If you’ve been successfully running Windows 98 in your organization for some time, you’re probably pretty happy with the way that it performs overall. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t squeeze a little bit more performance out of it by making a few minor adjustments. Here are some quick and easy fixes you can make to Windows 98 to increase overall network performance.

Author’s Note

For the purposes of this article, I’m only going to discuss software-related factors you can adjust on Windows 98 to increase network performance. If you’re using Windows 98 on an older workstation, you may be able to increase network performance by making hardware changes such as increasing the amount of RAM or switching to a faster network card than was originally installed, among other things. However, our focus here is only on those software factors you can tweak within Windows 98 itself.

Reduce the number of protocols
One of the most common reasons why network performance suffers in a Windows environment is from running too many, and often unnecessary, protocols on the workstation. Nowadays, TCP/IP is the universal network protocol, but it wasn’t always so. When peer-to-peer networks began to become popular, often NetBEUI was the most commonly used protocol because it was easy to use. Early versions of Windows NT also relied on NetBEUI. When NetWare ruled the network world, IPX became a very popular protocol as well.

If you’ve been using your Windows 98 workstation for a long time, you may have started off with one of these older protocols and over time, just added more protocols to the workstation’s network stack. This can negatively impact performance, because it forces the workstation to produce and transmit a data packet for each network protocol when it sends information.

For example, if your workstation has all three major protocols loaded, rather than sending out one byte of information, the workstation must create and transmit three one-byte packets. Essentially, you’re tripling the amount of work your workstation must do.

To find out what the machine is currently running, right-click Network Neighborhood and select Properties. You’ll see the list of installed protocols in the Network Components list box. You can remove a protocol by selecting and clicking Remove.

Don’t randomly start removing protocols. Find out if they’re being used first. If you remove a protocol at random, you may break a network-based application or cause the user to lose access to a network resource. You can work with your network administrator to find out if you really need all of the protocols loaded on a machine.

Sometimes you can substitute network protocols, and remove them at the same time. For example, if you still have a NetWare server on your network, rather than running IPX as well as TCP/IP, you can convert the NetWare server to support TCP/IP rather than IPX. Newer versions of the NetWare Client actual prefer TCP/IP. Likewise, you can install TCP/IP on NT servers and peer-to-peer clients and eliminate NetBEUI.

Stop browser elections
In a peer-to-peer networking environment, as well as Windows NT 4.0 networks, a list of available network resources is controlled by one of the computers on the network, which is called the Master Browser. Which computer is the master browser? Who knows.

If you’re in a Windows NT environment, your Windows NT Primary Domain Controller is supposed to be the master browser automatically. In a peer-to-peer network, the various Windows 9x machines hold an “election,” and one of the workstations wins and becomes the master browser. Sometimes NT and 98 don’t always communicate properly and a particularly fast Windows 98 workstation causes an election and takes browsing rights from the NT server. As if things weren’t complicated enough, every time a new Windows 98 machine boots (which, as you know, can be quite frequently) a new election is held, which can flood a large network with election traffic.

You can reduce or eliminate this problem by stopping the Windows 98 workstation from participating in elections and allowing itself to be eligible to be a master browser. You don’t want to do this on every Windows 98 workstation because unless you have an NT server running somewhere, at least one workstation has to be the maser browser. If you don’t have a master browser, users won’t be able to find network resources. Therefore, you should at least have a few Windows 98 workstations that are eligible so in case one goes down, users aren’t completely stranded.

To stop the workstation from acting as a master browser, right-click Network Neighborhood and select Properties. Scroll the Network Components list box until you see File And Printer Sharing For Microsoft Networks. If you don’t see this entry, then your workstation can’t act as a master browser and you’re done.

If you do see the entry, click Select it and click Properties. When the Properties window appears, select the Browse Master property. Next, select Disabled from the Value drop-down list box as shown in Figure A. You’ll need to save the changes and reboot your workstation.

Figure A
You can prevent your workstation from becoming the master browser.


The following section of this article discusses making changes to your server’s registry. Before performing the techniques, make sure you have a complete backup of your workstation. If you make a mistake when making changes to your workstation’s registry, you may cause it to become unbootable, which would require a reinstallation of Windows to correct. Proceed with extreme caution.

Modify MTU size
One way you can increase performance on a Windows 98 workstation is by modifying how it uses TCP/IP. One easy way to do so is by tweaking the Maximum Transmission Unit (MTU) size. MTU size reflects the maximum packet size (in bytes) that TCP/IP will transmit over your network. An incorrect MTU size can make your network run slowly because the workstation will generate too many packets or create too few packets with lots of wasted space in them.

The reason the MTU is such a factor is because, by default, Windows 98 sets the MTU size to 1,500. It’s been my experience that if a network is running slowly, even the 1,492 value that most tuning sites recommend doesn’t help. I usually have the best luck by setting the MTU to around 1,454. Fortunately, there is a way to check to see what MTU size is appropriate for your environment.

To do so, open a command prompt on your administration workstation and type PING -F -I <MTUsize> < gateway> where MTUsize is the size you want to experiment with, and gateway is the gateway of your network. Start out by using an MTU size of 1,454. Doing so will make the command look something like this: PING -F -I 1454

When you enter the command, the PING will either be successful or it will fail with a message stating that the data must be fragmented. If you receive the error message, decrease the MTU value and keep trying until you find a value that works. If the PING command works the first time, try increasing the value until you see the error message. Instead of constantly entering MTU values by incrementing the MTU value by 1, try changing the value in units of five or 10 and then narrowing down the actual value.

You’ll make the changes in the system registry. Start the Registry Editor by selecting Run from the Start menu, typing regedit in the Open text box, and clicking OK. When the Registry Editor opens, navigate through the left pane until you get to the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\VxD\MSTCP\Parameters key. In the right pane, look for the value named GlobalMaxTCPWindoSize.

If the value exists, it’s probably set to 1500, which is the default value for the key. To change the value, double-click it. You’ll then see the Edit String screen. Enter the value of that you found out was best through your ping tests above in the Value Data field and click OK.

If the value doesn’t exist, you’ll need to add it. Select New | String Value from the Edit menu. The new value will appear in the right pane, prompting you for a value name. Type GlobalMaxTCPWindoSize and press [Enter].

Double-click the new value. You’ll then see the Edit String screen. Enter a new value in the Value Data field and click OK. When you’re done, close Regedit. Your registry changes will be saved automatically. Reboot your workstation.

All that and more
These are just three suggestions you can use to increase network performance for Windows 98. If you have additional suggestions, you can start or join a discussion about this article and post them.