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Netgear Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter Review

on March 20, 2009 1:19 pm

netgear-powerlineav-fp

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.

Features
*    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.

Installed in 2 steps

Installed in 2 steps

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.

netgear-powerlineav-3

Click thumbnail for full-size image

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.

 

Product Information

Price:$129.00
Manufacturer:Netgear
Pros:
  • Fast speed
  • Easy setup
Cons:
  • Configuration software wouldn't run on Vista

Comments

  1. 1
    Steve says:

    Bill,
    I have run into exactly the same issue as you having just purchased a linksys extender that provides at best choppy video over my wireless connection. I was looking into this tech too (I don’t remember which product), but didn’t buy it in the end because the box didn’t specify how it could attach to a switcher or router. How does this play with network switches and/or routers with internal ethernet switches?

  2. 2
    Jackie says:

    hehe..cool…I carry those in my store. Works great with all the customers I recommend them to.

  3. 3
    Bri@n says:

    @ Jackie:

    Any issues with compatibility across platforms? XP–>OSX?

  4. 4
    Bill says:

    I don’t have a MAC, but it shouldn’t be an issue. It just replaces your cable. Come to think of it, my media center extender runs linux and it is the reason I bought the powerline kit.

    Remember, the configuration utility is Windows only. You don’t need it though.

    Bill

  5. 5
    Jackie says:

    @ Bri@n:

    No problems with it between XP and OSX. The only thing I suggest is that these powerline units works best if both ends (router side and pc side) are on the same circuit breaker panel. If you have a huge house with multiple panels then it might not work since the signal always have a hard time jumping the panels. That’s the only issue we found with our customers that has a multi-panel house.

    We also sell the Logitech / wilife powerline security camera system which works just the same as these units.

    Powerline technology is a nice step forward for people with older houses that aren’t wired in every room. I’m sure they will improve on the speed and compression of the data stream in the future.

  6. 6
    Bill says:

    Steve,

    It is hooked up to my wireless router via one of the 4 ethernet ports. I also was a little skeptical. That’s why I bought it at a store with a good return policy. I’m very happy with the results and the choppy video is history. Just watched a recorded episode of HOUSE. Not a stumble or dropped pixel.

  7. 7
    Bruce says:

    I have 4 of them. They don’t stream very well for me and I live in an 1,800 sq ft home built in 2006. They certainly don’t stream HD video. Mine don’t get more than 38 Mbps.

  8. 8
    Steve says:

    Bill,

    Great. Off to the shops I go.

    Steve

  9. 9
    Bill says:

    Bruce,

    I have a 2,800 sq ft home built in 1974 and as you can see from the screen shot, I’m getting very good throughput. Have you tried using different outlets? It is curious.

  10. 10
    Jackie says:

    @ Bruce:

    Remember to plug it directly into the wall outlet. DO NOT plug into a surge protector or UPS because those will degrade the signal. And the UPS will try to filter out the “noise” aka the data stream.

  11. 11
    Shkermaker says:

    I have tried these before – they dont work if the circuits are different levels of the house. Dont know if this is the same situation for the US but its a killer in the UK where upstairs and downstairs are on a different ring main

  12. 12
    wivenhoe says:

    Strange, I live in the uk and have these devices upstairs and down (separate ring mains) and never had a problem.

    Signal should simply pass upto the consumer unit (main fuse box) and effectively pass onto the other ring mains.

    This has been such a good solution for me, that family and friends also use these devices and yes they work across both floors for them as well.

  13. 13
    Shkermaker says:

    @wivenhoe

    Didnt say they dont work at all, just not very good. Got them off amazon and tried 3 different manufacturers (Linksys, Netgear and Poweline(?) ) but they run at lower speeds if they are on different levels. If i used them on the same level, they worked excellent but they are absolutely useless for streaming as they only work at max 4mbps. For normal internet usage, this is ok since most ISPs (bar Virgin) in the UK dont offer much higher than this speed and it would not be noticeable.

