Computers have been around long enough that even modest households have more than one machine in residence. In most cases, these extra systems are hand me downs which really show their age when it comes to gaming but are fine for casual Internet use and word processing. Of course, without an Internet connection these machines are close to useless - yes we really are that dependant on the Web these days.
For most home users, laying down metres of CAT5 cable is not the most practical method of sharing an Internet connection, especially if you live in rented property or you have a habit of moving properties on a regular basis. Also, unless you are doing lots of file transfers across the network, it’s a little overkill.
Increasingly, the most common solution to this problem is wireless networking. In theory, it’s a no-nonsense, no mess solution. Unlike our friends in America however, European homes can date back hundreds of years which often means hugely thick walls and a general structure that just doesn’t lend itself to wireless particularly easily at all.
There is another solution, however. Ethernet over power gives you the best of both worlds. It's just as reliable as true cabling, has a decent turn of speed, is inherently more secure than wireless and a lot simpler to set up. Imagine being able to turn any power outlet in your house into a network port.
Today we're looking at two kits that utilise this technology - one from Devolo and one from Solwise. Both kits are based on the same HomePlug technology from Intellon. They use the same central chip - they're almost the same units, in fact.
One unit plugs into a power outlet near your router and then an Ethernet cable connects them. Now, using the second unit, you place this anywhere in your household (even on extension cables) and then just connect your machine to it using another Ethernet cable. It doesn't really get much simpler than this.
There is software included that allows you to set up encryption, should you need it. This is only an issue if you are worried that someone is going to break in to your house and plug in a module of their own. Both kits use the standard Intellon software, although Devolo does at least make the effort to rebadge it.
The devices are as simple as they come, just a small module about the size of a phone charger with an RJ45 socket at the bottom. Linux lovers will be pleased to know that because this is a purely hardware solution, it is OS independent.
We took one of the modules and plugged it into a socket near our main router and connected an Ethernet cable. We tried using a straight cable and a crossover cable and it was intelligent enough to work this out and accommodate both. We then plugged the second module into a different power point and ran a standard Ethernet cable to a notebook. The laptop acted in much the same way as if it had been plugged into a switch and within seconds I was browsing the Internet. No fiddly set up needed at all! If you want to - by using the install CD, you can set up a password to encrypt data and stop people from adding unauthorised modules to your network.