If you’ve installed a wireless network and not had any problems with coverage or speed, you’re lucky. Dividing walls and multiple floors can prove a real challenge for 802.11b/g wireless, especially once you start looking at media streaming or moving big files reliably around the network. Power-line networking is nothing new, but the increasing interest in streaming media has given it new impetus. With the mains wiring in your house already relatively robust and neatly integrated, it could be just the answer you’re looking for.
At just over 7cm wide you’ll have to plan where you plug them lest they block essential, existing sockets. But once installed in our Sydney Federation house it only took seconds before Windows told us we had an operational network functioning.
We measured real-world speed by copying a 111MB, 1080p WMV film clip from one PC to our Media Center PC, two rooms away. This took 1min 57secs (7.6Mb/s). A 106MB collection of 51 of photos took 2mins 9secs (6.6Mb/s) while 100MB of small files took 5mins 30secs (2.4Mb/s). It’s all some way off 200Mb/s but this is only achievable under laboratory conditions (in a similar way that Wi-Fi throughput claims are wildly optimistic). In reality, much will depend on the quality and amount of your home’s wiring and interference from other consumer electronics, like microwaves.
Nonetheless, it provided a useful Internet connection to an otherwise isolated Media Center PC, and file transfers weren’t too laborious. The next thing we tried was streaming video from our A-Listed Maxtor NAS box to the Media Center. Unsurprisingly, it couldn’t manage a 30Mb/s uncompressed AVI file, though it did manage to stream our 1080p WMV file at 8.4Mb/s despite a choppy start. Unfortunately, it was unable to stream a DVD movie without choppiness.
NETGEAR recommends not using its adapters on power boards but when we tested the performance hit was very minor. And don’t worry about neighbours hacking into your network as the signal won’t go past your electricity meter.
Previous power line networking adapters have proved cripplingly slow for file transfers but have nonetheless allowed Internet use and basic networking on isolated computers. Things haven’t advanced massively, but if wireless isn’t working for you then these could prove to be a good bet, bearing in mind that performance is variable. At $328 for two they’re not cheap and additional single units (part code: HDX101) cost around $170 each.
Overall, it’s a decent last resort for networking PCs and media extenders, but it needs better performance at a lower price before wide-scale acceptance.
This Review appeared in the May, 2007 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
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