When the Internet took off in the mid-'90s, pundits painted a rosy picture of superfast broadband access by the year 2000. Well, the temporal odometer is about to roll over, so where's my high-speed Web? You might've heard people brag about their high-speed cable access or their zippy new DSL service, but cable Internet is available in only a few locations so far and you can't get DSL unless you live a short distance from a "central office" switch. But don't despair, though -- it's still possible to fine tune that pokey 56-kbps modem for better performance.

The old standby for a speed boost is Net.Medic. This program can pinpoint causes of decreased speeds at all steps in the Web-surfing process. If the problem is with your Internet service provider it can recommend changes; if the problem lies in your system it can adjust your configuration for you. Net.Medic found that my modem and serial port were performing suboptimally. I simply had to click the AutoCure button and it made the recommended changes for me, ratcheting up download speeds and shrinking the change-channels lag between clicking on a link and a new page appearing.

You can also soup up your Web speed by editing certain settings in the dreaded Windows Registry. Windows ships configured to drain large "packets" of data off the Web, which is great for fast network connections but not for dialup access. Those huge data bundles have to be broken down and then reassembled -- a process that takes longer than if your system had just asked for small packets to begin with. You could adjust these default settings on your own, at the risk of hosing your system; better to make these changes using the shareware tool TweakDUN ("DUN" stands for "Dial-Up Networking"). It's fairly user-grumpy but worked like a champ, lending my surfing another noticeable speed boost.

If the problem is out on the Web instead of inside your computer, NeoWorx's NeoTrace can help debug things. It shows a graphic map of your connection as data travels from node to node along the Internet, revealing network details like names and addresses of each node and which ones are faster or slower. It also shows a zoomable world map displaying the tortuous route your data has to travel to reach you, making this is useful for understanding the structure of the Net.

Unlike other programs that try to simulate speed increases by pre-fetching Web pages they assume you'll want, these programs yield a real speed boost. They won't turn your system into a speedboat -- for that, you'll have to shell out for a cable modem or DSL -- but at least you'll have a freshly waxed surfboard.

Net.Medic, INSoft; Win 95-98, $50 at http://www.ins. com/software.

TweakDUN, Patterson Design Systems; Win 95-98, $15

at http://www.pattersondesigns.com.

NeoTrace, NeoWorx; Win 95-98, $30 at http://www.neoworx.com.