If you need to connect a PC, laptop, console or Internet TV to a network, you might immediately think of doing it with a cable or a wireless link. Sometimes it’s not that easy, though – Ethernet cabling can be a struggle to install, and there are some places Wi-Fi just can’t reach. For these situations, there’s a third option: running your data through the mains.
Powerline networking has been around for a while, but many solutions have either been hampered by slow speed and interference from domestic appliances, such as fridges – or relatively high prices when compared to Wi-Fi. So what does the Belkin offer that can unseat our existing powerline Best Buy, the NetGear Powerline AV 500 kit?
For a start, there’s a claimed top transfer speed of up to 200Mbit/s – twice that of a standard 10/100 wired Ethernet connection. Trouble is, figures on boxes have a way of being theoretical maximums…
The AV 3-Port kit comprises two adapters, each roughly the size of plug-in power supply. these connect directly into standard mains sockets. Don’t plug either unit into a multi-way mains extension block with a surge suppressor, as this may suppress the network signal, too – it did when we tried it.
One adapter has a single network socket which can connect to any router, while the other has three sockets, for connection to the devices you want to link. Three LEDs on each adapter show power, network and network-over-mains status and a single button on top of each changes the security password. Passwords are handled automatically by the adapters, but you do need to be able to change them, by pressing these buttons.
There’s no setup or driver installation required – as soon as the adapters are connected, the devices you connect should recognise the link, just as if they had been connected using a network cable.
Ring main wrinkles
Although Belkin may have overcome some of the problems with the data over mains concept, the performance of these powerline adapters is still very dependent on the quality of your power circuitry. We connected two PCs in the same room and on the same ring main (and without using a surge suppressor) and saw a transfer rate of 15Mbit/s – a long way off the 200Mbit/s on the box. We couldn’t play an MPEG-4 video over this link, though we managed to get one that had been compressed with DivX to play back without any dropped frames.
To measure the maximum likely transfer rate, we then connected the two powerline units into the mains multi-way, so that the connection between them was just a few centimetres of copper. The transfer rate increased to 37Mbit/s, over twice as fast. To put this into context, though, a simple, cabled network connection enabled a transfer rate of over 60Mbit/s. NetGear’s powerline kit managed a whopping 96Mbit/s – very close to the theoretical maximum of 10/100 Ethernet.
Contact: Belkin UK on 01933 352000
- Trouble-free network link with no setup and no need for drivers.
- Very dependent on mains quality; much slower than Ethernet.
The Powerline AV 3 Port has the advantage of being a complete plug-and-forget system, with no setup and the flexibility to link to a variety of different network-ready devices. The downsides are variable transfer rates, and the fact that the adapters are very dependent on the quality of the mains wiring. We'd advise you to go for the slightly more expensive NetGear Powerline AV 500 kit.