Review: 5 power-line devices that take you online where Ethernet or Wi-Fi can't

Power-line devices can use existing electrical wiring to connect you to your router -- and therefore to the Internet. But what kind of performance will you get?

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Belkin Powerline AV+ Starter Kit

Belkin International Inc.'s starter kit provides an access point with one RJ45 connector for your router or modem and a bridge with three RJ45 connectors to which you can attach as many as three additional network devices.

The units are not only smart looking, but they've also been cleverly designed to use either a flush-mount plug (that makes them similar to socket-hogging power bricks) or an included slide-in adapter that provides a couple of feet of power cord for tighter fits. The kit also comes with two Cat5 cables.

There's a button on the front of each device that is the equivalent of WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) security buttons. Pressing one then the other in sequence synchronizes the two devices with 128-bit AES encryption.

Belkin Powerline AV+ Starter Kit

While there is a Quick Connect guide and an electronic version of the manual on disc, you probably won't need either. The devices are really plug and play. No drivers are needed. The access point has three status lights indicating power, link status and cable connect, while the bridge has an extra two for the pair of additional RJ45s.

With everything working the way it should, at least electronically, the "room-to-room" clean file transfer completed in 58.82 minutes. When plugged into the same outlet, Belkin hustled the files and folders across the network in a shorter 28.95 minutes.

My 90-foot run needed a modest 33.58 minutes to complete. That time ramped up by about three minutes as each video stream was added to the workload until, at five streams, the file transfer needed 48.51 minutes to complete. (All of the video streams were perfect at all times.)

Except for testing within the same outlet, Belkin was next to last among the five products tested. In this pack, Belkin probably qualifies as an "also-ran," ahead of D-Link Corp.'s device but not an obvious choice.

D-Link PowerLine HD Starter Kit (DHP-301)

D-Link's approach to power-line networking is somewhat basic. Its DHP-301 starter kit consists of two small white bricks that plug into wall outlets, each with a single RJ45 connector. There is no difference made between which end to attach to the remote device you want networked and which should be the access point connected to your router. Drivers are included on the disc, which also contains an electronic version of the manual.

D-Link PowerLine HD Starter Kit

The prongs on the DHP-301 devices are not polarized. There's no specific way to plug them into an outlet, so you can connect them with the device sticking out either above or below the outlet, leaving the second outlet available for other things. The situation is a bit clunky, but it works.

The room-to-room test was a total bust. By the time the D-Link modules hit the 61-minute mark without successfully completing a clean copy and paste, Windows estimated that it would take another 20-plus hours to complete. I made three attempts in total, but they all produced approximately similar timing. Whatever the problem was that affected the DHP-301, it was significantly more egregious for D-Link than for any of the other power-line kits. After spending 41 minutes on hold with D-Link's tech support and leaving a message when I couldn't wait any longer (I never received a call back), I gave up.

Plugged into the same outlet, the time for a clean copy dropped from nearly infinite to a mere 30.96 minutes. On the more standard 90-foot electrical run, the clean copy operation rose to 49.42 minutes.

Each video stream added to the 90-foot test scenario increased that time by about 2.47 minutes on average, and while all video streams played perfectly, the overall time (61.8 minutes) was the slowest of the five as well.

I'd have a difficult time choosing D-Link over the others, not so much for the speed but because of its lack of meaningful tech support.

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