Power Line Communication - Which hardware?
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Zyxel PLA401 Homeplug Ethernet adapter
The PLA401 is a 200Mbps adapter that conforms to the Homeplug standard. On the plus side, these are simple to set up, being as plug and play as the manufacturer claims. They also have built-in network security. On the down side, performance has seldom been shown to approach the claimed data transfer rate of 200Mbps. In tests, around 40Mbps sustained transfer turned out to be more realistic, although since this is significantly higher than many wireless networks (whose advocates also tend to claim exaggerated transfer rates), this is still not unimpressive.
This is a relatively expensive unit (they go for around $60 each on eBay), but it still represents good, or at least comparable, value compared with setting up a wireless network from scratch, and represents a major saving on the trouble and expense of installing a house-wide Ethernet LAN.
D-Link DHP300 PowerLine HD Ethernet adapter
D-Link's PowerLine-based DHP300 is also a 200Mbps adapter with the benefit of a relatively attractive design at a slightly lower price than the PLA401s reviewed above. For Windows users, the adapter comes supplied with data encryption and data prioritization utilities; users of other systems will just have to accept a degree of security risk. Installation is also a big plus, being truly as simple as plug and play.
The major criticism to be made of this adapter is its slightly sub-par performance. No 200Mbps adapter actually meets this standard in real-world use, but the DHP300 was slightly worse than some. We also had reservations about the adapter's physical size. Bulky enough to require a double socket all to itself, it could prove awkward to use in tight spots.
So, is it worth it?
If you're starting out from scratch building a home network, or you already have a wireless network that isn't working well, PLC is well worth some consideration. With the falling price and increasing availability of the hardware, it is likely to become a more widespread option in the future.
However, for those who already have stable and functioning wireless networks, there's unlikely to be any significant advantage to be gained from a switch to PLC. An increase in speed is a possibility, but PLC device speeds are somewhat variable depending on the individual circumstances in which they are operating, so you could find yourself no better off.
If you do decide to go this way, keep your receipts and be prepared to try a number of different devices to locate the ones that work best under the conditions at your particular location. On the other hand, for anyone needing guaranteed Ethernet speed and reliability, PCL isn't really an option. Such people will just have to bite the bullet, get up in the attic and start laying those cables.
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