The latest HomePlug devices from Devolo aim to allow those with super-fast broadband connections to get the internet or streaming HD video from a local NAS (Network Attached Storage) to all the devices in their home. Wireless networks, while offering the promise of 150 Mbps or 300 Mbps speeds currently, in actual use rarely achieve anything close to these speeds. Of course installing Gigabit Ethernet LAN cable would be the perfect solution, but extra wiring is often not popular, and those living in rented accommodation will not be able to install the wiring through walls.
The dLAN 500 units will work with other dLAN 200 units, but obviously the dLAN 200 units will not benefit from any speed boost that these new units offer.
The AVTriple+ starter kit comprises two dLAN 500 adaptors, one with a single Gigabit Ethernet socket, and the second with three Gigabit Ethernet sockets. The units are larger than previous Devolo units due to the inclusion of a pass-through 13A (fused) mains socket.
What comes in the retail box is shown above, and comprises of two Ethernet patch cables, the two HomePlug units, installation guide, optional CD with Devolo dLAN cockpit software and a service leaflet.
As with all other HomePlug devices they are incredibly simple to use, just plug each adapter into a mains socket (it is recommended that you plug them into wall sockets, rather than extension strips to optimise performance). We would suggest using the single Ethernet socket unit to connect to your broadband router, and three Ethernet socket model at the remote location e.g. behind the TV, so you can connect up to three devices without the need for a separate Ethernet switch.
Once all the LEDs and power is on, you should after a couple of seconds have the HomePlugs operating as an Ethernet bridge across the mains.
There are three status LEDs on the units:
If there is power to the units this will be green. If the units have entered power save mode/standby or are negotiating an encryption key it will flash.
The dLAN LED has three modes, green indicating a very fast connection between the unit and other dLAN units. This will flash when there is data across the network. Orange indicates a lower speed connection, but should still be good for gaming and basic video streaming. Red indicates you have a connection, but it is slow, whichshould be ok for internet access and basic data transfers.
The Ethernet LED will light up green when an active Ethernet connection is detected, and flashes when data is detected on the Ethernet cable.
We have found occasionally when testing the performance of the units, which involved lots of moving them around that occasionally the dLAN link would not work, switching off/on all the units generally solved this problem. Once the units were left plugged in, rather than being constantly swapped around they were very stable. The power save mode works well too, reducing power consumption when the network is not actually being used.
The units come pre-configured with a 256-bit encryption key to ensure traffic over the network is secure, but if adding other units or you wish to change this key there is a very simple small push button on each HomePlug. On the triple port unit it is on the bottom right hand side, for the single socket unit it is underneath close to the Ethernet socket. Pressing the button for a second on both units will cause them to negotiate a new key, from pressing the button on the first unit you have 1 to 2 minutes to visit all the other units to press their button.
The alternative method for configuring the security key is to install and run the dLAN Cockpit application.
The screenshot above shows what you should see when running the software with the two plugs in the starter kit switched on. The Change Password button lets you set your own password, or reset back to factory defaults.
You can only reset the password on remote units if the HomePlug network is up and running. If for some reason you cannot see a unit that exists, then plug it directly into a PC running the software and you should be able to reset the password that way.
Speed is the main reason people will use these units, and to that end we have tested the units by copying some large files across the network. We monitored the speeds using our tbbMeter bandwidth meter configured in this case to monitor LAN transfers.
The Ethernet LAN testing went off scale, managing to sustain a transfer of 250Mbps, proving that the source and destination computer were not a bottleneck. The long tail for the speed drop off pretty much reflects the amount of mains network the signal had to travel across.
We also did some testing using the same hardware and wireless to see how the dLAN 500 units compared to an 802.11n wireless connection. The dLAN 500 outperformed the wireless network consistently.
We had a set of the older dLAN AV200 units which we tested to see what sort of boost the dLAN 500 units offer too. At the slowest point the older dLAN AV200 managed 14 Mbps throughput versus 50 Mbps for the dLAN 500 units.
|Comparison table of speeds for dLAN 500, dLAN 200 and 802.11n wireless network|
|dLAN 500||dLAN 200||802.11n (150Mbps) Wireless|
|Top Floor (4m between plugs)||125 Mbps||38 Mbps||50 Mbps|
|First Floor||80 Mbps||38 Mbps||50 Mbps|
|Ground Floor||60 Mbps||36 Mbps||45 Mbps|
|Conservatory||53 Mbps||25 Mbps||2.5 Mbps|
|Shed (10m from house)||40 Mbps||20 Mbps||1 Mbps|
|Shed + 10m extension cord||38 Mbps||14 Mbps||No signal|
Of course data transfer speeds are not everything, many people will be wanting to use the dLAN units to connect a games console to their broadband connection for online gaming, so we ran a long series of pings between two hosts on the network, and compared these to what was achieved using an Ethernet cable and a wireless network across the same distance.
|Comparison table of latency for dLAN 500, wireless and ethernet networks|
|Average Latency||Highest Latency|
|dLAN 500 (same floor)||2ms||17ms|
|Wireless network (same floor)||2ms||133ms|
|Ethernet cable (same floor)||0ms||12ms|
|dLAN 500 (top to ground floor)||3ms||29ms|
|Wireless network (top to ground floor)||3ms||178ms|
|Ethernet cable (top to ground floor)||0ms||15ms|
The starter kit we reviewed is retailing at around £148 (April 2012) so this is not a cheap way to network hardware. With most broadband providers including a wireless router, and many laptops supporting wireless by default, one must wonder how many people would buy these units, but as the testing showed if you have a fast broadband connection, and want to be able to stream video anywhere in your property the HomePlug units may be the solution. They would also be useful for filling in pockets where wireless coverage may be poor.
You can buy a cheaper kit that does not have the three Ethernet sockets, but the flexibility that is afforded by not needing an extra Ethernet switch will appeal. Individual AV500 mini units that do not have the pass-through mains plug retail for £50 each, which will allow you to extend your network.