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Hardware Review of:
Power Line HomePlug
Home Networking Via Electrical Outlets

 

Larry Grosskopf is a Clinical Psychologist at the San Antonio State Hospital, with an interest in computer technology. He is married to Marta, and they are raising two precious children, their daughter Zoë, is now 9, and their young son Jackson is 7. 

From the February, 2003 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

IOGEAR manufactures a number of products for the home computer. Many of these products are familiar to me and may be familiar to you as well. They have made innovative products for computer peripherals, such as Input/output devices (keyboards, mice, etc.) for many years and they enjoy a positive reputation for quality products and for good customer support. The products being reviewed are the IOGEAR HomePlug Ethernet Bridge Model GHPB01 and the IOGEAR HomePlug to USB Network Adapter Model GHPU01. This review looks at a combination of these two products can be used to establish a home network.  One simple advantage to these home or SOHO devices is the fact that you have built-in wired home network if you use the HomePlug system. Both are certified HomePlug Powerline 1.0 compliant. For those of you who are uninitiated or even novice “home network builders” like me, HomePlug is a fairly common home network industry name and simply means that you are sending your information through the electrical outlets via the electrical wiring in your house. 

The connection distance between points is up to 990 feet, with the Ethernet Bridge at up to 14 MBps speed, according to the documentation. The USB Network Adapter reports a maximum of 12 MBps bandwidth at up to 990 feet. I can’t vouch for the speed or distance claims, as my computers are only 100 feet or thereabouts apart. The speeds mentioned are much faster than dialup modems 56Kbps, and they even surpass wireless WiFi speed and DSL speed as well.

As far as compatibility with your computer system, here is what you need to setup a HomePlug networking connection. You will need two HomePlug device units (to connect the 2 computers), a CD-ROM drive and access to an electrical wall outlet with standard home power line wiring. Microsoft Windows 98SE, ME, 2000 or XP as the operating system and an available 10/100 Base T network adapter connection (for the Ethernet Bridge) or a USB port (for the USB Network Adapter) are the only requirements for the respective computer systems. Both the Ethernet Bridge device and the USB Network Adapter unit can be used to ready one computer as a network computer. The Ethernet Bridge, when used with a switch, has the flexibility of being able to connect networks of computers together. This is true so long as each of the computers is connected to an IOGEAR Ethernet Bridge or to an IOGEAR USB Network Adapter. 

A word of caution if you do set up a network in this manner, you can have no more than two Ethernet Bridges connected on the same network.

On to my story . . .  hey, I’ll bet you didn’t know that you were getting a bonus story with this review, now did you? What happened was the HomePlug devices arrived from IOGEAR with little more than a week left before the reviews were due for the magazine. This meant the products had to be installed, setup, utilized, evaluated and a review written before the deadline! That is a tall order, but one that I accepted when Vade Forrester, who did an excellent job of coordinating this SOHO/home networking theme issue, informed me that he didn’t have anyone willing to take on this task on such short notice. The fact that you are reading this means that I completed the assignment. Understand this; I have never networked anything, much less my home computer environment. I am a total novice, this I admit freely. I have thought about it, because the idea of sharing files on multiple computers and sharing Internet connections is appealing. In the past, I have been swayed not to try this by my confusion at the (for me) complexity of putting together a network. For me, the variety of terms used in networks is a major concern, routers, hubs, switches, gateways, servers, residential gateways, wireless or WiFi, Ethernet, PhoneLine, HomePlug TCP/IP, DHCP, IPX/SPX, NetBEUI, NetBIOS, IP Addresses and so on. What are they and how do they work, and what’s more, what do I need in order to set a network up and finally, if I do set one up, how should I use it? 

Such were my fears. They have been allayed, at least somewhat. The Ethernet Bridge and the USB Network Adapter both were fairly easy to install on the respective computers. The software arrives on a CD in the Ethernet Bridge box and worked smoothly on my Windows XP Professional machine. The USB Adapter had a similar CD and installed easily on my computer that is running Windows 2000 Professional. All was going well, or so I thought. However, challenges remained and this is the point where things came to a screeching halt and flustered me for several days. I used the small manual that came in the box and looked for information on the CD. Using the CD and the manual, adequately covered the hardware aspect of setup. Despite the fact that the computers both seemed to have the network installed, neither machine could recognize the other machine. The bottom line to wrap up my little story is that there are a few things you need to do in Windows to let these computers recognize each other and network together to share data, files, printers and other peripherals. I will mention a couple of things that I did wrong as a warning if you try to set up your own network. One is that both computers have to be in the same “Workgroup” (according to how they are named) and secondly, you need to designate what and how you are “sharing” resources from each computer on the network. Suffice it to say that after consulting with Kelli Arvin and David Steward at the January monthly Alamo PC Meeting, their advice pushed me in the right direction and I was soon happily networking with these two computers.

Now practically, what difference does it make if you already have the two computers? You still have the same resources do you not? Yes, Mr. Skeptic, you do, however, let me tell you what I have done with my network. Mind you, I am still a novice who loves to learn, but I can already share MP3 files from my first computer to my second and vice versa, I can share data files, printers, digital cameras, digital video and even an Internet connection if I choose. Is networking safe for your data and the shared resources? Yes, because these HomePlug devices have a 56-bit DES encryption which is done by the hardware and does not detract from your network connection speed. However, you have to make sure that encryption is enabled on your network, and this is done by way of the accompanying network software. Another plus, the HomePlug network infrastructure is compatible worldwide. Setting up a network connection using these devices requires no running of separate or additional wires in around or through your house. Finally, in comparison to phone line networking, there are about 5 phone jacks in a typical house, while there are routinely 45 electrical outlets in a house. The data is delivered regardless of the age of the wiring, its size or power line voltage level and it does not interfere with the normal line current. It is a reliable network and is unlikely to suffer interference from other RF devices. 

You can find the IOGEAR HomePlug Ethernet Bridge and USB Network Adapter online direct from the IOGEAR site, and the price is $99.95 after a $20.00 rebate. The rebate offer is good through the end of March, 2003. I also found them both on the CompUSA Business Website for $67.09, after the aforementioned rebate was applied. With my minimal exposure to these devices, I would recommend deploying your network this way. One thing is sure, if you are like I am, you will learn a lot doing a networking project.


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