To test the Belkin Powerline AV kit we integrated it into our existing gigabit home network, linking a PC with a freshly installed Vista Home Premium on a 320GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 hard drive to the rest of the network.
We then performed a number of file transfer tests to the machine using FC-Test and its 0.99GB file pattern, the same setup we use for testing real world right/copy/read timing in hard disk reviews. By dividing the size of the file by the time it takes to transfer we’re left with a resulting network speed in MB/s, which can be multiplied by 8 to achieve the network speed in Mbps.
Previously we’d had very poor experiences with home power line networking, with kits claiming similar 200Mbps network speeds achieving only a fraction of that, to the point that one kit we tried was only able to connect to the network at a shocking 64Kbps – that’s ISDN modem speeds!
We first took a control measurement with both the source and the destination machines connected via gigabit switch, resulting in a transfer speed of 56.6MB/s or 452Mbps which isn’t not too bad considering the hardware we’re running and is a good benchmark from which to judge the Belkin kit.
The destination system was then moved onto the Belkin power line AV setup and connected to the mains in the same room as the primary plug, in turn connected to our gigabit switch. While not quite up to the 200Mbps claimed by Belkin, the result of 6.24MB/s or 50Mbps is a huge improvement over previous power line network kits we’ve used.
Moving the destination into a room four metres away saw a slight dip in network speed as the length of cable between the two adapters increases, with a result of 5.5MB/s or 44Mbps. Finally we moved the system a good ten meters away, right to the other end of the house and amazingly we received very much the same performance, 5.5MB/s or 44Mbps.
Pings times using the kit were especially good, and even with the second power line unit in the farthest plug from the first, pinging bit-tech.net
took just 24m/s – just 3m/s slower than a system plugged directly into the router.
While the actual speeds we experienced were a long way off the 200Mbps quoted by Belkin they’re still great results for a power line connection, and while you can theoretically better them with a wireless N network and a gigabit connection is always going to be the fastest solution, here there’s none of the hassle of installation, wireless security or signal strength woes.
It really is wonderfully simple to setup – you just plug it in and you’re sorted with a secure and fairly speedy connection to the rest of your network anywhere in your house. The decent network speeds and tiny effect to ping certainly make it an attractive proposition for those looking to play games far from the router or Internet access point without the extra lag of wireless, and it’ll also nicely compliment a media centre – the speeds we experienced are certainly enough for streaming high definition video.
Perhaps the only really off putting thing here is the price - £60 is steep to connect one machine (or room if you pop a switch on the end) to your network via the power lines and the cost of fitting out an entire house with them is even worse. There’s also the fact that every machine connected to the network via the power lines will be sharing the same bandwidth, which if you’ve got multiple machines connected could soon cause a problem.
However, if you’re looking for an alternative to the pricey Xbox 360 Wi-Fi adapter or want a fast and reliable connection for your media centre, this kit is perfect, and goes a long way towards proving that power line networking can not only work, but work well.
Following long term testing we've found that using this power line networking kit can, in houses with particular electric layouts, become extremely unreliable when a large number of other electrical devices are switched on at the same time. Network speeds can dropto sub 30kbps speeds, making the kit essentially useless. While we've only observed this in certain houses (as electrical layouts can ,of course, differ) we'd advise caution. When it does work, it works very well but please be aware that for some users power line networking is far from ideal