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Solwise HomePlug Ethernet PL-85PE Review

Back in February, I had the opportunity to look at the Devolo Microlink dLAN 85Mbit Ethernet over power system. I really liked this, although it was a little on the pricey side. That’s why today, I’m looking at an almost identical setup for half the price.


Both the Devolo kit and this kit from solwise.co.uk are based on the same HomePlug technology from Intellon. This Ethernet over power technology is becoming increasingly popular, and rightly so.


There are two key methods employed when trying to network a household – wireless or wired. Wireless can be problematic, has limited speed, reliability and security issues. Wired is faster, reliable but more time consuming to setup as it involves cabling. Personally, I think the technologies go hand in hand well – they aren’t by any means mutually exclusive. I run a wired network at home as I do quite a few file transfers, and then I have wireless access which can come in handy for working from unusual places.


Ethernet over power gives you the best of both worlds. It’s just as reliable as true cabling, has a decent turn of speed, is inherently more secure than wireless and a lot simpler to set up. Imagine being able to turn ”’any”’ power outlet in your house into a network port.


Each module is sold separately, and you’ll need at least two to get started. They plug into the power outlet, and then take a standard Ethernet patch cable with an RJ45 plug. Unlike the bright blue Devolo kit, these are black, and therefore look a little less out of place. Sure, you’re probably not going to get anyone asking what the hell it is, but it’s subtle and less decor obtrusive. Besides, if you like showing off your technology, you are probably adept at bringing the conversation around to you – right?


One unit plugs into a power outlet near your router and then an Ethernet cable connects them. Now, using the second unit, you place this anywhere in your household (even on extension cables) and then just connect your machine to it using another Ethernet cable. It doesn’t really get much simpler than this.


There is software included that allows you to set up encryption, should you need it. This is only an issue if you are worried that someone is going to break in to your house and plug in a module of their own. It’s almost identical to the Devolo software, which is in turn just the software written by Intellon. Devolo at least made the effort to rebadge it, while Solwise has left it at default.


What was most interesting, was that the Devolo kit worked using the same software that was distributed with the Solwise kit. I’m unsure if the driving electronics are all the same, or just the central chip, but this shows exactly how similar the kit is. A little disappointing really, I was quite hoping that these might be different.



In many ways, testing this device could be considered a waste of time – especially considering it is almost identical to the previously tested Devolo kit. However, you never know what surprises await you. An unpublicised firmware revision can sometimes make huge differences, so it’s always worth a second test. These units are rated for 85Mbps, but can they actually do this?


We tried to replicate the testing scenario we used for the Devolo kit as best as we could. This involved two Centrino based notebooks and the open source tool Iometer. Despite our best efforts, the Solwise kit was consistently faster than the Devolo, at 6Mbyte/sec, which is 48Mbit/sec. This is considerably better than the previous 30Mbit/sec seen on the Devolo, but it did fluctuate by up to 10Mbit/sec.


This confused me somewhat, so I hunted out the Devolo kit to test once more. I literally swapped the units straight out and the results were identical – 48Mbit/sec. This is testament to the variable nature of Ethernet over power technology. We have a lot of equipment running in our office, and all it takes is one unit to cause interference to lower speeds. Naturally, I’m going to blame Benny since he wasn’t present for the second round of testing.


At the end of the day, even a drop from 48Mbit/sec to 30Mbit/sec, although fairly substantial – is more than enough for both Internet use, as well as file sharing and more consistent that you are likely to get from wireless. That’s not mentioning the 200m range, which is pretty much any outlet in your household.


”’Verdict”’


It’s the Devolo MicroLink dLAN kit, but in a black box. Upon looking at Amazon, The Devolo kit has actually dropped in price considerably too, making the difference between the two products minimal. Quite honestly, the only deciding factor between these and the Devolo units, is colour and price. I personally think the units look better in black, but others might disagree. As far as price, this fluctuates all the time, so keep a look out. Right now, there is very little in it, with the Solwise kit available from its website for £39.19 (per unit).

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