|At a Glance|
|Summary||An improvement over HomePlug 1.0, but buyers could feel duped due to unusually large difference between the advertisted "85Mbps" and real performance.|
|Pros||• 4X maximum real throughput of HomePlug 1.0 products
• Variety of form factors available
|Cons||• 10Mbps is what you're most likely to get
• Need Windows machine to set security code and access diagnostics
• 2X price premium vs. HomePlug 1.0
HomePlug technology never quite made it as a mainstream networking technology in the U.S., mainly because it was pushed to the back of the "alternative" (to Ethernet) networking technology pack by cheaper and faster wireless LAN products. Instead, it found an more appreciative audience in Europe and with companies like Corinex that have used it to wire hotels, apartment buildings and other multi-dwelling units (MDUs) for Internet access.
One of the key things holding HomePlug 1.0 (the current version) back has been its best-case 5 Mbps application-level throughput. Although this speed is just fine for networking broadband Internet connections around a home for web browsing and email, it's way too slow for handling heavy local activity such as large file transfers, and barely adequate for video streaming.
Since the high speed version - HomePlug AV - has been just around the corner for about three years now, the big dog of HomePlug chipmakers - Intellon - needed something to respond to the IPTV service providers hammering on them for a solution that could reliably supply the 5 Mbps or so needed to support one of their video streams. What they came up with is HomePlug "Turbo" (officially dubbed HomePlug 1.0 with Turbo) technology, which was introduced at last year's CES 2005, with retail devices finally starting shipments around the end of last year.
Intellon specs HomePlug Turbo's maximum raw data rate at 85Mbps vs. plain ol' HomePlug 1.0's 14Mbps. This potential 6X throughput improvement could expand HomePlug's usefulness beyond networking basic Internet connectivity, and support Intellon's goal of handling IPTV streams. So I sent out a call for HomePlug Turbo adapters and ended up with products from Actiontec, NETGEAR and SMC to put to the test.
Actiontec's "MegaPlug" line actually comes in three flavors: single Ethernet, four port "hub" (actually a switch) and a 802.11b/g wireless extender. I opted to test only the two wired models, since the wireless wasn't available at the time of review.
The HPE100T Ethernet adapter is about the size of two stacked decks of playing cards and plugs directly into a wall outlet. The plug blades are not polarized, so you can orient the adapter as your needs dictate. The single 10/100 Ethernet jack is on the bottom of the adapter and Power and Ethernet Link lights adorn the front panel.
The 4-Port "hub" version is about the size of a slim paperback novel with very tiny lights on the front panel for Power, HP (HomePlug connectivity), and Link/Activity lights for the four 10/100 switched Ethernet ports on the back. It connects to the wall with a supplied line cord.
The NETGEAR XE104 has the best design of the bunch, providing both a wall-wart form factor and four port 10/100 switch in a compact, cleanly-designed case. Front panel indicators include Power and separate Link/Activity lights for HomePlug and Ethernet. Like the Actiontec HPE100T, the XE104's power plug blades are not polarized.
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For the SMCHT-ETH, just visualize a version of the Actiontec "hub", but with a single 10/100 Ethernet port and a different indicator light arrangement on the front panel that has only one Ethernet Link/Activity indicator.
Note that all of these devices are designed as bridges. So regardless of the number of Ethernet ports they have, they'll support connection of up to 253 clients. All Ethernet ports also have auto MDI / MDI-X capability built in, so you can connect any Ethernet device you like without having to find a crossover cable.