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Having slumbered in the doldrums for a few years HomePlug technology is enjoying something of a renaissance with a number of vendors recently releasing compliant products. The Solwise HomePlug Ethernet PL-85PE kit impressed us, as although we felt it was a little pricey it did offer good overall performance. Develo delivered a remarkably similar solution a few months earlier with its Microlink dLan plugs offering the same feature set and a theoretical top speed of 85Mbit/sec. With the dLan 200 AVdesk products Devolo raises the bar as these support the latest HomePlug AV specification which claims to deliver a top speed of 200Mbit/sec.
At their foundation all HomePlug products aim to provide a discrete way of networking your PCs and that is their key selling point. Essentially, they hitch a ride on your premises’ existing electrical cabling to create an Ethernet network – no fuss and virtually no wires. They compete strongly with wireless networks and can be a better choice in environments where building structures interfere with reception. Security is also a key feature of the AVdesk products as these video cassette sized slabs of plastic automatically implement 128-bit AES encryption on all traffic passing between each unit. You can also set each one up so it can only communicate with specific AVdesk units allowing you to create a closed network.
The kit comes with a couple of units and installation starts by plugging them in and attaching a PC or notebook to them via the supplied Ethernet cables. A configuration wizard has to be run on each system where it requests a password to be used for encryption. Next you create a list of all authorised units by adding their security codes to a list. You run this on each system and then you’re ready to go. So far, so good but it would have been useful if Devolo bothered to provide more information in its manual about IP address assignments. Without a DHCP server on the HomePlug network you’ll have to provide each system with a static IP address and all in the same subnet otherwise they can’t communicate with each other for standard Windows networking functions.
One scenario Devolo suggests is to use one AVdesk unit attached to your broadband router where it can then make the unit’s DHCP server available. However, before you can connect it to the router you need to plug it into a PC and set it up to work with your other units. Once you’ve done this the unit can then be swapped over to the router where we found it worked fine with our other test client - IP addresses were dished out readily and Internet access was ours for the taking.