Surfers get Net gain in speed

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 June, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 June, 1998, 12:00am

The Holy Grail of most computer users today is speed - mainly speed on the Internet. I suspect many people would happily sacrifice a great deal if they could save time downloading Web pages.

This attitude has a lot of companies trying to think of ways to speed up the Internet with various software tricks, the most common being some form of cache memory.

Most computers use some form of cache whenever there is I/O. The most common caches are for hard disks, graphics and CPU instructions. The idea is that if the computer can grab what it needs beforehand and pop it into memory, it can be obtained quickly later.

Many products claim to speed up browsing time, but all must be viewed with caution. SurfExpress is one that seems to live up to what it says.

SurfExpress from Connectix (the makers of RAMDoubler and DiskDoubler, as well as Virtual PC) claims to speed up the process of returning to pages you have visited. It is important to understand it will not speed up access to new pages.

The idea is quite clever. Most of us go back to the same page many times out of habit - it might be a search engine page, for example. By caching these pages and examining them against their present date and time stamp, SurfExpress can regulate the 'new' information that needs to be downloaded.

SurfExpress also gives you the option of searching through the cache for Web pages, files or text. This could be useful if you looked at something recently but cannot remember where it is.

SurfExpress aims to make things easy for people who do repetitious work. Testing this kind of software is notoriously difficult as there are far too many variables - modems, telephone lines, servers, traffic, etc. In this case, however, SurfExpress did seem to perform as advertised.

I logged on to my favourite sites and when, after browsing the Web for a while, I returned to them, they popped back on the screen almost as fast as they would have done on a leased line.

For those who go back and forth between the same sites, SurfExpress can be a real help. There is a little pie chart you can put up on the screen that shows network activity.

My only real problem with this software is that the asking price of US$34.95 seems a bit steep for what it is.

PROS AND CONS Product: SurfExpress from Connectix ( Price: US$34.95 (seven-day free trial. Download available from Web site) Platform: Macintosh, Windows 95/NT Special requirements: 12 MB of free disk space, Navigator or Explorer versions 3.0 or higher Pros: Allows for quick returns to cached pages Cons: A bit costly. Works only on repetitious jobs