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Netgear Powerline AV 500 kit review

Its fastest powerline network adapter hits the UK
Thu Mar 10 2011, 14:48

Product Netgear Powerline AV 500 kit (XAVB5001)
Specifications 500Mbps powerline networking, 1Gbps Ethernet port, 128-bit AES encryption, Homeplug AV and IEEE 1901 compliant, dimensions 86x67x40mm, weight 130g
Price £100 excluding VAT

LAUNCHED many moons ago in the US, Netgear's high-speed powerline networking kit has now finally had the necessary surgery to allow it to fit in a UK mains socket.

The Powerline AV 500 kit, which is a pair of identical adapters, claims speeds of up to 500 Mbps, although confusingly the adapters also proclaim 'Gigabit' on the front. This is just a reference to the Gigabit Ethernet port, but it's still a bit cheeky.

The adapters are built around the Atheros AR7400 Homeplug chip, which was launched in early 2010. This complies with the newly-ratified IEEE1901 global powerline standard and uses the OFDM modulation option for the physical (PHY) layer. There are two options in the standard, the other being wavelet modulation, which is used in Panasonic's HD-PLC products, but in keeping with the barmy world of standards, these two options will not work together. They also won't work with older Universal Powerline Alliance (UPA) products based on DS2 chips.

Atheros' chip achieves the higher speeds by using higher signalling frequencies, 2-68MHz compared to Homeplug AV, 2-28MHz. This is still much less than the 50-300MHz range used by the Gigle chips in the Solwise Mediaxtream Gigabit adapters we looked at in 2010.

In the box are the two adapters, two Ethernet cables and the utility software. The software isn't required for operation, but it does have some very handy features, such as the ability to set quality of service (QoS) parameters for each adapter, turn off the three LEDs or change the encryption keys. QoS priorities can be set either by MAC address, port number, 802.1Q LAN tag or IPv4 TOS fields. This is handy if you want to use the adapters to connect VoIP phones, for example.

netgear-homeplug-interfaceWe checked performance using the Passmark Performance Test 7.0 Advanced Network Test. With both adapters located on the same extension lead, they managed a very respectable 96Mbps average throughput.

chart-1-netgear-on-same-extensionSticking them on two separate extensions with lots of other noisy power adapters, this dropped to 79Mbps, but was still commendably consistent during the test, with no big dropouts.

chart-2-netgear-2-noisy-extensionsFor comparison we did the same tests using one Netgear adapter and one Solwise Mediaxtream adapter, the updated version with new firmware. The best result on the same extension was 21Mbps, dropping to under 10Mbps on two noisy extensions. Just for fun, we also retested the updated Solwise kit on a single extension, and got a remarkable result of 130Mbps, so the Gigle-powered Solwise device still retains the speed crown.

Although the Netgear adapters are well put together, they are quite wide, making them a tight fit on an extension lead. For best results you should stick them in a dedicated wall socket, so perhaps this is a deliberate design decision. They work well, and the software is a good bonus if you need to manage several adapters. But they are more expensive than the faster Solwise Mediaxtream adapters.

In Short
Good and consistent performance plus useful software makes these powerline adapters the pick of the bunch if you need fast, reliable mains networking. µ

The Good
Good software utility, well screwed together, good performance in noisy conditions.

The Bad
Tiny status LEDs are hard to see in daylight.

The Ugly
Bit too wide for most extension leads.

Bartender's Score



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