Wireless seems to have stolen all the headlines in home networking. But it has its drawbacks. Setting up a wireless network still isn't child's play, and real performance never lives up to the number written on the box - in fact, it's not even close.
However, compared to the upheaval of laying Ethernet networking cables throughout your house, wireless has always seemed like the best compromise for most people.
One alternative which has never really delivered in the UK has been Powerline networking. Since every room in most houses (bar the bathroom) will have power sockets, power cabling seems readymade for data networking.
The obvious drawback is that the wires already have noisy mains current going through them. So although the HomePlug Alliance created a standard so multiple manufacturers can produce compatible products, it has a relatively pedestrian 14Mbps performance which was still worse than wireless. With its Microlink dLAN Highspeed range, Devolo hopes to turn the tables by raising the ceiling to 85Mbps.
As we noted when we looked at the standard HomePlug-speed Devolo kit (see the review here), setting up power-line networking kit is about as easy as you can get.
All you have to do is plug it into the nearest power outlet, and then run a regular network cable to your PC, Mac or notebook's Ethernet adapter. It will even work with games adapters or consoles. No drivers or SSID are required, and there's no need for WEP security either.
However, the downside that we singled out last time also stands true - this is a potentially expensive method of networking. The starter kit costs £113.98 for two adapters, and a single one will set you back £61.56. You can pick up a bog-standard 802.11g WLAN adapter for as little as £20.
However, bog-standard 802.11g can't deliver quite the same performance. We tried copying files from a Centrino notebook using its built-in 802.11g networking and the Devolo attached via the notebook's onboard 10/100 Ethernet. In close proximity, the Devolo averaged 19.8Mbps, whilst regular 802.11g could only muster 17.3Mbps.
After we'd moved from our first floor office to a conservatory at the back of the house, the Devolo dropped to 14Mbps, and 802.11g to just 12.4Mbps. However, the Devolo's performance lead isn't by a huge margin, and MIMO-enhanced 802.11g such as the Linksys SRX range will beat either, although it costs around the same as the Devolo per adapter.
Whilst the Devolo Highspeed adapters are a very healthy step in the right direction, much more is still to come.
Devolo recently announced that 200Mbits/sec versions using Infineon's new HomePlug AV circuitry. This could at last offer real-world speeds to complement 100Mbit/sec wired Ethernet. But with Draft 802.11n wireless networking products expected towards the end of 2006, it's still going to have some stiff competition from the airwaves.