Powerline networking that delivers 85 megabits per second sounded too good to be true when we first heard about it. To think of all the things we could do with that kind of bandwidth! The possibilities for video-streaming alone were enough to get us salivating. Unfortunately, not only did Netgear’s XE104 fail to deliver on its bandwidth promises, it also had problems passing common packet types.
Powerline networking seems like the perfect panacea for anyone who’s tried to stream video over Wi-Fi, because it lets you avoid the nasty signal drops that can plague wireless connections. Powerline adapters plug directly into your wall sockets and should, in theory, carry your data from room to room using your home’s electrical wiring. While powerline tech has always worked, it’s never been fast enough to handle a video signal, and sometimes even has problems streaming music.
To test bandwidth on such a device, we set up an FTP server on a local desktop machine, then connect to it wirelessly and download a large, heavily compressed 232MB file. With the adapters plugged into two rooms in a recently remodeled home, we could muster just 124KB/s. That was significantly slower than we expected, so we plugged both adapters into outlets in the same room, on the same circuit, but experienced the exact same result.
We thought it might be the wiring in our test house, so we plugged both adapters directly into the same extension cord, and thought we’d found success, as Netgear’s connection-monitoring app reported a full-speed connection. Unfortunately, when we ran the actual file transfer test, the result was almost the same as before: 150KB/s. This level of performance is simply unacceptable, and is slower than our broadband connection to the Internet!
We also encountered problems using Universal Plug and Play devices across the powerline portion of the network. That means that many streaming boxes—including any Windows Media Center Extender and any device that uses UPNP—can’t connect across the powerline link. Of course, this would matter much more if we could get a fast enough link to stream video between two XE104s. As it stands, you should simply avoid the product at all costs.
Month Reviewed: May 2006