this as your needs grow. Here’s the quickest way to set up a basic backup.

  1. go out and buy two (2) 120 GB external USB hard drives
    (Seagate, Iomega, Maxtor, Western Digital… they’re all good — look for the longer warranty if you are unsure)
    • label each drive separately with a big letter A on one and a big letter B on the other
    • start with external drive A installed on your machine and external drive B stored at someone else’s house, or in a fireproof safe
  2. install the software for the drives… this will typically include free backup software!
  3. get in the habit of saving all of your critical data in folders beneath a single folder
    (i.e., C:\data  or  D:\data)
  4. setup the backup software to:
    • backup this directory and all subdirectories
    • backup all of the \MyDocuments\ folders for all users
    • not “sync” data, but rather to continue adding content to the archive instead of deleting files that are no longer on your computer
    • run the backup automatically at least twice a week
  5. let the backups run routinely —
    this will ensure that local computer errors will not cause serious data problems
  6. every week, switch the backup drives A & B
    this will make sure that any serious physical catatrophe will still allow for good data from one week ago

If this schedule is not aggressive enough, we do the following for the next steps.

  • increase the frequency of backups to daily
  • increase the drive swapping to every other day
  • increase the number of external drives to 3 by adding a HUGE drive labeled C with capabity >200GB
  • use drive labeled C to archive off complete data backups in folders that are dated as follows: YYYY_MMDD (i.e. /2003_0113/)

For advice or assistance with setting up your backup routine, please contact us.