Literally dozens of different utility programs are available on the Net, often free downloads, that promise to improve internet speed and performance of a home network. These utilities alter the computer operating system's default settings so that Web surfing, email, Internet conferencing, and other Web-based applications may work faster than before...

... . The vast majority of these programs run on the Microsoft Windows family of operating systems and are designed for broadband networks. In theory, those with high-speed network access stand to gain the most from network optimization and increase Internet Speed.

Most speed patches change TCP/IP settings in the Windows Registry such as the MTU size and other related sizes. Some patches alter parameters in Windows .INI files. Some may even replace system library files.

Consider the following tips when experimenting with this type of software:

1. Be sure to download programs that work with your specific operating system and network configuration. A patch designed for Windows 95 dial-up networking will probably not produce the desired results on a Windows 98 system using cable modem.

2. Stick with programs developed by or reviewed by well-known companies. Microsoft, for example, occasionally releases patches that are generally helpful bug fixes to operating system components. Newly-announced utilities from lesser-known organizations, on the other hand, may be more experimental or speculative patches that may do more harm than good in some situations.

3. Finally, consider making performance tweaks to your system manually rather than through use of a utility. Making changes "by hand" allows one to experiment more methodically and understand clearly where the modifications were made and where they can be undone. With utility software, much of it available only in binary form, the nature of modifications made may not be apparent or well-documented and thus much harder to undo. NEVER rely on the automatic uninstall capability of these programs!

Broadband speed patches can improve the Internet Speed and reliability of home networks with high-speed Internet service like cable modem or DSL. However, with so many variables involved in network performance, the only sure way to evaluate the quality of these packages is to (carefully) try them out on your systems.