    So, if you only want them for Internet browsing or gaming – would seriously consider them, but they are very poor for streaming music or video

  14. 14
    Bill says:

    Shkermaker,

    Are your units Homeplug AV compatible, as the units I reviewed? Theoretically, max throughput is 200Mbps. However, if your units are Homeplug 1 or 2 compatible units the throughput is much lower. Also, there are several non-standard powerline adapters that have varying throughput rates. Panasonic comes to mind.

  15. 15
    Shkermaker says:

    @Bill,

    Yeah, the linksys ones i had were but they just wouldnt give me the speed necessary to stream HD movies from my Mac upstairs to my Apple TV downstairs. I ended up just getting a mac mini :-)

  16. 16
    wivenhoe says:

    Shkermaker

    I suppose nothing is ever straightforward, I stream 720p H264 encoded films from my nas downstairs via a netgear plug to another netgear plug upstairs connected to a d-link media player etc.

    I must admit that 1080p does start to stutter, but in my case I don’t think that I can get the data out fast enough from the nas.

    Also the state of wiring in my house may well be different (house is 10yrs old), the netgear config tool shows above 114Mbs as the lowest value on the 4 devices I have, but has shown lower values when other devices are using the electrical circuits, especially washing machine?

    In my situation they seem to work, so I’ll touch some wood and not complain about the 1080p issue.

  17. 17
    Kevin K. says:

    I just bought this kit and it works out of the box in my house though I’ve only placed them on the second floor so far. The throughput was easily comparable to what I’d expect from a CAT-5 cable directly strung down the hall and a lot better than what we have been getting on Wi-Fi.

    A couple of issues though:

    1) The RF interference from the one in my office (the one that’s connected to my router) is pretty bad especially on AM and shortwave. Renders my shortwave receivers almost useless such that I’ll have to use them in a different room from now on.

    2) An additional unit can’t simply be plugged into the wall and connect. I had to have an actual device plugged in before it would even turn on. I used a laptop. I was hoping I could plug it in, connect it to the network via the security button on the unit or via the configuration utility but the additional units were not seen at all until I ALSO plugged a device into them.

    3) The set up for additional units was not completely plug and play as the “push the button on one for two seconds and the button on the other one for two seconds within 2 minutes” did not work for one unit after two or three tries. It finally connected on the 4th try. After that, the throughput was fine with no drop outs.

    Other than these issues, I’ve got two computers, one XBox and one DirecTV receiver hooked up just fine.

  18. 18
    PLC-Geek says:

    Based on the commonly advertised throughputs of most PLC adapters, they mentioned that the PLC adapters can goes up to 200Mbps (throughput), but in reality (put into real usage) the throughput could hardly reach 1/2 the theoretical limits of 200Mbps. This is due to the technology or innovation of PLC is not perfected yet, until recently Cal-Lab may have found the answers to his decade long issues on most PLC performance throughput. With the Cal-Lab innovation i.e. add-on to the existing plc adapters, it acts as a booster to boost up the throughput to 150Mbps! We have tested it in actual usage (not lab test, actual testing done in the normal office environment). Even though with noises induced into the powerline, appliances like hair drier, vacuum cleaner, power drill, hand phone charger turn on at the same time; the throughput would remains quite constant at around 150Mbps! This add on to the existing powerline adapter will also act as a lightning isolator (indirect surges from the lightning), where many said is not possible. Check it out, this innovation may one day flourish the PLC adapters usage worldwide.

    Cheers & Merry Christmas to all!

  19. 19
    KevinA says:

    I have a similar problem to that discussed…a need for in-home connectivity where wireless and running an ethernet cable are not viable solutions. I am considering the Netgear Powerline AV Ethernet solution. My concern is I know that my router and the DVR device I would like to connect are on different power circuits (to Jackie’s comment, I have a one power panel home). Can anyone confirm that this product will work across the two circuits? Thanks!

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