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LAN & WAN Reviews

Performance Testing - Background

Since the GPHD is, at its core, a HomePlug AV adapter, I figured it was fair game to include a comparison to an HPAV product in the performance tests. It so happened that NETGEAR asked me whether I was interested in looking at their new XAVB1004 Home Theater Internet Connection Kit shortly after I received Belkin's review request.

NETGEAR XAV1004

Figure 4: NETGEAR XAV1004

The kit includes an XAV1004 HomePlug AV adapter with a built-in four-port 10/100 switch and an XAV101 HomePlug AV adapter with a single 10/100 port.

Stop The Insanity!

It's been bad enough that the warring HomePlug and UPA (or should I say Intellon and DS2) camps have refused to make nice for the sake of increasing consumer awareness of the benefits of powerline networking. But networking manufacturers continue to use their own marketing terminology to name and promote powerline products and downplay the standards used in the products and their certifications. This continues to result in consumer confusion and lost market share for the powerline networking industry.

The latest round in this battle is illustrated by these two products. Both are obviously pitched at users trying to network entertainment-focused products such as Blu-ray players, PS3's and XboX 360's and media players, judging from the text on the front of their product boxes. And Belkin is taking the approach of having retailers place its product in their entertainment sections instead of with other networking products.

But even though both products are HomePlug AV certfied and interoperable, that information would be found only by a determined consumer specifically looking for it. And even then, it's hard to find.

There is no mention of HomePlug AV on the front or back of Belkin's box. You have to look on the left side panel Specifications section to find "HomePlug AV Certified", but without the HomePlug logo. I finally located the teeny, tiny HomePlug Certification logo on the bottom box-flap. The logo is so tiny that I had to use a magnifying glass (I'm not exaggerating) to see the even tinier "AV" mark. Of course "Up to 1000 Mbps" is featured in a nice big, bold box on the front of the box.

NETGEAR has taken the art of consumer obfuscation even further on the XAVB1004's box. Once again, speed ("Up to 200 Mbps") is prominently featured on the front of the box—twice, in fact. But instead of identifying the product as HomePlug AV compatible, the marketing term "Powerline AV" is used, complete with an official-looking logo, which is used twice again, on each side panel. However, there is no HomePlug Certification logo to be found anywhere on the box. The only indication that the XAVB1004 is HomePlug AV certified and compatible is found on the right hand panel, listed under "Compliance". There, I was finally able to find "HomePlug AV" in tiny print.

For the tests, I took a similar approach to that used in the last HomePlug AV review, the Zyxel PLA-400. I set up one adapter in my office, connected to my LAN's Gigabit switch. I then moved a second adapter to five outlets located in my wireless test locations. For Location A, I plugged both adapters into the same wall outlet in my office.

I used IxChariot to run the throughput.scr script, with the test file size changed to 1,000,000 Bytes and using TCP/IP. I ran separate Transmit (data sent from the "remote" adapter to the office adapter) and Receive (data sent from the office adapter to the "remote" adapter) tests in each location for one minute each. When transmission speed dropped, I sometimes changed the test file size back to the script's 100,000 Byte default, to improve the ability to see throughput variation.

Note that the physical distance between outlets doesn't necessarily correspond to the level of signal attenutation (and often subsequent throughput reduction) presented by each outlet. That depends on the actual path that the poweline networking signal must travel between the two adapters. Today's powerline networking technology uses both conducted and radiated signals. So signal loss also depends on coupling between AC mains phases and between circuit breakers, as well as conducted impedance and resistance.

After my last HomePlug AV testing, I discovered a more important source of powerline networking signal attenuation, that was not reflected in previous reviews. In the U.S., the National Electrical Code (NEC) has mandated the use of AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) circuit breakers to protect bedroom outlets for new residential construction as of January 1, 2002. Since my lab / office is located in a converted bedroom, the "local" adapter (the one not moved) is behind an AFCI breaker. It also turns out that test Location B is also located in a bedroom, so that outlet is also behind an AFCI breaker.

NOTE!Note: The 2008 NEC expands the mandated use of AFCI breakers to include hallways, family rooms, closets and many other areas. This isn't effective in all states, yet, but it is coming.

So I'm going to present two sets of results so that the AFCI-related effects are clearly seen:

  • No AFCI - No tested outlets are behind AFCI breakers. This would represent best-case performance.
  • Local and Location B behind AFCI - The "Local" adapter (located in my lab/office) is behind an AFCI outlet, as well as the outlet in Location B.

I'll also be presenting some other results that represent even better and worse performance than I found in the test runs above.

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