Propel Accelerator review: Propel Accelerator

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4.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Easy to install and use; speeds Web surfing across virtually all sites; works with many browsers, including AOL; excellent e-mail support.

The Bad No phone support; occasional problems loading graphics files; won't speed e-mail, file transfers, or streaming media; no Mac version.

The Bottom Line Propel Accelerator can cure the dial-up doldrums. But the $5-per-month subscription service works best if you tend to visit the same sites every day or haunt Web destinations filled with modem-choking graphics.

9.0 Overall
CNET Editors' Choice Aug '02

For years, frustrated Netizens have sought new ways to eke out a few more bits per second from their poky 56K connections. Most speed-up schemes (modem doublers, caching programs, and registry optimizers, such as Internet Rocket) generate a lot of hype but little else. Propel Software, on the other hand, offers a subscription service to boost your browsing that actually works. For years, frustrated Netizens have sought new ways to eke out a few more bits per second from their poky 56K connections. Most speed-up schemes (modem doublers, caching programs, and registry optimizers, such as Internet Rocket) generate a lot of hype but little else. Propel Software, on the other hand, offers a subscription service to boost your browsing that actually works.

When we used Propel Accelerator to download Web pages, they arrived two to three times faster than with a standard 56K connection. In some cases, pages displayed more swiftly than on a high-speed digital subscriber line (DSL). Truly, we were amazed. If you visit the same sites day in and day out--and your ISP budget isn't already stretched to the max--Propel is worth the $5 monthly fee. Keep in mind that it's no substitute for a cable modem or a DSL connection, and if you don't visit the same graphics-intensive sites often, this Internet-caching app's benefits won't be as compelling.

Easy does it
Propel offers the fastest, most painless installation imaginable. After downloading the file, simply click through the install wizard--no need to log off the Internet, close your browser, or reboot. The program simply places an icon in your system tray, and you're ready to go.

Propel works its internal magic in a handful of ways. On your desktop, it compresses graphics and other large files as they download, then decompresses them on the fly inside your browser. The program also caches the pages on your hard drive and updates only the data that's changed, so the same site will load even faster the next time you visit. The software also fools your ISP's servers into thinking you have a persistent connection (à la cable or DSL) by routing Web pages through the Propel network of servers, eliminating annoying dial-up time-out disconnections.

Speed you need
How fast is Propel? To test its speed, we timed a few graphics-intensive pages without Propel, then cleared our browser's cache before accessing the same sites with Propel. When we first visited CNET's home page using a standard 56K connection, the site took 24 seconds to download; using Propel, it took only 8 seconds. The next time we visited, Propel loaded the page in an amazing 4 seconds. The same held true for Amazon--20 seconds without Propel, 11 seconds with, and we eventually got down to an average of 6 seconds. These rates held their ground with a half dozen other sites that we checked. We even tested it using a supercheap ($7 per month) ISP account, and it worked just fine. But the software does nothing to speed up streaming media, file downloads, or POP3 e-mail connections--areas where broadband really shines.

Of course, the benefits of Propel vary depending on how you surf. If you visit graphics-rich (and painfully slow) sites such as ESPN, CNN, or MSNBC, it's a godsend. But if you spend most of your day doing Google searches, you may see little or no difference since Google is already quite fast.

Poor pics; no phones
On the downside, we ran into a few glitches using Propel. Page downloads occasionally stalled, and some pages displayed without any graphics. Propel was also slightly inconsistent; a page might load quickly once, then more slowly the next time. But hey, it's the Internet; bad things happen even to good connections.

Propel doesn't provide any phone support, either, just an extensive online FAQ and e-mail support. We e-mailed a question and received a response--from a human, not a computer--in less than four hours. That's darned fast. In any case, the program is so straightforward, odds are good that you won't need much support.

The next best thing next to broadband?
Don't mistake Propel for a poor man's DSL or cable account. However, if you can't get your hands on either of those high-speed options, Propel is a mighty tempting alternative.

You don't believe that Propel Accelerator can really be that fast? Click the program's icon in your system tray and run a few tests.

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