A technology that’s been running below the radar solved one of my networking problems in 3 easy steps: 1) buy it, 2) plug it in and 3) turn it on. The Netgear Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter is a truly plug and play device and is a cost effective solution for those who can’t hardwire or don’t want to deal with the vagaries of WiFi.
The challenge that led me to this solution was my recent purchase of a Windows Media Center Extender from Linksys. I bought it for the DVR capabilities without having to pay a monthly fee to Comcast or Tivo. Unfortunately, I ignored the product specs which suggested an 802.11N network and used my 802.11G setup. It worked somewhat, but my streaming video from the PC tuner would sometimes freeze, with an error warning of network issues. Using the Media Center diagnostics, it was clear that I had a bandwidth issue.
The best solution would have been a direct cable connection between my router and the extender. I had to rule this out, because it would have meant running a cable from my second floor office to the family room on the first floor. Quite frankly, I wasn’t interested in poking holes in the floor and ceiling.
The obvious answer would have been to upgrade the network to 802.11N. However, after I dug into the costs, it was more than I wanted to pay. Not only would I have had to buy a new router, I would need to upgrade my other wifi devices to the N standard. After doing some research on powerline Ethernet, I decided to purchase the Netgear XAVB101.
The package included 2 powerline Ethernet adapters, 2 ethernet cables , a CD and installation guide.
* Turns any electrical power outlet into an Ethernet network connection
* Delivers fast 200 Mbps speed
* Secure your Powerline AV network by just pushing a button
* For use with both wired and wireless routers and gateways
* Simply plug one XAV101 into your router and another XAV101 into any Ethernet-ready device
After opening the box, I wanted to see how easy the setup really was, so I followed the instructions on the side panel, which directed me to plug one of the adapters into an electrical outlet near my router and the other adapter into an outlet near the device I needed to connect. I then connected the ether net cables between the adapters and their respective devices and in a matter of minutes my media center was recognized on my local area network and connected to the computer. At this point I was effectively done, however, I decided to see what the buttons and CD were for, so I read the manual.
The included CD contains a configuration utility that allows you see details of all the adapters on the network. It displays information such as link rate, MAC address, firmware and allows you to set your own encryption key for the units. There is also the ability to generate a new encryption scheme via the buttons on the units. I could only see the need for this if you were using the units in an apartment house and others had a similar setup. Then it would be conceivable that they could tap into your powerline network. As I live in a private house, unless someone plugs their powerline unit into one of my outlets, I am perfectly secure.
Even if you don’t use the configuration utility, there are 3 indicator leds on the unit that give you quite a bit of information. Most important is the center led which is Green for a link rate < 80Mbs, Orange for between > 50 and < 80 Mbps and Red for < 50 Mbps. The other 2 indicate power and a working connection. Personally, after a month of use I tired of the blinking leds and using the configuration utility I was able to turn them off.
Now that I’ve been using these devices for several hours a day, for over a month, I have made some discoveries that may affect some people’s decision to go this route. Firstly, if you’re unfamiliar with the powerline technology, I suggest you look up the details on the web. Simply, it’s a process where Ethernet data is converted to signals that are superimposed on the 60 Hz power available via your AC outlets. Given that there are multiple power outlets in a home, it makes setting up a network very flexible.
There are some caveats though. The signal quality is dependent upon the distance of wire between the units. The specs say these devices work for up to a 5,000 sq ft house. Also, electrical noise affects the link speed. I noticed that when we were running the clothes washer the links speed led would change from green to orange, indicating a lower speed. This did not have any effect on my streaming video, but should be noted. I wouldn’t use this setup in a machine shop or commercial office with many copiers and printers. Another factor to consider is, are the outlets on the same phase of the power from the breaker panel. I’ve read on several forums that this could be a problem, which I didn’t personally observe. Are you planning to add additional units in the future? Unfortunately the powerline standards are not always compatible. This unit is Homeplug AV compatible, but not backward compatible with Homeplug 1 and 2. If you are going to add additional adapters, you’ll need to get Homeplug AV compatible units.
The only problem I had with the installation was the configuration utility. It would not run under Vista, even though it is supposed to be compatible. This wasn’t a show stopper and I just installed it on one of my XP machines. You should also be aware that while the hardware is OS impartial, the configuration software doesn’t run under Mac or Linux.
This is truly a plug and play solution for extending a home network. If you’re concerned about any of the caveats I mentioned, do as I did. Buy it at a big box store with a liberal return policy. And the $129 MSRP, for the pair, is cost effective when looking at the alternatives. Additional individual units would be less.