Power line communication (PLC) technology has improved considerably since the first HomePlug standard was released in 2001. From a paltry 14Mb/s half-duplex, the latest standard, HomePlug AV, now sits at a comfortable 200Mb/s HD.
In essence, HomePlug devices allow you to transmit digital signals over the electrical wiring in your house, making it a bit of a compromise between cabled and wireless networking.
NETGEAR’s newest HomePlug AV-compliant product is the HDXB101, a set of block-shaped plugs that connect directly to a power socket and act as Ethernet bridges. Included in the bundle is a configuration utility that makes use of packet capturing software WinPcap, and while it’s a crude method, it allows you to set QoS and passwords, as well as update the firmware on the bridges.
The first thing you’ll notice about the HDXB101 plugs is that they’re monstrous. Your average dual-socket wall plate will be completely commandeered by one of these things, and power boards aren’t much of a compromise seeing as they can degrade the signal between units. The quality of your home’s electrical wiring will also play a crucial role.
For our tests, we connected one HomePlug to an ADSL2+ router/switch, and the other to a PC on the same network. We then ran NetCPS to check average speeds, and ping for stability and latency. We also updated both units to the latest firmware.
The NETGEAR utility reported varying Tx and Rx speeds, but averaged 150Mb/s for both. It turns out these values were incredibly optimistic.
Over a direct Ethernet connection at full-duplex, NetCPS gave 11.05MB/s average, only a little shy of the theoretical 12.5MB/s. The HDX threw out a sad 2.27MB/s, well short of the advertised 200Mb/s (which is impossible over a 100Mb/s connection anyway) and closer to 18Mb/s. A two-way NetCPS reduced these speeds to 9.61MB/s and 1.68MB/s respectively.
The ping tests returned, unsurprisingly, a consistent <1ms response over direct Ethernet while the HDX averaged 3ms with spurts of up to 16ms. Neither connection had dropped packets.
With these results, we can’t recommend the HDXB101 to anyone who wants to stream HD content, as the speeds just aren’t there. Although the latency spurts are minor, we also can’t recommend them to anyone playing online games. For browsing the web, they’re fine, but that’s about all they’re good for.
This Review appeared in the September, 2007 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
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