Review: Belkin Gigabit PowerLine Adapter Starter Kit
Don Bradbury tries out some gear that's aimed at high speed data transfer across a network
|Product||Gigabit PowerLine Adapter Starter Kit|
|We like||Simple setup; stable connectivity; 128-bit AES encryption.|
|We don't like||Minimal speed gains in our tests; LEDs rather dim.|
|Requirements||Windows XP, Vista, and 7|
For a long time now the 200Mbps PowerLine adapter has been standard in the computing world for those who either didn't get along well with wifi connectivity - perhaps they were out of range - or those for whom direct wiring with Ethernet cables was not feasible.
The 200Mbps adapters, we found, could work very well, see our earlier review of Belkin's Powerline AV network Adaptors.
But, as always, more speed would have been welcome to cope with increasing demands from HD video streaming etc, so we took a look at this latest gear from Belkin. As usual, these adapters incorporate a three pin power plug and an Ethernet socket, though they did not, as some do, provide a piggy-back power socket wherein to plug your computer or external peripheral.
Getting online with them was simple; you just plug one into a local mains power socket, connect it to your previously set up router via an Ethernet cable (supplied), and install a second adapter similarly into any remote power socket that's on the same ring main within range of a second PC. In seconds an Internet connection should have been negotiated, as evidenced by Windows itself.
Encryption and password protection
As with the 200Mbps units, these adapters offer 128-bit AES encryption security by default, although it's recommended that you change their default network password by using the encryption button that's located on the end of each unit.
That's ostensibly a simple enough task, though you don't have to employ it if you choose not to. You just plug both adapters in (or however many you are using) and then press the encryption button on each unit for 10 seconds. A randomly generated password has then been established in each adapter; you don't know what it is, but it's changed. To match the pair (or more), press the encryption button on the first unit for between one and two seconds and then within two minutes do the same on the next unit. This automatically synchronises the adapters to the same password, and that's securely entrenched through power-downs. Again, you don't know what the matched password is, but it's secure.
If that process doesn't work for you, which it didn't for us at the first attempt - we could only put it down to not counting our seconds accurately enough - using a pointed object such as a pencil you can just press and hold the "Reset" button for one second to restore the defaults. That resets the network password to the out-of-box value.
The CD that comes in the two-adapter starter pack is not an installation disk, these things are plug-and-play, but it bears useful information about usage of the adapters. Just locate the appropriate HTML file (that bears the UK ending for British users) and double click it to open. Here you'll see that Belkin recommend plugging the adapters directly into the power sockets, not on the end of power strips, and certainly not into power outlets that have been surge protected, such as UPS output.
Thankfully, when we tried our data transfer tests, we found no measurable difference in rates if we used short power strips; indeed the Ethernet cables provided are so short that you are more or less obliged to install the PC directly above a wall power socket. Either that or forget the Ethernet cables provided and use your own, longer ones, or add a power strip.
Internet Connectivity and Power cord extension
On that last point, as a further useful bonus, and as we saw with the Belkin 200Mbps adapters, we could apparently add power cord extensions to our heart's content ahead of the wall socket and not only get a quickly established and totally stable Internet connection but we could not detect any significant deterioration in the Internet connection speed, either judging by the still flashing-blue LEDs or by using www.speedtest.net to quantify in greater detail.
In all we added 15.5 meters of power cable (17 yards in old money) to our remote PC's power socket in the form of three power extension cords strung end to end before plugging in the adapter, with no deterioration in Internet connectivity or connection speed detected. SpeedTest.net showed 4.9Mbps download and 0.7Mbps upload speed on our particular Broadband setup with or without the power cord extensions in use. That spells convenience for those who will need to extend the range of their ring main outside of the ring itself.
However, we did notice the effect of using UPS, surge-protected, power output on data transmission rate over the PowerLine network; it was very substantially down in comparison with adapters connected to an unmodified mains power supply.
Data transmission rate over a network
We could not see much of a speed benefit from using the Gigabit adapters in comparison with the older 200Mbps Belkin adapters. A group of video files were copied to a remote PC's shared, and very fast, OCZ Rally Turbo USB drive at a rate of 35.4Megabits/sec. Using the Belkin 200Mbps adapters, the transfer was measured at 35.0Mbps, i.e. not significantly different. The speed indicator LED was flashing blue on the Gigabit units during the data transfer, indicating the >200Mbps nominal rate.
A single large ISO file was copied over the same link at a rate of 41Mbps. So, rather quicker, and perhaps showing what these adapters are capable of in practice as that large file probably made better use of the available bandwidth. But the 200Mbps Belkin units showed a transfer rate of 37.8Mbps with this ISO file. So once again, not hugely different.
Other factors to consider included the fact that the three LEDs on the Gigabit units, indicating power, Internet connection, and connection speed, were rather dim and none too easy to see while down at floor level. The 200Mbps unit's LEDs were much brighter and easier to see. Not that you need to read these LEDs constantly; they're mainly useful during setup.
Possibly more important, the Gigabit units, although correctly oriented in terms of labeling for the standard earth pin uppermost UK power socket, were upside down relative to the 200Mbps units, so the Ethernet cables now came out of the bottom of the adapters rather than the top. That's convenient if you want to run the cables along the skirting board but it means you have to make sure you're going to have sufficient ground clearance for the cable to protrude without ground level obstruction. Say six inches minimum from the top of the adapter to floor level. Not a problem is most locations.
The Gigabit units also ran noticeably hotter than the 200Mbps adapters. Not too hot, mind, but at an appreciably higher temperature to the touch, so although they gave us no problems in this regard beyond a slight smell of "newness", we think it would be best to ensure adequate ventilation if they were to be left on for a protracted period in warmer environments.
These Gigabit PowerLine adapters worked well enough as Internet connectivity media, but in our tests they were without big data transmission rate advantage in comparison with the Belkin 200Mbps units we tested previously when moving data to a shared folder on a networked PC. They were reliable, very convenient for those wanting to extend the range of their ring main using power cord extensions, and they gave us quick and stable Internet connections every time we plugged them in. Most users will not need more than that, but the price premium of the Gigabit units does not appear to be justified on a network data transmission rate basis.