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Model Number: GHPU01 ($79)
The GHPU01 is a svelte little unit in a gun-metal grey case with indicator
lights for power, link, activity, and even collisions. Aside from that, there's
a USB port on the front and an AC power connector on the back.
The $99 IOGEAR
GHPU01 is based on the HomePlug 1.0 standard, which allows your home's electrical
lines to transmit data up to 990 feet and provides 14 Mbps of bandwidth. On
the other hand, because the GHPU01 is a USB 1.1 device, its inherent bandwidth
is limited to 12 Mbps. It doesn't much matter though, because as with just about
any other networking technology the actual throughput falls well short of the
theoretical maximum. (Still, USB 2.0 support would be nice.)
- Easy to set up
- Better performance than 2.4GHz WLAN
- USB 1.1 interface caps performance
According to IOGEAR, the basic rule of thumb to calculate throughput of a HomePlug
device is throughput =bandwidth/2. Given this formula, we expected to squeeze
6 Mb throughput out of this USB adapter (read on to see if we did) and closer
to 7 Mb if using the GHPB01, which is a sister product that eschews USB in favor
of an Ethernet interface (technically, it's a bridge).
The IOGEAR GHPU01 works with most versions of Windows, but it's not compatible
with Windows 95, NT or the MacOS-- you'll need the GHPB01 for those systems.
(Note: the unit's software is currently incompatible with Windows 9x systems
using the Microsoft Virtual Private Networking adapter. A fix is planned for
IOGEAR recommends that you don't plug the GHPB01 into a power strip or surge
suppressor that does power filtering. Having an electrical device plugged directly
into my computer without protection against surges makes me a bit nervous, but
IOGEAR says that the GHPU01 contains built-in suppression circuitry, and will
take the bullet for your computer in the event of a surge. I'll buy that, but
if you wanted to be extra cautious, plugging into a surge suppressor doesn't
necessarily preclude the unit from working.
Installing and configuring the GHPU01 was a little idiosyncratic, but not difficult.
For some reason, the driver CD doesn't automatically invoke the setup routine,
so you have to run it manually. Once I did, it was pretty much smooth sailing--there
aren't any variables to configure aside from the (mandatory) password.
Indeed, the installation was so boring that I might have nodded off had it
not been for a fairly draconian license agreement I had to acknowledge before
the installation would proceed. Rather than presenting the customary 93 pages
of legalese, IOGEAR proffers a brief "User Contract," which among
other things stipulates that the company is not responsible for damage to any
user devices or software or for any "security threats."
Whatever. Maybe all end-user license agreements say the same thing in a less
straightforward way; in any event, caveat emptor.
After the software is installed, you plug the GHPU01 into a USB port, reboot
the system, and run the IOGEAR configuration utility.
The utility will display the MAC addresses of other HomePlug devices on your
network that have been configured with the same password. Once this physical
layer of connectivity is established, you can configure the associated IP settings
as you wish.
Security on the GHPU01 is basic and straightforward. The unit provides one
level of encryption: 56-bit DES, which is invoked via an alphanumeric password
of between 4 and 24 characters.
Thankfully, you have to specify a common password in order to set up a network
with another machine. That's good news, because evidently the powerline network
can extend into your neighbors' homes if you happen to be sharing a power transformer.
Do yourself a favor and configure as long and complex a password as you can
stand, especially if you believe your neighbors to be untrustworthy (and technically
inclined). Your dog's name will simply not do here -- if for no other reason
than your neighbors are likely to know it.
For performance tests, I networked two notebooks with GHPU01 units (running
Windows XP Home and Windows 2000 Professional) that were three rooms and about
50 feet apart. Following manufacturers recommendations, I plugged the GHPU01
devices directly into the wall rather than into a surge suppressor. The notebooks
were each on separate electrical circuits, in a 25-year-old home.
The average throughput between systems was slightly north of 5Mbps, about 15%
better than a typical 802.11b-based wireless LAN. At 375 Kbps, streaming performance
was about on par with a wireless setup which isn't really isn't adequate for
the majority of media types.
Clearly, this is not knock-your-socks-off speed. Still, it's quite good considering
there was a time not long ago when powerline-based networking wasn't fast enough
to deliver the information printed on a matchbook in a timely fashion. Use of
the Ethernet-based GHPB01 (which is the same price) might afford a bit higher
As mentioned earlier, plugging the unit into a surge suppressor will dull your
performance slightly. My experience indicated it will shave about 10% off the
top, as well as have a tendency to make your speed fluctuate as the suppressor
potentially interferes with the power frequencies carrying the data.
The utility of a HomePlug-based networking product like the GHPU01 might seem
questionable with the advent of things like wireless bridges and powerful directional
antennas in the WLAN world. On the other hand, the IOGEAR GHPU01 is inexpensive,
reasonably fast, and you can install it in your sleep, so it is a great way
to network that PC in the upstairs corner bedroom where wiring isn't an option
and the WLAN signal is weak.