Patrick Marshall answers your personal technology questions. This week's topics cover internet speeds, VPNs and using the right USB drive.
Q: I recently upgraded to gigabit internet, but I’m only getting 200 megabits per second download speeds. I’ve called Comcast, but they say actual speeds vary. Why would I pay extra for speeds I’m not getting?
— B. Austin
A: Actual speeds on any internet connection do vary and depend on several factors. First, I’m pretty sure the speeds you’re reporting are when you’re connecting over Wi-Fi, right? Even with a gigabit cable modem and a gigabit Wi-Fi modem, the highest Wi-Fi speeds I’ve seen are under 500 mbps. Generally, Wi-Fi users can expect actual speeds of 175-300 mbps. And that’s if they’ve got the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi client adapter and there are no sources of interference mucking up the Wi-Fi network.
If you want faster internet you can connect directly to the cable modem’s Ethernet port. (You’ll want to reboot before doing so to clear your computer’s IP address.) I’ve seen some computers reach over 900 mbps that way, though my Microsoft Surface Book 2 for some reason limps along at only 300 mbps. (No word back yet from Microsoft on why that may be …) Most cable modems offer at least two Ethernet connections so you can connect both a TV and a Wi-Fi router.
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Q: I read your recent column about virtual private networks. I currently use a VPN to access my work (a requirement) but it is only used for work-related business on a company-supplied laptop. Can I install another VPN for my own personal use with my nonbusiness laptop at the same time and will that cause a conflict?
— Thomas Mills
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A: There’s no technical reason you can’t install another VPN on your computer. Some companies have restrictions on employees installing software on company devices, but since it’s your personal computer there shouldn’t be a problem there.
In fact, you can even run the two VPNs at the same time on the same computer, though you’d have to manually configure your router’s routing tables. If you don’t want to get involved with all that, just make sure you’re only running one VPN at a time.
Q: I used to be able to copy files from my old Windows PC to a USB thumb drive and use them on the Mac computers at school. Recently I asked a friend with a Mac to download some files to my USB drive and it couldn’t be done. What gives?
— David Allen
A: It’s all about the drive’s format. If you want to move files between a PC and a Mac using a USB drive it needs to be formatted in either FAT32 or exFAT. Unless your PC is using a version of Windows older than Vista or your Mac is using a version of OS X older than 10.6.5, use exFAT. FAT32 will also work but it cannot handle file sizes larger than 4 gigabytes.