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12/13/2006
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Review: Netgear's Powerline Adapter Offers An Alternative To Wireless

The Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter HDX101 lets you use your home electrical system to create a network when wireless doesn't work.

Sometimes wireless actually means Internet-less. The structure of a building can interfere with a WiFi signal to the point that it can slow throughput, cause frequent interruptions, or prevent any connection whatsoever.



Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter HDX101
Until recently, there wasn't much you could do to remedy the situation short of hardwiring your house -- and if you live in a rented apartment, or if you don't want to start drilling holes in your ceiling, you could have a real problem. There's now an alternative: Recent developments in BPL (Broadband over Power Lines) have resulted in products such as the Netgear Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter HDX101. These devices offer connectivity through home electrical systems -- you connect one adapter to your router or network switch, connect another to your computer's Ethernet port, and plug both into nearby 110-volt AC outlets. That's it -- no other setup is usually needed.

I decided to test the HDX101 with a home computer that used an 802.11g wireless network to communicate with a router on the floor below. Because of the structure of the house, the connection varied from good to weak; the biggest problem was with a VoIP phone service where voice quality was usually miserable and calls were often lost in midstream.

The HDX101 adapters are not large -- each is about the size of a desk of cards and has three status LEDs that indicate power, network status, and network traffic. It is strongly recommended by the manufacturer that you don't connect the device to a power strip, extension cord, or surge protector -- this means that you may have to dedicate an outlet to the HDX101, since it could get in the way of other plugs. (On the other hand, I plugged the review unit into the lower socket of an outlet, and was still able to use the upper.)

Installation of the two HDX101 units was frighteningly easy; it took less time than it takes to describe the process. The improvement was immediate -- Web surfing was perceivably faster, especially when it came to video viewing. As for the VoIP, that went from being unusable to reliable -- there were no more call interruptions, sound quality became quite good, and I was actually able to use the service for important calls without bringing out my lucky rabbit's foot.

The Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter HDX101 comes with a six-foot Ethernet cable and a configuration utility on a CD (for households that have other Ethernet devices on the electrical system) .

This isn't an inexpensive solution -- the HDX101 sells as a single unit for $75-$88, and the HDXB101 two-unit kit can be found for $140-$200. However, if you're struggling with an inadequate wireless network and can't run Ethernet cabling, the Powerline adapters are a great alternative.


Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter HDX101
Netgear
www.netgear.com
Price: $75-$88 (single unit), $140 - $200 (HDXB101 two-unit kit)

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