6.5 Evaluating and Troubleshooting
There's nothing more maddening than not being able to connect to the Internet when you absolutely , positively have to check your email or pay a quick visit to mary-kateandashley.com for some quick fashion advice. Fortunately, unless a backhoe has cut through an Internet backbone or a major power outage has left half the country in the dark, there are usually ways you to troubleshoot virtually every Internet connection problem. This section offers a few hints on what to do and how to fix minor glitches when the Internet misbehaves. (For more help and shareware options, see Sidebar 6-5.)
6.5.1 Peering into Your Internet Connection
Here's how to discover everything you ever wanted to know about your current Internet connection: open the Local Area Connection Status box. It reveals your IP address, how long you've been connected, how much data you've sent and received, and a whole lot more. This information is vital when troubleshooting a connection problem, or when communicating with technical support.
To access this box, right-click My Network Places (either on the desktop or from the Start menu) and choose Properties to open the Network Connections folder. If you double-click the connection you want to investigate, the Local Area Connection Status box appears, as shown in Figure 6-18.
Click the Support tab for even more details about your connection, such as your IP address. If you click the Details button, you can find other goodies , like your network adapter's MAC address , which is usually labeled Physical Address. (A MAC address is not an Apple thing. It's actually a number that uniquely identifies a network adapter; MAC stands for Media Access Control.) You might need the MAC address because many cable companies ask for it to establish your Internet connection.
Even more useful than just getting details about your connection is a simple, one-step solution built into Windows XP that often solves Internet woes such as not being able to send and receive email or browse the Web. It's the mighty Repair button, and it works by resetting a few key connection settings (including your IP address). To use this button, go to the Network Connections folder by right-clicking My Network Places and choosing Properties. Then right-click the connection that's broken, and choose Repair. Frequently, XP can solve the problem and you're good to go.
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Figure 6-18. When troubleshooting a problematic Internet connection, it's best to first gather details about your network connection using the Local Area Connections status box. Besides telling you whether you're still connected ‚ and at what speed ‚ it lists other details that are helpful when calling technical support.
6.5.2 Your Real Internet Connection Speed
No matter what speed your ISP promises, your actual connection speed is almost always lower ‚ regardless of whether you use dial-up, cable, or DSL to connect to the Internet.
You can test your true current Internet connection speed at the Bandwidth Place Web site ( http://bandwidthplace.com/speedtest ), which is pictured in Figure 6-19. The evaluation is instantaneous. To run it, click through "Start a personal test."
Note: Many things can affect your Internet speed. For example, if you use a cable modem, and many people in your neighborhood are also online, the heavy traffic can slow you down.
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Figure 6-19. To get a true sense of your connection speed, try the test several different times during the day, as speeds can vary from moment to moment.
Tip: For shareware that can help manage and speed up your Internet connection, see Sidebar 6-4.
6.5.3 Diagnosing a Broken Internet Connection
Here's something you can try if your Internet connection seems to be dead and you're waiting on hold for your ISP's tech-support : Windows XP's built-in network diagnostics tool tests basic settings and network functionality, then diligently reports on what it finds (which can often be helpful information for the ISP's tech people once you finally reach them).
To use the diagnostics tool, choose Start Help and Support "Networking and the Web" "Fixing Networking or Web Problems" "Diagnose network configuration and run automated networking tasks ." Next, click "Scan your system." After several minutes, the diagnostics tool produces a report like the one pictured in Figure 6-20.
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Figure 6-20. The network diagnostics tool scans your system and reports on any network problems it finds. It's good information to have when you call tech support for help.