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Updated: 9/21/2010: Corrected Plaster Networks performance comment

The HomePlug AV products tested

The last time we did a good look at HomePlug products was back in 2006 (!) with a roundup of HomePlug Turbo products. Turbo was a stop-gap meant to hold the fort against DS2's incompatible, but speedier 200 Mbps powerline networking technology while HomePlug AV languished.

Turbo products were usually advertisted as "85 Mbps" (vs. the original HomePlug's 14 Mbps) and delivered about 20 Mbps of maximum real throughput, which faded to 10 Mbps or so once you had to span rooms.

HomePlug AV kicked things up a big notch with a "200 Mbps" advertised speed. I found a best case 60 Mbps speed with simultaneous transmit and receive streams when I tested a pair of ZyXEL PLA-400s back in 2007 using a first-generation Intellon HomePlug AV chipset. So let's see if anything has changed in the past three years.

This roundup includes five HomePlug AV products as shown in Table 1. Four of the products are kits of two adapters, which is how most folks will buy HomePlug. Plaster Networks supplied one each of the two flavors of adapter they make—more about Plaster Networks in a bit.

Product Chipset AC Operating Voltage Reset Button Security Button Price
Cisco Linksys PLK300 Atheros INT6300 100 - 240 Yes Yes $120
Plaster Networks PLN3 / AV200 Atheros INT6400 / INT1400 100 - 240 Yes / Yes No / Yes $90 / $65
NETGEAR XAVB2001 Atheros INT6400 / INT1400 100 - 240 Yes Yes $119
NETGEAR XAVB2501 Atheros INT6400 / INT1400 100 - 125 Yes Yes $135
TRENDnet TPL-303E2K Atheros INT6400 / INT1400 100 - 240 Yes Yes $80
Table 1: The Products

I didn't include any DS2 / UPA based products in this roundup because it looked to me like networking manufacturers were finally circling the wagons around HomePlug with their latest generation products. I wasn't quite sure why until I saw this news that posted as I was writing this article.

I also asked ZyXEL for a pair of their HomePlug AV adapters, but never heard back. I didn't ask D-Link because I didn't see any HomePlug AV compatible adapters. It looks like they added the DHP-307AV kit since I looked, though. Oh well.

All of the products are rated for 100 - 240 VAC operation except the XAV2501, which is 100 - 125 VAC. All have pushbuttons for reset-to-factory-defaults and changing the default security code except for the Plaster PLN3, which provides these features via a web interface (the only product to have one).

Ethernet ports are all 10/100 Mbps and Indicator lights are provided for power, Ethernet link / activity and Powerline Link / Activity on all adapters, except for the Plaster PLN., It has Ethernet link / activity lights for each of its two Ethernet ports. Finally, all adapters use Atheros / Intellon's 3rd generation INT6400 / INT1400 chipset except the Cisco adapters, which use the second-generation single-chip INT6300.

Products Briefly

Cisco's Linksys PLK300 (Figure 1) bundles a PLE300 single 10/100 port adapter with a PLS300 switched 10/100 four port adapter. This kit is the only one in the roundup with desktop format adapters. The opening photo shows the relative size of the adapters, which are about the size of a 3.5" hard drive.

Cisco Linksys PLK300 Powerline Adapter Kit

Figure 1: Cisco Linksys PLK300 Powerline Adapter Kit

Figure 2 shows the Plaster Networks PLN3. Plaster is a California startup that began shipping product last fall to installers and service providers and recently made its two adapters available via Amazon.

Plaster Networks PLN3 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter

Figure 2: Plaster Networks PLN3 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter

Plaster's value-add is a network processor in its PL3 that provides browser-based administration for your local network and access to an optional ($30 / year, first year free for products purchased by 12/31/2010) web portal for management and adminstration of larger powerline networks.

You need only one PL3 per network (home) to report back to the mother ship and you use Plaster AV200 models to save $20 per node and build out your powerline network.

NETGEAR's XAVB2001 Powerline AV 200 Ultra Adapter Kit (Figure 3) bundles two XAV2001 adapters. The wall-wart adapter is the smallest in the roundup.

NETGEAR XAVB2001 Powerline AV 200 Ultra Adapter Kit

Figure 3: NETGEAR XAVB2001 Powerline AV 200 Ultra Adapter Kit

I asked NETGEAR to also send its XAVB2501 Powerline AV+ 200 Ultra Adapter Kit (Figure 4) with two XAV2501 adapters because I wanted to see how effective the built-in filtered socket was. The filter is supposed to keep the noise from things like cell phone chargers, plasma TVs and other powerline noisemakers from knocking down throughput.

Apparently the filtering takes a bit of real estate, since the XAV2501 is the largest adapter in the group. The XAV2501's are also the only wall-wart format adapters in the group to have a three-prong plug.

NETGEAR XAVB2501 Powerline AV+ 200 Ultra Adapter Kit

Figure 4: NETGEAR XAVB2501 Powerline AV+ 200 Ultra Adapter Kit

I asked TRENDnet to submit its TPL-303E2K 200Mbps Powerline AV Adapter Kit (Figure 5) because I wanted to see if the $40 extra the other guys charge for their kits buys better performance. The TPL-303E adapter is slightly larger than the NETGEAR XAV2001.

TRENDnet TPL-303E2K 200Mbps Powerline AV Adapter Kit

Figure 5: TRENDnet TPL-303E2K 200Mbps Powerline AV Adapter Kit

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