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You can simplify home networking with this 85 Mbps wall-plugged Ethernet switch, but not without some compromises.

InformationWeek Staff

April 11, 2006

3 Min Read

If you find the idea of opening your PC to install a wireless card daunting, you might like a wall-plugged Ethernet switch. These devices provide an easy way to network by using a simple household wall outlet and the latest claim higher speeds than their first generation counterparts. While they do take the pain out of networking, The $99.99 Netgear XE104 does not provide consistent performance, and is a significant downgrade from a wireless connection.

The package comes with one XE104 wall-plugged Ethernet switch, a Cat-5 cable, a brief instruction card and a CD with a PDF with more detailed documentation and an encryption utility program. Each unit has four connectors, so you can plug in multiple devices. You will need to purchase at least two XE104 units to make this work. The box suggests using the XE104 to share a broadband connection or for a LAN party where you can play games on multiple machines. You could also use it to share a printer, a backup device or other networked peripherals. For this review, I looked at sharing a cable modem connection. Ultimately, I found while it was this was a definite improvement over a telephone connection, it did not approach the performance of the cable modem on the source machine or a wireless connection. It doesn’t take a computer expert to install a wall-plugged Ethernet switch. You simply plug the XE104 directly into a wall outlet, then connect one end of the Cat-5 cable to the plug unit and the other end to your router. That’s it. You will need an additional package for each computer you want to add to the network. If you are networking a printer or other peripheral, you only need to plug it into an open connector in the XE104. One minor complaint is that I found the supplied Cat-5 cable was too short unless your outlet was right next to your computer. Testing The Cable Modem The remote test machine had been using a telephone connection. After installing the XE104s, the cable connection was available immediately and there was a drastic improvement in Web page load times compared to the phone line. I tested the download speed by downloading a 10.3 MB file and found the following differences: • The source machine downloaded the file at 600-700 Kbps • The remote machine networked with XE104 downloaded the file at 50-60 Kbps • A third machine with a wireless card downloaded the file at 500-700 Kbps • When I unplugged the remote machine from the XE104 and downloaded the file by telephone line, it downloaded at a pathetic 5 Kbps According to the encryption utility software that comes with XE104, throughput was in the 14Mbps range, far below the maximum advertised speed of 85 Mbps, but the encryption software was easy to use and the documentation on the CD provided detailed, well-written instructions on how to set up a network password for additional security. I tried contacting Netgear technical support to find out why I was getting lower than expected throughput. First, I found you must be registered before they will help. I’m wondering why you need to supply all of your personal information before you are certain you are keeping the product. Then after navigating a telephone maze, I ended up on hold for 10 minutes before a technician took my serial number, put me on hold again, before finally disconnecting me. I tried again, only to be told wait times were running longer than 15 minutes and I gave up. The XE104 may not be a speed demon, but it does the trick. If you are looking for a simple networking method, there is no doubt that this is about as easy as networking gets. Even though you sacrifice significant speed for convenience, if you have had trouble setting up a network (or have been intimidated by the process), you may be willing to make that tradeoff.

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