Product Solwise Mediaxtream/Homeplug AV adapter (NET-PL-1000M)
Specifications 1 Gbps Ethernet port, 128-bit AES encryption, compatible with Homeplug AV 1.1 standard, 105 x 58 x 42mm, 200g, power consumption 6.5W, 0.12A
PIGGYBACKING A NETWORK on the electrical mains might have a certain whiff of make-do-and-mend about it, but it's undeniably a convenient way of sending data around a home or office when pulling Ethernet cables is not an option.
Currently the fastest products available use the 200Mbps Homeplug AV standard, as the proposed 1Gbps AV2 standard is unlikely to appear anytime soon.
The Solwise adapter uses a GGL541 chip from Gigle Networks, which is also used in Belkin's Powerline HD product. Mediaxtream is Gigle's name for its proprietary 1Gbps powerline technology, which uses higher frequencies than Homeplug AV - 50-300MHz compared to AV's 2-28MHz - to provide a 1Gbps backplane speed. The chip also has full interoperability with Homeplug AV devices.
Physically, there's little to say. There's a Gigabit Ethernet port at the base, a small pairing button, reset switch and three status lights. Mediaxstream connections get a blue status light, changing to green for Homeplug AV. The only software is a firmware upgrade utility.
We tested TCP throughput using Passmark's Network Test, plus Totusoft's handy LAN Speed Test utility as a sanity check. In Passmark we used the default TCP block size of 16,384 bytes and 60-second test duration, while in LAN Speed Test we set total packets to 100. Connections were handled via an Engenius ESR 9710 Gigabit router.
As with all powerline products, mains wiring quality and interference are the biggest bugbears, and difficult to control in the real world. Our test environment used fairly typical - that is, old - domestic wiring. After a lot of trial and error, plugging both adapters into a single 0.5m extension lead attached to a wall socket and turning off as much equipment as possible gave us the best results.
This is what baseline performance looks like using a wired connection, just under 780 Mbps:
The best we could achieve in Mediaxstream mode was around 92Mbps in Passmark:
And in LAN Test we recorded 120Mbps:
The same tests using a pair of Homeplug AV adapters returned 38Mbps and 52Mbps respectively. Interestingly, when we repeated the tests using a more ‘realistic' selection of grotty surge-protected extensions full of dodgy AC adapters, the Mediaxtream results tanked to about 16Mbps in Passmark:
However, the Homeplug AV units only dropped to about 23Mbps and showed much more consistent throughput:
Mixing a Homeplug AV unit with a pair of Mediaxtream adapters produced interesting results. When we ran LAN Test on the AV client while running Passmark on the Mediaxtream client, overall throughput remained roughly the same, but with 12Mbps on the AV client and 75Mbps on the Mediaxtream connection. With no activity on the AV adapter, Mediaxtream performance improved to just under 90Mbps.
Another trick that the Solwise Mediaxtream adapters can perform is meshing. Called Xtendnet, this is an intelligent switching agent in each adapter that uses any available node to optimise signal routing and extend the range. So the more adapters in a network, the more reliable the performance should be. We tried three adapters with one Gigabit client and one 100Mbps client and recorded a simultaneous overall throughput of 135Mbps. It might have been interesting to mesh more adapters together, but sadly we ran out of shillings for the electricity meter.
An impressive improvement in throughput for powerline networking compared to Homeplug AV, even though we couldn't achieve anything like Gigabit speeds. It's a decent match for those using a 100Mbps switch or router, however, and the price is good. µ
No brains needed for setup, good performance compared to Homeplug AV, interoperability with Homeplug AV.
Tiny pairing button, no monitoring software, less robust than Homeplug AV on poor mains wiring, won't work with Homeplug 1.0 kit.
Doesn't achieve the headline speeds for single connections.