- Review Price: £129.37
The proliferation of broadband across the UK, and indeed the world, has led to more and more households creating a home network to share that high bandwidth goodness. Of course, most people aren’t prepared to make the effort to run Ethernet cable throughout their house so have looked to Wi-Fi to do the business instead. However, what a lot of people have found – myself included – is that wireless just doesn’t cut it for anything more than casually browsing the web. The combination of thick brick walls, interference from other devices, and an inherent limited range make it far too unreliable and slow. Luckily there is an alternative, Ethernet over power (EOP).
EOP has been around for a while but is still relatively unknown. It uses your home’s existing power cables to carry the network signals. It’s faster, more reliable, and more secure, than wireless and, of course, requires no rewiring – it really is a revolutionary technology. It will never replace wireless, as the ability to roam around your house with a laptop will always have its appeal, but if you live in a large house it is a very easy way of connecting the furthest parts of your home.
We’ve looked at several EOP kits before, like the Solwise HomePlug Ethernet PL-85PE and the Panasonic HD-PLC Power Line Network and have been impressed by all of them but today I’m looking at the Netgear HDXB101, the fastest rated version we’ve yet to come across, claiming to support up to 200Mbps.
The kit provides a complete solution for setting up your EOP network, including two HDX101 adapters, a pair of Ethernet cables, installation guide, and, setup CD.
The adapters themselves are very elegant with a white finish that merges nicely with the white of most power sockets. These are certainly the most attractive EOP units I’ve seen, though, just to prove that looks are a very subjective thing, Riyad thought they were decidedly ugly – there’s no accounting for taste is there.
At 98 x 72 x 64mm the units are rather large and you will find you cannot fit them adjacent to another plug in a multi plug extension. Not only are they large, they also have a strange quirk whereby the unit is not raised above a standard socket switch so, by plugging them in, you switch the socket on. This isn’t a huge problem but it does seem slightly odd.
With any device that is fitted into a plug, its size and shape and the position of its features will either work for you or not, depending on what socket arrangement you have in your home. For instance the Solwise kit has the network sockets on the bottom of the unit where, if your power sockets are low down on a wall, the network cable may interfere with the floor. Netgear have put the network sockets on the right edge of the HDX101 adapters. Therefore you should consider where you’re planning to place these units before you buy them. To prevent any of these problems, Panasonic kit uses a cable to connect the adapters to a standard size plug. This is a clever way of dealing with the problem but it does mean even more cable mess.
On the front of the adapters are three LEDs that, from left to right, indicate power, EOP connection, and Ethernet connection. Setting the kit up is as simple as plugging the two units in and connecting them to your existing network – one into a PC or notebook and the other into the switch, hub or router. Once correctly connected the first two LEDs will be lit and the third will flash along with network activity.
It’s worth pointing out that, though these units are rated at 200Mbps this is actually somewhat misleading. The chip inside and the connecter are standard 100Mbps Fast Ethernet components. Under optimal conditions Fast Ethernet can operate in full duplex mode, which is sometimes referred to as 200Mbps, – the same way that DDR memory chips are referred to as their maximum speed rather than the actual MHz. Netgear has clearly gone with the larger figure for marketing purposes, which is a bit sneaky.
To test the kit’s performance we used two laptops connected through a 100Mbps router, with the EOP in-between one laptop and the router – exactly as the manual suggests. Measurements were taken using the open source tool, Iometer.
The Netgear set attained a speed of 58Mbps, which is indeed fast enough to stream a full HD movie with plenty of headroom for Internet browsing, gaming, and other miscellaneous network activity. However, it would be interesting to see how well performance scales when you use several units on the same network.
Netgear bundles the HDXB101 with a configuration utility that enables you to password protect your network – useful if you share a building – and adjust quality-of-service (QoS) settings. You can prioritise UDP or TCP traffic, or individual programs. This is great for ensuring your favourite online game is not choked by someone downloading their latest podcast, for instance.
Lots of factors affect the bandwidth you may obtain with Powerline technology. Bad quality wiring, interference from other electronics, and the use of extensions will all adversely affect your overall speed. Even so, the majority of households will be covered by the HDXB101.
The HDXB101 is the fastest EOP kit we’ve ever tested though it loses points for being nowhere near the maximum speed and for misleading punters by suggesting it can do 200Mbps On the upside, setup is very simple, and the units look very elegant. However, neither of these really make up for the fact that this kit is £30 more expensive than the Panasonic kit, which is only slightly slower and offers more features and flexibility.
Score in detail
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