PowerLine Networking Nearly Fails Our Tests

NASPT Benchmark Results

Our benchmarks measure network throughput between these two test systems running the NASPT benchmarks across all 12 of its various usage scenarios (described in Table 1). The only component changed for each run was the networking connection used. We did two reference runs, one using the built-in Realtek 8111B GbE interfaces, and another using a pair of D-Link Rangebooster N USB adapters on the client and server, plus a D-Link DIR-655 Xtreme N Gigabit Router to permit the two systems to interact using 802.11n wireless Ethernet. This presents a better usage case compared to what 802.11g offers, which is more widely used in homes today and where performance numbers are likely to be about half of what we measured for 802.11n in the table. No other clients were active on either the wired or wireless test networks as we took our measurements. We did this deliberately to match the situation during our PowerLine adapter tests, when only our two test machines used PowerLine networking to interact with each other.

 NASPT Measurements for GbE, 802.11n, and PowerLine AV Adapters in MBps (Mb/s)

Test
GbE
802.11n
Belkin
D-Link
Linksys
Netgear
HD Video Playback
44.6 (356.8)39.3 (314.4)
6.4 (51.2) 7.8 (62.4)  
6.5 (52.0)
7.0 (56.0)
2x HD Playback
  53.5 (428.0)47.4 (379.2)8.0 (64.0) 8.9 (71.2) 
7.6 (60.8) 
8.0 (64.0)
4x HD playback
36.6 (292.8)  28.2 (225.6)  8.1 (64.8) 
9.3 (74.4) 7.7 (61.6) 
7.6 (60.8)
Hd Video Record
131.2 (1049.6)48.4 (387.2) 
  9.2 (73.6)
  9.7 (77.6)
8.8 (70.4) 8.8 (70.4)
HD Playback and Record
34.0 (272.0)30.3 (242.4) 
7.2 (57.6) 7.7 (61.6)
  6.8 (54.4)
   6.7 (53.6)
Content Creation
  5.8 (46.4) 
5.1 (40.8)  
3.1 (24.8) 
3.0 (24.0)
3.1 (24.8)  
3.1 (24.8)
Office Productivity
21.3 (170.4)   
19.3 (154.4)  
9.2 (73.6)
10.0 (80.0)      
8.8 (70.4) 
7.2 (57.6)
File Copy to NAS
129.1 (1032.8)
  95.8 (766.4)   
9.4 (75.2)
10.0 (80.0)     
8.2 (65.6) 
8.5 (68.0)
File Copy From NAS
59.5 (476.0) 52.7 (421.6)
6.5 (52.0)   
  6.7 (53.6) 
6.2 (49.6)        6.5 (52.0)
Dir Copy to NAS
5.9 (47.2)
  5.7 (45.6)  
2.8 (22.4) 3.0 (24.0) 2.9 (23.2) 
2.5 (20.0)
Dir Copy From NAS
5.1 (40.8)   
5.0 (40.0)  
2.7 (21.6) 
2.3 (18.4)   
  2.5 (20.0)  
2.3 (26.4)
Photo Album
21.9 (175.2)   
19.5 (156.0)    
3.8 (30.4) 
4.2 (33.6)   
  3.5 (28.0) 
3.5 (28.0)

Note: Where values greater than maximum bandwidth appear, the test uses synthetic measure to calculate bandwidth that can produce such values.

What’s astounding in these test results is how far below the theoretical maximum of 189-200 Mb/s our PowerLine AV measurements came in (the numbers in Table 1 in parentheses convey megabits per second or Mb/s; NASPT reports measurements in megabytes per second or MB/s). A quick glance shows the highest readings of PowerLine AV top out at 80 Mb/s (10 MB/s) while the lowest value we recorded is 18.4 Mb/s (2.3 MB/s).

In pondering these results, the numbers for HD playback or HD playback and record strike us as most germane to home video-streaming situations. Many experts, including those in our own forums, believe you need at least 20 Mb/s (2.5 MB/s) to move HD video smoothly across a network with no stuttering, pixilation of video, or audio/video dropouts (an HDTV digital channel on cable can consume up to 19.3 Mb/s, which is probably getting rounded up here). By that metric, HomePlug AV barely qualifies for such use, and both GbE and 802.11n blow its doors clean off, routinely by factors of seven to one or better. Even the more common 802.11g will usually outperform HomePlug AV by somewhere between three and four to one. There is simply no comparison.

