Mar 4, 2008, 9:33 GMT
Washington - An in-home computer network is vital these days. Not only will it allow all computers in a household to share an Internet connection, but it will also enable fast file transfers and easy backups to external storage devices.
There's just one problem: sometimes wireless speeds aren't fast enough, and stringing cable through existing homes can be difficult if not impossible.
That's where powerline networking can help. The idea is simple: create a technology that can use the existing electrical wiring in your home to transfer data as well as electricity.
The concept has been around for quite a few years, but only recently have powerline products appeared on store shelves from most of the major consumer-oriented networking companies. But can powerline networking products really work for you?
Read on for some answers.
Q: What will I need to get started with powerline networking?
A: You'll need a powerline networking kit from one of the major powerline networking manufacturers: D-link, Linksys, Netgear, ZyXEL all have products that are widely available. And even companies not traditionally associated with networking products - Panasonic among them - have introduced powerline kits.
A basic powerline kit typically consists of two components, each of which is typically just large enough to accept a power cord and an ethernet cable and hold a few lights that indicate status and connectivity. One device you situate next to your home's router - wireless or otherwise. You plug it into a wall electrical outlet, and then run an ethernet cable from the device into your router. The other part of the kit gets plugged into a wall outlet close to the computer that you would like to network. Once plugged in, you run an ethernet cable from the device to your computer's ethernet port.
From that point, you run any setup program that came with the units and - voila! - the two devices should begin communicating with each other, using the existing electrical wiring in your home. Thanks to the connection to your router, you should have speedy Internet access and the ability to move files from the 'powerlined' computer to any other that is connected to the home network.
To add a second, third, or fourth computer to the powerline mix, you simply buy another powerline adapter. Because your home network's router is still in the mix, you should be able to use powerline networking technology with any other type of networking connection - wireless or wired - that you may already have established through your router.
Q: How fast is powerline networking compared to 802.11n wireless?
A: Many powerline products now on the market claim transfer speeds of 200 megabits per second (Mbps), while today's 802.11n (draft) routers often claim wireless transfer speeds that are higher - 300Mbps or greater.
But real-world transfer speeds are often wildly different, for both powerline and 802.11n products, and it's difficult to say with certainty which technology will work better in a given environment. That's because a number of factors can interfere with the best-case transfer speed scenarios put forward. Distance and other factors can deteriorate a wireless signal to the point that it becomes slow and unstable. The way a particular house is wired might make powerline adapters infeasible.
For that reason, if you're trying out either of these technologies for the first time, make sure you purchase your networking gear from a retailer that accepts returns. No one should expect you to know beforehand which of these two networking technologies is best for your environment.
Q: How much does a powerline networking kit cost?
A: Currently prices vary widely, and by paying more, you're not always getting a better product or faster, more reliable networking. Starter powerline networking kits - which typically consist of the components necessary to network two computers - run anywhere from 100 to 250 dollars. Additional adapters can cost anywhere from 50 to 150 dollars.
Some manufacturers only sell kits, while others allow you to buy adapters individually. Perhaps the best way to determine which powerline networking product to try is to find user reviews of existing offerings. Searching sites such as Amazon or Newegg for user reviews can give you some idea of the issues you may face with particular models.
Q: What does the future of powerline networking hold?
A: Faster speeds. Many people who look into powerline networking are interested in streaming high definition video around the house - or in backing up large amounts of data. Either of those applications requires the fastest speeds you can get.
There's plenty of talk among powerline networking manufacturers of top speeds of 400Mbps - roughly double the current rate. Although real-world transmission rates are far below the typical 200Mbps promised, any improvement in transmission speeds will be welcome.
--- Have a computer question? Send it to the Computer Helper at email@example.com.