Belkin Gigabit Powerline HD Starter Kit review

20 Oct 2009

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

Price when reviewed: 
110(£110 inc VAT)
3

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.