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  • Shadow703793
    For less than the price of this thing one could easily draw Cat 5e cabling through out the house. It only cost me $50-70 for cable,RJ 45 jacks, etc, and about 3 hours on a weekend to draw wire to the bed rooms (school work PCs), basement (gaming PCs), and living room(HTPC).
  • erichlund
    Another weakness of these systems that was not addressed on the review is where you cross electrical phases. Most houses have two column of breakers, and they are on different phases. Where the powerline units are on the same phase, they do work fairly reliably, but where they are on separate phases, they may not work at all.
  • etrnl_frost
    erichlundAnother weakness of these systems that was not addressed on the review is where you cross electrical phases. Most houses have two column of breakers, and they are on different phases. Where the powerline units are on the same phase, they do work fairly reliably, but where they are on separate phases, they may not work at all.

    Very good point. On the same line, if you're passing this thing through one or two surge suppressors with filtering, or an online UPS or something (or even one with plain-Jane voltage regulation), I wonder what kind of impact that would cause?

    All that being said, is "equivalent to Base100" really that bad? It's not gigabit, gathered, but it's still doable. And possibly, more secure than a broadcasting wireless network?
  • hellwig
    Is it more secure? How many people run network security protocols over their wired network? I mean, if you live in an apartment (where this thing would be ideal seeing as you can't run your own Cat5 through the walls), couldn't your neighbor see your network if they use the same model? If it can go through your breaker box, can't it go back through the mainline and into your neighbors breaker box? I'm sure it couldn't jump up through the transformer, but anyone on the same 120/240 feed as you should be able to see your network.
  • etrnl_frost
    hellwigIs it more secure? How many people run network security protocols over their wired network? I mean, if you live in an apartment (where this thing would be ideal seeing as you can't run your own Cat5 through the walls), couldn't your neighbor see your network if they use the same model? If it can go through your breaker box, can't it go back through the mainline and into your neighbors breaker box? I'm sure it couldn't jump up through the transformer, but anyone on the same 120/240 feed as you should be able to see your network.

    Who knows? Maybe? I don't know? They should test this!
  • LightWeightX
    Quote:
    couldn't your neighbor see your network if they use the same model?


    I'm not sure, however years ago I saw an intercom system that worked the same way by transmitting over power lines. It worked between homes that were 50 meters from each other.
  • michaelahess
    They use encryption, maybe not as good as WPA2 but still, it will keep most users safe. In-fact safer than 80% of people with wireless as they don't encrypt at all!
  • Stardude82
    Check out the Wikipedia article on power line communication for some interesting historical background. They cite a maximum of power line transmission rate of 135 Mbit/s before the FCC starts giving operators dirty looks. This and may wind power challenges are due to the fact they interfere with Ham radio (nerds).
  • old_newbie
    Just missed it. Belkin released a press statement 22 Jun (same day as this article post) announcing a Gigabit Powerline adapter F5D4076
    actual b/w is prolly way less than 1000mb/s (as proven with the former model here) but should be better than the 200mb/s flavor.
  • socrates047
    WOW. O_o . I just bought cheap china-bought refurbished routers and adapters (11g) all for under $50 CDN and im getting performance similar to what, say d-link or belkin offer with their setups...

    anything is do-able if you look for the right deal :)
    i see this powerline stuff as EXTREMELY convenient and nothing more. all you have to do is plug in? awesome!
  • lowguppy
    This is exactly what it is meant to be - a solution for situations where wireless is impossible and running cable is impractical or cost prohibitive.

    I live in New England where the old buildings used for most apartments are full of lead, essentially creating metal boxes to trap your wireless signals (You'll have a better time getting signal from across the street than one floor up) and landlords aren't always amenable to running your own cable, and even if you own a home like that, if you aren't up for installing it yourself the cost quickly surpasses this solution.

    As said, you wouldn't choose if other options are available, but if no other option is available, or if running cable is too expensive, this is a great solution.
  • dreamphantom_1977
    Quote:
    and you’ll pay about $2-$3 a foot for pre-fab cables (we can’t really speculate on the costs of in-wall wiring upgrades, except to say they’ll be expensive and time-consuming to install


    HUH? Hard wiring ethernet is not time-consuming or expensive at all..... What are u talking about??? Price vs. performance I would go with wireless or hardwired all day long. What does the cable cost like 40 bucks for 100 feet? plus 5 each for the ends? And the tool comes with the end, plus it's color coded, so it's "almost" impossible to wire wrong. Anyone with basic handyman skills should be able to run cat cable. As for wireless, I have a linksys wireless g router downstairs, and me and my wife can watch h.d. streamed over fox, or hulu, upstairs smoothly on her laptops. So, in my opinion, there really aren't any benefits for running one of these things that I can see. I would cost u more in the long run, because u would be wasting your bandwidth on it... Plus the cost of it. Maybe if it was, say $15 bucks, as an emergency solution where wireless wasn't possible, and u needed internet "now"..
  • dreamphantom_1977
    sorry lowguppy, I didn't read ur post... I guess it's a good idea for some. But, for home owners who don't have lead apartments, I think u are better off with a different solution.

