An old PC speed-up hoax reappears

Fred langa By Fred Langa

Like bad pennies and Nigerian money scams, those bogus offers to speed up your online connection keep coming back.

Most of these speedup come-ons give bad advice — disable Windows’ networking Quality of Service feature.

Speed up your Internet connection by 80%!

Jason Wallwork saw that claim on YouTube, but fortunately, his BS detectors were working five-by-five.
  • “I don’t really believe this is true, but a video on YouTube claims you can speed up your Internet by 80% by changing one setting.

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    “Would changing it get a boost at all in Internet speed? Is it even safe to touch? I’ve heard about [Quality of Service] QoS before, but I don’t know which applications are QoS-aware. Can you shed some light on this?”
Wow! That particular hoax just won’t die. It’s been making the rounds for almost 10 years now!

It all stems from a misunderstanding of the Quality of Service network setting. QoS first appeared in Windows 2000 a full decade ago. It’s been in every version of Windows since, including Windows 7. (See Figure 1.) It was originally designed as a technology to improve networking over slow and noisy telephone lines.

All versions of windows support qos
Figure 1. All versions of Windows support the Quality of Service networking parameter. QoS has been a source of confusion — and bad advice — ever since it first appeared in Windows 2000. (Win7 shown.)

Here’s the basic concept: If you’re connected to a site or service that uses QoS (and if you have QoS enabled on your PC), then Windows can reserve some of your total networking bandwidth for the QoS-based connection. That allows sites such as streaming-media services to work more smoothly. To prevent bandwidth-hogging, Windows caps QoS network use at 20%.

This is largely moot in everyday surfing, because the vast majority of sites and services don’t use — or need — QoS. (I’ll get to several important exceptions in a moment.) If you have QoS enabled on your system and connect to a non-QoS site, nothing unusual happens — QoS lies dormant and does not soak up any of your bandwidth.

The only time QoS does anything at all is when you connect to a site that supports it.

Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But when the QoS setting first appeared in Windows 2000, some tech writers misinterpreted it, thinking — erroneously — that enabling QoS permanently set aside 20% of your bandwidth. That’s simply not true.

Things got worse when XP rolled out, because QoS came to the attention of some mass-market tech writers. They flipped the original misconception around and added a new layer of misinterpretation on top, claiming that “disabling QoS boosts your online speed by 20%.”

That, too, is utterly false.

The YouTube video that Jason saw went a step further and flipped the ratio to claim a speed boost of 80%.

That’s beyond merely false. Just as Jason suspected, it’s plain nuts!

When these QoS falsehoods first appeared, Microsoft tried to counter the bad information with MS Support article 316666, “Windows XP Quality of Service (QoS) enhancements and behavior.”

Unfortunately, it’s dry reading and was no match against articles promising a magical speed boost. Let’s set the record straight: when you’re on sites and services that don’t use it — and that’s most of them — QoS doesn’t get in your way. There’s no downside to leaving QoS enabled all the time.

When QoS is enabled and you’re using a service that supports it (voice over IP is another example), QoS will kick in and do what it’s supposed to do — improve your online experience. VoIP and streaming media are exactly the kinds of services where you want the smoothest connections possible!

Note: It does no good to try to figure out which sites and services are QoS-enabled; it’s just there when you need it. Also, diddling with the QoS settings won’t help anything and may actually make some online services and sites perform worse by preventing them from getting the bandwidth they legitimately need.

Bottom line: QoS requires no user intervention — period! Just ignore those sites that promise better Internet performance.

Setting up Remote Desktop over dial-up

Peter’s question gets right to the point:
  • “Is it possible to use XP’s Remote Desktop Connection over a dial-up telephone line?”
Absolutely, Peter! For a remote desktop connection (RDC) to work, you have to set the modem on the host/target PC (the one you want to control remotely) to automatically answer an inbound data call and establish the data connection. You also need to have Remote Desktop Access enabled on that PC.

