Skype wasn’t the first to introduce free computer based voice and video calls but it is one of the most successful. Now that they have been borged by Microsoft they will be introduced to legions of new users who expect Skype to work just as well as Word. Let’s look at some easy ways to ensure that Skype performs up to those expectations.

Upgrade Your Software

Being on the latest version of Skype is always recommended. Skype will sometimes prompt you or updates but often it doesn’t bother until long after the new versions are out. You can check the latest version for Windows or for Mac OS X. This also helps protect you from nasty security issues. In Windows 8 you can check the Windows Store update section to make sure you have the latest update.

I’ve also been using the Skype beta releases when they’re available with great success. If you don’t feel comfortable with beta software then stick with the production releases.

Quiesce Your Computer

Are you downloading some legitimately purchased movies in the background or is someone else in your household? Then stop. Skype wants all the bandwidth it can get. Same goes for memory, you should probably close any web browsers or email programs. A few open programs are fine, but the fewer the better.

Upgrade Your Hardware

Sure, a fancy new computer would make Skype go faster but it’s cheaper and more effective to upgrade your webcam instead. You want a webcam that does its own HD video encoding like the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920.

Even if you have a laptop with a built-in webcam that you think is the greatest ever built, this one is better. The webcam offloads the video processing from your computer and does it all in specially design hardware. It requires no drivers and works on Windows and OS X (even on a Hackintosh).

Upgrade Your Network

There are many bottlenecks that your Skype traffic might encounter on its journey.  The first step is to make sure your home router is not slowing you down.  If you have an old router but fast network access then your router is causing you to get less speed than what you’re paying for. A Linksys WRT54G is one of the most common routers out there and cannot keep up with even a 10Mbit connection. It maxes out at 7-8Mbits. You should replace this with a WiFi N or AC router. You’ll get better range and better performance.

If your ISP is overcharging you for a lousy 3Mbit service then look at other options. For Skype the upload and download bandwidths are equally important. If your upload isn’t at least 1 Mbit then look for alternatives or consider paying more for a higher level of service. DSL is almost always the wrong choice, go with cable if possible.

Check Your Surroundings

Aside from cleaning up embarrassing items that are in plain sight, lighting is the most important aspect to your surroundings. As with all forms of photography, the picture will come out best when the subject is lit from the front, not from the back. Position yourself so that a light source is in front of you, but behind where the camera is. A lamp will work, but daylight from a nearby windows will always be better.

What tricks do you have to get the most out of Skype?