A few months ago I moved in with my girlfriend (yay! :D), and this necessitated the moving of all my computer equipment to her house. At my old place, I had strung Ethernet cables all down the hallway between the various rooms, and although aesthetically unpleasant, certainly did the trick. Moving in with my girlfriend meant I could no longer have the freedom to string cables everywhere. It looked horrible, somebody was going to trip on something eventually, and being in a rented house meant that we had to keep the place looking half-decent (Ethernet cables, surprisingly enough, are not everybody’s idea of a home decoration). So what to do?
My first thought, naturally enough, was to hook up some wireless adapters. This plan worked very well for one area of the house (where my server rack now sits), but horribly for another (where my desktop is). I read about the new-fangled Homeplug idea, which involves sending Ethernet frames over the AC power network in our home. I was dubious, but intrigued; Homeplug seemed to be the solution to my problems, in theory:
- Turns existing cables that are in every home into a computer network.
- Doesn’t use up valuable space in the wireless spectrum.
- Devices can just plug in via standard Ethernet, without the need for drivers.
Of course I decided to give it a go! I hurried on down to my local computer store and bought myself a pair of Homeplug adapters, these ones made by TP-Link (who, despite being Chinese owned and operated, make some excellent equipment). I plugged one in near my router and cabled it in, and plugged the other end in near my desktop computer. Unfortunately I had to plug it in via the powerboard due to the size of the adapter, but according to the documentation makes no difference. I immediately noticed several problems:
- The network is slow. Very slow. The theoretical speed of these Homeplug adapters is 200 Mb/s straight out of the box, which should compete with 802.11n very nicely. The real speed I got was 10Mb/s, which is slower than the Internet connection we have. Not good.
- The whole Homeplug network is a single collision domain. For the un-Ethernet-savvy, this basically means that the 10Mb/s I mentioned above is shared between every device plugged in via Homeplug, instead of standard Ethernet where every device would get 10Mb/s to itself.
Worst of all though, was this:
- If my desktop was plugged in via Homeplug, every two or three seconds, for no reason other than that Homeplug was plugged in, my computer would freeze. I have no idea why. I reinstalled Windows and used a different Ethernet adapter, and it made no difference at all. On the other hand, Homeplug worked absolutely fine in every other computer I plugged it into.
In the end, I couldn’t stand my computer pausing every three seconds to think, so I gave up on Homeplug (I handed the adapters to my housemate, who is successfully using them to plug a wireless black-hole in his bedroom). I’m now using a top-end wireless adapter and a strong aerial, and it seems to be working.
As an aside, I read that Homeplug does have serious security issues in it’s out-of-the-box configuration. You have to set up something similar to wireless network security in order to prevent your neighbours from connecting to your Homeplug network.
Basically, the short version is this: Homeplug is an awful idea, and avoid it if at all possible. Just use wireless, which is faster and far better tested. But if you are going to buy a Homeplug adapter or two, buying the TP-Link models isn’t a bad idea, they’re pretty decent.