Understanding Computers
 
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  Hi-speed vs Dial up
 
 
   
 
A reader recently wrote in to ask why anyone would even consider using a hi-speed connection considering that it costs more, but does basically the same thing as dial-up. This is a great question because the answer is not as simple as it first appears
To a nerd the only advantage that dial-up has is the cost of the service. Some Internet Service Providers (ISP) offer pre-purchased blocks of time at discount rates. Many ISPs charge as little as $9.95 per month. Nerds argue that the cost advantage is quickly offset by the time you save by using hi-speed. But not everyone that uses the internet is a nerd.
Before we go any further, let's compare dial-up and hi-speed. The easily distracted can skip this part. Dial-up uses a device called a modulator/demodulator, or more familiarly a modem, to send data over the voice frequencies of the telephone line. This use of voice frequencies limits modems to a maximum of 56 thousand bytes (56Kb) of data per second. This might seem fast but a new computer can handle 3 billion (3Gb) bytes of data per second. Because dial-up uses the same frequencies as voice transmission, you can't talk on the phone and use the internet at the same time.
Digital Subscriber Line (DSL), hi-speed over the phone line, uses frequencies higher than voice to transmit data. You can talk on the phone and surf the web at the same time. Cable hi-speed doesn't use the phone line at all. You can use it anytime for the same reason that you can watch CBC in one room and TVO in another. Cable, unlike DSL, is always connected. Just to confuse things, both cable and DSL use devices called external modems although they should probably be called converters. The fastest residential hi-speed connection I have ever used was 1 million bytes per second, (1Mb) per second, nearly 20 thousand times faster than dial-up.
But what does all this mean in practical terms? Like everything else in computers, it comes down to what you use it for. Those, like myself who download and upload large amounts of data, really appreciate hi-speed. Because the web has become so graphics intense, anyone who wants to do some serious web surfing will benefit immensely from hi-speed. If you use the internet to send email or occasionally check the movie listings on the web, you can get by quite comfortably with dial-up.
There are many bargains out there, in both new and used equipment. While the price of a new leading edge computer remains fairly constant, only rocket scientists and internet game players will ever use more than a fraction of their computing power. The rest of us can get by comfortably with much less powerful systems. You can get a feel for prices by reading Monitor or one of the other free computer magazines or perusing the newsgroups like ott.forsale.computing.
One final word. Cable service has only one ISP per region, but there are many local DSL service providers. Since there is only one telephone service provider (telco), the connection speed is always the same, but the cost of equipment rentals and the quality of tech support vary quite a bit from ISP to ISP. It pays to shop around.
 
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