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devolo MicroLink dLAN Highspeed Starter Kit

Sections

Introduction
What you get for your money
Configuring the units
Performance
Conclusions

Introduction

We reviewed the original devolo dLAN starter kit at the end of 2004. This review will look at the Highspeed version of the kit, which is labeled as running at up to 85Mbps. The dLAN starter kit is a pair of devices that plug into your mains and then an Ethernet cable plugs into each of the units. In effect, the units turn your mains wiring in the house into an Ethernet cable, which you can tap into at any point that you can plug in one of the blue adaptors. More on this concept is in our review of November 2004. The new HighSpeed units are backwards compatible with the older kit.

The key difference between the Highspeed kit and the original kit, is that the original kit ran at 14Mbps, and the new kit creates a network running at 85Mbps. This speed upgrade is important since broadband access speeds are increasing rapidly, and just as older 802.11b wireless networking kit is looking slow, so will the original series of dLAN hardware.

A short summary of the advantages of the dLAN hardware follows:

  1. Plug and play networking around a property, with no worries about wall thickness
  2. Compatible with original Home Plug 1.0 kit, but will run slower
  3. Power save mode, reducing power consumption by 30% when not being used
  4. Potential range of 200 metres
  5. Extra adaptors can be added as the need for more computers in more rooms arises
  6. OS independent networking
  7. Highspeed kit will run at speeds suitable for IPTV, and comes with multicast support built-in

To avoid undue confusion we should mention, that the dLAN hardware does not replace your ADSL modem or router, they simply replace an Ethernet cable. So imagine any scenario where if you had an Ethernet cable long enough that you could connect two devices, you could replace this Ethernet cable with the dLAN hardware and plugged in to the mains cabling. To give people an idea of how to use the hardware we have listed some common uses below

  1. Connecting a computer in another room to the cable modem built into a TV set-top box
  2. Connecting a computer in another room to an ADSL modem/router
  3. Connecting a games console in the kids bedroom to the broadband router
  4. Providing a link from an ADSL Ethernet modem to a broadband router elsewhere in a property
  5. Linking a PC PVR to other computers in a property

What you get for your money

To be of any use you will need two or more of the adapters, hence the starter kit has two units in it, along with cables and a software CD for altering the security configuration. The software is available for MS Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. If you lose the CD the latest versions of the software can be downloaded from http://www.devolo.co.uk/

The contents of the starter kit can be seen laid out above, the paper manual is very useful, and gives examples for how you might use the hardware. The manual also walks you through dLAN configuration wizard software, which you will only need to use if you wish to alter the default password on the adapters. Doing so will stop people plugging in unauthorised home plug devices and using the network. The MicroLink Informer software will tell you what adapters are connected and visible. MicroLink EasyShare is an application that allows users to share files and message each other across the network - we should add MS Windows File and Print sharing will still work, but some may prefer the interface of the devolo software. The final bit of software is MicroLink EasyClean, which is a simple utility to clean out your browser history, cookies etc

The only way you can tell the highspeed and original adapters apart is the HIGHSPEED 85 marking on the front of each adapter. The translucent case does get warm in use, but no warmer than your average router power supply. The six LED's on the unit are used as follows:

  • 100/Act - Lit if a 100Mbps Ethernet connection is connected, flashes when activity is seen
  • 10/Act - as above, but only comes on if a 10Mbps Ethernet connection is used
  • Col - Collision, should only illuminate if the Ethernet network is heavily used
  • dLAN Power - is lit when the unit has power and is ready to run
  • Act - flashes when data is being transmitted and received over the mains link
  • Link - is lit when one or more other adapters are visible over the mains link

The UK three pin mains plug is built into the unit as shown above. The Security ID is the unique identifier for each adapter and is entered into the dLAN configuration software when you want to configure the units to alter the security profile.

Configuring the units

Most people will actually not need to do any configuration on the units. The only time you need to configure the units is if you wish to alter the password to lock out unauthorised units on the network. We will run through the steps to do this. If you have the older dLAN 14Mbps speed products, you must use the new configuration software to alter the passwords on the HighSpeed kit.

The software can install all four of the standard devolo applications, or you can opt to install just the components you want, and specify where to install them on the computer.

A program group is created for the applications you have installed. We will now walk you through altering the security of the dLAN units that you have running.

The Informer application will display what dLAN units are connected to your network, when it is first run it will only display the adapter that is connected to the PC via Ethernet, to view the remote adaptors and their connection rate you will need to run the configuration software and tell the software the security ID for each unit. Clicking the Device menu, and selecting the configuration wizard brings up the screen shot below:

The default password for the dLAN highspeed adapters is HomePlug, you can choose to set a random password or one of your own choosing.

The next screen is where you need to have the security ID from the other adapters that you own, this ID is a unique 16 character string written on the label of each adapter. Enter the security ID and press the ADD button to add the adapter to the list that will have your desired password set.

With the configuration over, we are now back at the Informer screen, and assuming you changed the password from HomePlug if someone plugs an adapter into your mains supply, unless they can guess your password your data will be encrypted and not visible to them.

Performance

There is really very little to say performance wise, the units just work beautifully, opening the box and taking the contents out is perhaps the hardest thing you have to do to use the units. In day to day use they are fast and present no significant latency hazard for games, perhaps an additional 1-2 ms compared to directly linking machines with an Ethernet cable.

Transfer speeds between units is perhaps the one thing that is critical. In tests we found the units could sustain around 20.5Mbps using the same test file that we use for our wireless testing. If we were cruel and connected one adapter to a four way extension strip and had the other PC on the other side of the flat, we saw the throughput drop to around 15.7Mbps. This is in line with the performance you can see from good 802.11g kit, and is only marginally slower than the best we have seen from 108Mbps wireless networking kit. The real beauty is that the slower speed we saw was in a location where many wireless devices struggle to get a good connection with our current test set-up.

Conclusions

The units are great, and the throughput speeds of 15 to 20Mbps should be plenty fast enough for use with IPTV and the growing number of people who are using a PC based PVR to stream TV around their property. The list price of £139 for the starter kit may seem high, but as ever the online retailers are competing for peoples custom, and pricing of £120 can be found if you look around. The inclusion of a three year warranty is an unusual and welcome bonus for consumer networking kit.

We like the fact that the units will work with the older slower HomePlug devices, though not at their fastest speeds. This means if you have multiple HomePlug units already, you can progressively upgrade to the faster version.

For people who have tried wireless networking and found that due to their properties construction or size it is difficult to get a reliable wireless where they want it, the price is reasonable, especially if you consider the time and cost of installing Ethernet cabling and concealing this in trunking.


Prices: £119.14 - devolo MicroLink dLAN Highspeed Starter kit (£139.99 including VAT)
£63.81 - single MicroLink® dLAN® Highspeed Ethernet adapter(£74.99 including VAT)
Links: devolo website
Where to Buy: See our DSL Hardware FAQ

Andrew Ferguson
andrew@thinkbroadband.com

The contents of this review should not be relied upon in making a purchasing decision - You should always discuss your requirements with your service provider.