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Belkin Gigabit Powerline HD Starter Kit review

Verdict

The fastest powerline kit we've tested, but it's fussy about how you connect

Review Date: 20 Oct 2009

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: £96 (£110 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
3 stars out of 6

Features & Design
3 stars out of 6

Value for Money
2 stars out of 6

Performance
3 stars out of 6

For the ultimate in reliable network speed all around the house, there's nothing like powerline networking. Powerline adapters are typically quicker and less prone to interference at long range than wireless – but with close range speeds in excess of powerline, and superior flexibility, 802.11n wins out in most domestic situations. Belkin's brand new Gigabit Powerline HD Starter Kit aims to close that gap.

They're the first powerline adapters we've seen to be rated faster than the 200Mbits/sec HomePlug AV standard and with two adapters in the box you get everything you need to connect one part of the house to another. And, to start with at least, we were impressed. We set a pair up on the same ring main in our test house, with all appliances turned off to ensure a clean signal, and copied a series of large and small files from a PC through a gigabit switch and through the adapters to a laptop.

We didn't expect to get anywhere near the stated gigabit rate – after all this is merely a theoretical maximum. In fact, the Belkins peaked at just a tenth of this speed.

But the good news is that the Belkin adapters were twice as fast as a pair of typical HomePlug AV adapters. Over TCP/IP we measured an average rate of 91.5Mbits/sec when transferring large 128MB files and 76.4Mbits/sec for copying 128 smaller 1MB files. We switched on a few appliances, including our entire home theatre setup and found the performance to be the same.

It soon went wrong, however, when we moved one of the adapters to an upstairs ring main, separated from the downstairs one by a fuse box. Where previous HomePlug AV adapters have coped fine with this, maintaining similar speed and reliability, the Powerline HD adapters nosedived.

Not only were they more sluggish than the supposedly slower HomePlug AV units – recording a mere 31.9Mbits/sec with the large files and 29.4Mbits/sec with the small files, compared to a pair of Billion BiPac 2071 adapters which managed 44.3Mbits/sec and 37.9Mbits/sec – but transfer rates were more inconsistent too. It was the same story in other locations and at long range: as soon as we hopped off the same ring main, speeds plummeted.

It's nice to see that the Powerline HD adapters are compatible with existing HomePlug AV equipment (and they’ll coexist with slower HomePlug 1.0 devices too). The speed is good in ideal conditions too. But for most users they're simply too fussy to be of any use and it's clear they're not yet ready for mass consumption. If you need the reliability of powerline networking, we'd advise you stick to HomePlug AV for now.

Author: Jonathan Bray

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User comments

Biased review?

A lot of previous incarnations of powerline adapters have problems where circuits span multiple fuseboxes. This is not that unusual. It may even state that in the accompanying literature. For me, and I would imagine the majority of users, this is not a problem - my whole house onyl has one fuxebox, i.e. everything is on the same ring main. What about testing the long-distance performance without a fusebox (like most households)? Unfortunately not tested. What about performance when plugged into a surge-protected socket, as the adapters don't appear to be pass-through? Not tested. How about how easy it is to use the control panel to add more adapters, change encryption method, use static IP addresses?
Personally I would be more than happy with throughput of 91.5 Mbit/s. As for these "closing the gap" in my experience the real world performance of a wireless network in my home is significantly worse than this. Around 60-70 Mbit/s tops (and that's wireless N).
I found this review to be overly negative and biased towards wireless networks. IMO.

By isdfe5 on 20 Oct 2009

Agree with the isdfe5 comments

But for me, I wouldn't question the bias.

PC PRO are highly regarded above many others for their tech reporting. I feel this review is a little lacking and would greatly welcome & appreciate an updated review by the author based on these comments!

By idris on 20 Oct 2009

Definitely no bias... I promise!

Okay, thanks for the feedback guys - maybe I should clarify a few things. First things first, the separate ring mains mentioned are connected to just one, modern fusebox, not multiple fuseboxes - one for upstairs, one for downstairs, one for the kitchen and one spur for a garden office 40m from the main building. The plugs were tested on the same ring main and each of the others. This is a common configuration for domestic wiring. In fact, I believe building regulations recommend that single ring mains not serve an area larger than 100m2, so long distance single ring main tests are not realistic anyway.

The review also states that other HomePlug AV kits tested in the same environment do not exhibit the same speed drop as these devices. That's why we're recommending users stick to HomePlug AV. If your situation is different, they may work for you, but I'd recommend checking your wiring configuration very carefully before you splash out. And while I'd agree that 91.5Mbits/sec is very good, if that speed is restricted to just one or two rooms, then it's not much use.

As far as the other points go – it's easy to add further devices with encryption. As with most HomePlug compatible devices (these ones are backwards compatible with HomePlug AV) it requires a simple button press on an existing adapter and the new one. And you don't need to worry about IP addresses either. HomePlugs are effectively invisible to your existing network infrastructure – once they're talking to each other you can do what you like with your network settings. Hope that answers your questions!

By JonBray on 20 Oct 2009

hehe

just under 13 years after this review was written, we found one of these beasts in a dark corner and turned it on. It still runs. Holy crap!

By dargon on 20 Oct 2009

These adapters cause radio interference

Powerline adapters cause chronic radio interference and came to market via a loophole in the law. Despite many 'battles' which have appeared across forums between radio users, enthusiasts and users of PLT products, the fact remains that PLT / PLN in its current format does not comply with the essential requirements of the EMC Directive, 2004/108/EC and thus the UK Electromagnetic Compatibility Regulations 2006.

If you currently use one of these products there is a chance that you may receive a visit from OFCOM at some point should a complaint be made about radio interference in your area. These devices can cause chronic problems and have been observed up to 1.2km from the installation.

Following a meeting (March 2010) at the House of Commons, attended by Adrian Sanders (MP), Clive Corrie (OFCOM), Colin Richards (RSGB) and Alan Warner (EMCIA) OFCOM have now admitted there is a problem and are looking at the Wireless Telegraphy Act to include interference from networks, thus compounding the legal strengths of complainants.

Many PLT manufacturers used non-legitimate documentation as the basis for their Declaration of Conformity, citing CISPR/I/89/CD for their technical construction file reference. This document was acrimoniously withdrawn from the IEC's website having been discredited. Also this document was a Committee Draft (signified by the suffix CD) and was thus never a Standard which could be (nor should have been) referenced.

I strongly discourage the continued use of these products, and in particular for those who are relying upon the technology to achieve a home or small business network since there is a realistic chance that you may be required to ditch the devices and make other arrangements, at your own cost.

BT have discovered to their significant cost, the perils of using the PLN adapters as part of their BT Vision product, where, in cases that complaints have been made, BT had to replace the PLT devices with a hard-wired network or expensive Ruckus Wi-Fi.

Testing these adapters I found they interfered with my son's wireless mouse & keyboard, the Civil Air band, DAB reception and a lot more besides.

By Nige_Cn on 6 Apr 2010

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