Call me a Luddite, but I've always found the whole idea of setting up a dedicated wired connection just to get a gadget on the network to be a superfluous hassle. At least with Wi-Fi, as both Brian Klug and Jarred Walton have exemplified in recent days, all that's normally involved is twiddling a few software settings to bring a widget online. The approach is particularly attractive for mobile devices, which by their inherent natures are incompatible with wired tethers. But, as wireless networking veterans already intimately realize, the process is rarely that simple. First off, there's interference to consider; from Bluetooth transmitters, cordless phones, microwave ovens, and neighbors' access points. Don't forget about reflection and attenuation; glass, metal and tile, chicken-wire mesh in walls, and the like. Finally, consider the fundamental physics-induced range limitations, which no amount of antenna array augmentation and DSP signal boosting can ultimately surmount. All other factors being equal, for example, you're not going to be able to successfully bridge as lengthy a span at 5 GHz as you can at 2.4 GHz.

AC-powered devices aren't portable, of course; they're permanently mated to a nearby wall socket. Here's where hooking up a network-dedicated Ethernet, coax, phone line or other connection has always annoyed me. I've already hooked up one (thick) wire, the AC power cord. Why can't I just use it for network packet-shuttling purposes, too? In fact, I can; that's the whole premise of powerline networking, although few devices (save the occasional router) currently integrate power-and-packets within them. Instead, indicative of the still-embryonic state of this particular market, you're forced to externally connect a dedicated Ethernet-to-powerline bridge adapter, which you then connect to a different AC socket.

Conceptually, however, the single-connection vision remains valid. And I've noticed encouraging signs of market maturation in recent months. Now-conventional '200 Mbps' powerline adapters are now advertised on sale for around $50 for a two-pack; that's less than half the price that manufacturers and retail partners were promoting them at not so very long ago. And latest-generation '500 Mbps' adapter two-packs are selling for not much more moola; $75 or so. I've been daily using as well as periodically evaluating various powerline networking technologies since the early portion of the last decade, back in the '14 Mbps' HomePlug 1.0 days (say hi if you ever see me at a show, and I'll show you my scars ;-) ). Given recent trends, I figured it was high time for an evaluation revisit. How well do latest generation adapters fulfill their marketing promises? Is it finally time to dispense with burrowing through dirty, spider- and snake-infested crawlspaces and drilling holes in walls and floors in order to route Cat5e cable around?

Technology Fundamentals
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  • EarthwormJim - Thursday, September 01, 2011 - link

    You can typically follow other wiring in the house when retrofitting, like telephone wiring or coaxial wiring.

    Competition is probably high in my area, I often see several advertised specials from electricians specifically for cat 5 wiring.
    Reply
  • bobbozzo - Thursday, September 01, 2011 - link

    If you have (wall-to-wall) carpet, it's very easy to lift up the carpet a little and run cat5 under it... I ran a 100' drop in about 15mins.

    Also, you can get baseboard or crown molding which are gapped or routed (cut out) for wires to be hidden in.
    e.g.
    http://www.curbly.com/Chrisjob/posts/3618-Hide-you...
    http://www.wiretracks.com/prod-cm.html
    Reply
  • bobbozzo - Thursday, September 01, 2011 - link

    Also, my alarm guy does cat5 drops through the attic for $30 each, which is a real bargain. He drops them behind curtains, etc., instead of through the walls to a wall box. Reply
  • bdipert - Thursday, September 01, 2011 - link

    Dear bobbozzo, thanks for writing. You do realize, thought, that the feasibility and availability of such wiring options (far from their implementation) are way beyond the comprehension of the consumer masses...right? Versus going down to a nearby consumer electronics store, buying a couple of adapters, and plugging them into power outlets? If consumer electronics manufacturers targeted only the readers (and editors ;-) ) of AnandTech, they'd be able to get away with far less consumer-friendly offerings, because the bleeding-edge early adopters here would figure 'em out anyway. But the potential customer market would be a fraction of the size, as a result. Reply
  • bjacobson - Thursday, September 01, 2011 - link

    can you review it, too? Reply
  • bdipert - Thursday, September 01, 2011 - link

    Glad you all seem to dig my digs. I do, too ;-) Reply
  • bigpow - Thursday, September 01, 2011 - link

    As someone who actually makes a living testing powerline comm, I find your article to be refreshing. Had to close my eyes and bite my tongue, going through the HW section, LOL, but everything after that is quite informative. Reply
  • fausto412 - Thursday, September 01, 2011 - link

    i've been interested in this to run my home network and hookup my PC to the net over wireless..i also have 2 to 3 TIVO's i would love to network over faster speeds than wireless which would allow me to transfer shows real time between boxes.

    anybody able to speak to the capability of these setups in the real world?
    Reply
  • froob - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Did you run any latency tests on these units? I'm interested to know how suitable Powerline networking would be for an Xbox 360 / PS3 etc. Reply
  • bdipert - Friday, September 02, 2011 - link

    Dear froob,
    Yes, IxChariot logs a number of statistics, including latency, packet drop percentage, etc, I didn't explicitly create a table for latency, but you can find the data in the full report files I've archived here (as published in the 'TCP Testing Results' section of the article):

    http://images.anandtech.com/doci/4695/PowerlineBen...
    Reply

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