    Hey, didn't tomshardware have an article about a new wireless technology coming out that was faster then cable? I thought they were testing some new technology on the trump towers??? Forget where I read it, hopefully thats coming out soon.
  • hellwig
    michaelahessThey use encryption, maybe not as good as WPA2 but still, it will keep most users safe. In-fact safer than 80% of people with wireless as they don't encrypt at all!

    If they provide the option to use encryption, that would be good. However, these things don't seem to operate in a server-client fashion, so which module handles the authentication? And since they'd have to be plug and go, even if they do have encryption, that same 80% won't turn it on.
  • Joey2oo9
  • Just remember that encryption in WiFi does slow things down a bit, and should be taken into account when testing.

    I have both WiFi (Belkin N) and Actiontec MegaPlug AV in my house. The powerline solution is across a circuit breaker, and it does not pose an issue. While the wireless is more convenient, for the more stable connection, the Actiontec gets my nod.

    I was surprised to see the speeds in this review, and would be curious to see my product tested as it is rock stable. I researched it extensively and it had strong reviews. For the record, running CAT 5 or 6 was not an option as it would have required an electrician.
  • Definitively a useless, if not unfair test...

    We don't have a clue regarding the topology of the tested setup. Powerline indeed presents some connection imitation, typically if the modules have to connect through a circuit breaker, or if power wiring length is important (which can be the case in some building toplogies, even if the two outlets are in nearby or even the same rooms). The same way, test Wifi bandwidth beyond a steel wall and you'll barely get a connection at all. Besides, a Wifi transmission can even get impaired by a body going walking through the line of sights of the two Wifi transmitters.

    If you do want reliable and efficient network connection, there's no alternative to Ethernet for now. Any other "no-new wire" technologies (HomePlug, Wifi, Moca, HomePNA, etc) have all their pros and cons and should be considered as complementary. Due to heavy cable wiring in the US Moca is an interesting solution in this market, but in Europe typically, Powerline (being it HomePlug or DS2) is widely used for in-home IPTV distribution, much more than Wifi is.

    Any serious test would consider several topologies, not only in lab but also in typical homes. Besides, I don't know about the Intel NASPT tool, but I'm a little bit puzzled by overall results, especially by the figures provided for the video streaming in Wifi.

    I suggest the tester to reconsider more seriously their case. You can easily find a situation when the test can provide exactly opposite results, demonstrating weakness of Wifi and extraordinary PLC figures (a situation which would neither be representative of on-the-field behavior).

    I definitively would have expected more professionalism from a site as Tom's Hardware.
  • pender21
    Joey2oo9Pah 200mbps.... gigabyte powerline is where it's at.... http://www.trustedreviews.com/netw [...] werline/p1


    I agree. Follow smallnet builder for the Belkin gigabit performance review and comparison. This would have been a good article a year ago.
  • Few of notes:
    The 200Mbps rating is marketing gimic. Switch companies tried this years ago too (possibly still do but in small print). It's the total bandwidth combining transmit and receive effectively giving you a data rate of double your true rate. Switch companies would say that a 5 port 10/100 switch gave you a maximum throughput of 1000Mbps! Yes....that's 5 ports x 100Mbps x 2 (send+receive). So taking that into consideration, you're looking at a 100Mbps device. Now taking into consideration that TCP/IP is only 80% efficent, you start to see that the powerline units really do fall in line with reasonable expectations. Secondly, you plug them in and they work. Can anyone say that about wireless? As for encryption, they support 128bit AES encryption. This is the same encryption that WPA2 supports. Of course this requires configuration but only marginally more than a typical wireless network. Personally I'd likely to see some reviews of the new gigabit powerline from Belkin.
  • loch-schwarz
    One aspect of broadband powerline communications is that the electrical wiring in virtually all cases is not designed to be a transport medium for frequencies in the HF spectrum and are not shielded. In other words a lot, if not most, of the HF energy fed into the lines are lost in the form of radiation: Powerlines act as antennas for HF.

    This can cause serious interference to the reception of shortwave broadcasts as well as merchant shipping, marine weather, ship-to-shore stations, aviation weather, air-to-ground, etc. shortwave radio services and communication.

    Personally, I feel it is highly irresponsible to use this technology.

    For more information please visit:
  • bliq
    did I read that right- 802.11n has shorter range than 802.11g?
  • PLC-LI
    Powerline communications may be finding a great friend in PLC-CLLI. Check it out in www.cal-lab.com or google search: PLC-CLLI to read more.
  • @ loch-schwarz:

    That depends on the radiated power. Most likely not a big deal