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The HomePlug AV 500 products tested

There finally seems to be more interest in powerline networking from folks here in the U.S. As with all things networking, everyone likes bigger numbers (oooh! Bigger!). So buyers are bypassing the more mature 200 Mbps HomePlug AV adapters, a group of which we reviewed last year, for the newer 500 Mbps models.

I've previously reviewed NETGEAR's XAVB5001 and TRENDnet's TPL-401E2K 500 Mbps adapter kits. I'll be testing three more products that have appeared since then and gathering all the data into one place for easy comparison.

500 Mbps Powerline Technology

All the products in this roundup use Qualcomm Atheros' AR1500/AR7400 chipset. (The AR1500 is an Analog Front End, the AR7400 a MAC/Phy/Controller.) 500 Mbps powerline achieves its higher bandwidth primarily by using a wider spectrum (2 to 68 MHz) than the 2 to 30 MHz spectrum that standard HomePlug AV uses (Figure 1).

HomePlug AV Frequency Use

Figure 1: HomePlug AV Frequency Use

At any rate, as we've all learned the hard way, maximum link rates touted by networking product manufacturers bear little resemblance to actual usable throughput. And to cut to the chase, Qualcomm Atheros' "500 Mbps" technology is no exception, especially when handing data between a single pair of clients.

Qualcomm Atheros AR7400/AR1500 block diagram

Figure 2: Qualcomm Atheros AR7400/AR1500 block diagram

The HomePlug Alliance doesn't have an official 500 Mbps device spec. Qualcomm Atheros' technology is an unofficial extension of the HomePlug AV (200 Mbps) spec, much like Intellon's 85 Mbps "Turbo" technology was an extension of the original HomePlug 1.0. So, for lack of a better (or standard) term, I'll be using "HomePlug AV 500" to refer to the technology.

The Products

This roundup includes six HomePlug AV 500 products shown in Table 1. I originally intended to test only single port adapters. But since ZyXEL sent its four-port PLA4225, I decided to test it, too.

Belkin Powerline AV500 D-Link Powerline AV 500 NETGEAR Powerline AV 500
Adapter: N/A Adapter:DHP-500AV Adapter: XAV5001
Kit: F5D4085 Kit: DHP-501AV Kit: XAVB5001
Not Certified Certified Certified
TRENDnet 500 Mbps Powerline AV ZyXEL 500 Mbps Powerline Gigabit Ethernet ZyXEL 500 Mbps Powerline 4-Port Gigabit Switch  
Adapter: TPL-401E Adapter: PLA4205 Adapter: PLA4255  
Kit: TPL-401E2K Kit: PLA4205kit Kit: PLA4255  
Certified Not Certified Not Certified  
Table 1: The Products

There are no Cisco / Linksys products in this roundup because the company doesn't have any 500 Mbps powerline products right now.

The table shows that three of the products are HomePlug AV certified. Belkin says their product is Certified. But it's not listed in the HomePlug Certified Products database, so I'm considering it not certified.

All of the products are rated for 100 - 240 VAC operation except the TRENDnet, which has a 110 - 240 VAC rating—an insignificant difference. All have pushbuttons for reset-to-factory-defaults and for changing the default security code.

Ethernet ports are all 10/100/1000 Mbps and Indicator lights are provided for power, Ethernet link / activity and Powerline Link / Activity on all adapters.

Figure 3 shows an example summary from the NETGEAR's manual of the indicators used on all the adapters. The three color "Pick-A-Plug" feature is standard for the Qualcomm Atheros chipset, so is present on all the products reviewed. Remember, these are Link rates, not actual throughput, so your mileage may vary from the "Good for..." application notes in the Figure. Note also the 10 minute power save mode described in the Power light section, which all adapters have.

NETGEAR XAV5001 ports and indicators

Figure 3: XAV5001 ports and indicators

I'm not going to describe each product, because the opening group shot shows that, aside from packaging, they are very similar. All use a wall-wart form factor and don't differ much in size.

All have the Ethernet port on the bottom, except for the D-Link, which has it on the right side. The Belkin and TRENDnet have their reset and security buttons on the bottom; the others have them on the right side.

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