I'm in almost exactly the same position as you, including an almost identical system, except that my connection is even slower because I'm so rural that I have to go through 2 - count 'em - 2 phone companies to get to my ISP.
My solutions have been twofold:
1. Sometimes I go to the library, which does
have high speed, and download directly to my external HD. Most libraries have a policy of not allowing downloads, but since it's a small library and they know that I'm not DLing to their computer, they have no problem with it.
2. I use Free Download Manager
, which doesn't speed up my downloads noticeably but does allow for a bunch of different and useful options. I have my dialup connection set to never disconnect or, if it accidentally disconnects, to redial almost immediately. Just before going to bed, I set FDM to automatically download everything in the list, as well as set it to do only 1 download at a time. So, as one finishes, FDM moves on to the next.
And no, it's not spyware. However, I can't surf the internet while it's downloading, which is why I mostly use it at night.
Hope this helps!