You set up the second PC to originate the phone call — to dial out to the other machine. Once the RDC is established, you can log in on the host machine and run it remotely.

Windows’ RDC settings let you tune its performance for the available bandwidth, mostly by suppressing nonessential graphical elements of the user interface when using low-speed connections. Figure 2 shows XP’s RDC dialog, but RDC works essentially the same in Vista and Win7.

RDC speed adjustments
Figure 2. You can suppress nonessential, bandwidth-hogging elements of the Windows user interface when you’re using a remote desktop connection over a slow line.

With the right settings, you can get quite acceptable performance for most office-type tasks (word processing, e-mail, etc.) — even with dial-up.

There’s plenty of information online to help with the details of setting up and using Remote Desktop Connection. Here’s a sampling:
  • MS TechNet’s topic, “Configuring Remote Desktop”
  • MS’s article, “Remote Desktop in Windows XP Professional”
  • TomsHardware.com’s forum discussion on “Remote Desktop over dial-up”
Installing software for multiple user accounts

Will Doak ran into a snag on his PC:
  • “I am puzzled. I have two user accounts on my PC. I installed Microsoft Office on one account. It’s not available in the program list in the other account.

    “I also installed IrfanView on one account: it also doesn’t show in the program list in the other account, but it’s available in Explorer under the ‘Open with’ option.”
You’ve found perfect examples of the two most common types of problems that can happen when installing software on PCs with multiple user accounts.

One is simple, but easy to miss. During installation and setup, many programs, including IrfanView, specifically ask how you want the software installed: just for the current account or for all users on the system. (See Figure 3.) I suggest you uninstall IrfanView and then reinstall it with the “For all users” option selected.

don't overlook the multiuser setup option
Figure 3. If you go too fast when setting up new software, you may overlook an option to install the program for just the current user or for all users.

The other common multi-user problem that sometimes affects applications such as MS Office (and similar tools) is permission conflicts between user accounts. MS Support article 898512 might get you pointed in the right direction.

Insomniac PC simply won’t stay asleep

Gerrit Vos’s PC won’t snooze as it should.
  • “My Win7 PC refuses to go to sleep. When I use the Windows button to shut down, it gets to the lowest point but then starts up all over again.

    “Do you have an idea?”
Here are two likely causes to check, Gerrit.

Often, sleep/suspend/hibernate problems are caused by driver issues — something in the driver software fails to respond to the power down request sent by the operating system.

I suggest you visit the support pages on your PC vendor’s Web site and/or the sites of the subsystem (audio, video, networking, and such) providers. Make sure you have the correct, latest, drivers for your system.

Personally, I prefer to update drivers manually because you can control more variables. But if you want to try an automated driver-update site or service, see Scott Dunn’s July 31, 2008, Top Story, “Don’t get burned by driver-update scams.”

Also check whether your various devices are set properly so that Windows can power them down. Vista, for example, is notorious for not setting up its devices’ ability to power down properly. Win7 usually gets it right, but it’s worth checking anyway.

To check your power-down settings, open Windows’ Device Manager (see Microsoft’s Help & How-to article), and right-click on each device, one by one. Select Properties and then navigate to the Power Management tab (if one is offered, as shown in Figure 4). Make sure that the “Allow the computer to turn off this device … ” option is enabled for each device.

enable each device's power management option
Figure 4. Use Device Manager to ensure that each system device can be controlled by Windows’ power management.

When all your PC’s devices have the correct current drivers and Windows Power Management is properly enabled for all the devices, your PC should be able to sleep soundly once more!

Feedback welcome: Have a question or comment about this story? Post your thoughts, praises, or constructive criticisms in the WS Columns forum.

Fred Langa is a senior editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He was formerly editor of Byte Magazine (1987–91), editorial director of CMP Media (1991–97), and editor of the LangaList e-mail newsletter from its origin in 1997 until its merger with Windows Secrets in November 2006.
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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.