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Price: $149.99 (MSRP)
Pros: fast; easy setup and hassle-free encryption
Cons: bulky and run hot; must connect Gigabit Ethernet-capable devices to realize full performance
Since few of us live in homes that are pre-wired for Ethernet, it's fortunate that the existence of Wi-Fi obviates the need for Ethernet in most
home networking situations. But there are times when wirelessly networking a device isn't feasible, usually
owing to excessive distance and/or interference. In such cases, Powerline networking can come to the rescue
by allowing you to bring an Ethernet-based data connection to any room in your home via the same copper wires
that deliver electricity.
Powerline networking's been around about as long as Wi-Fi, and like Wi-Fi has evolved over the years to
deliver improved performance. Belkin's Gigabit Powerline HD Starter Kit (Model # F5D4076) represents the
latest and greatest iteration of the technology—based on a new chipset from Gigle Networks which is exclusive to Belkin as
of this writing, the $149.99 kit includes a pair of adapters that boast the same 1000 Mbps theoretical data
rate as Gigabit Ethernet, well in excess of the 200 Mbps of existing Powerline devices or the 300 Mbps quoted by current 802.11n products.
Belkin's wall-wart powerline adapters are clad in glossy black plastic with a trio of indicator lights on
the front panel. They're a bit on the chunky side, measuring 4 ½ x 3 ½ x 1 ½ (HWD), but
since the bulk is all south of the AC plug, when you use a bottom outlet the top one won't get blocked.
It's worth mentioning that the adapters run extremely warm—hot, actually, since in some spots
they become almost too toasty to comfortably touch.
Setup and Security
Powerline adapters have always been relatively easy to set up provided you didn't care about a secure
connection. On the other hand, enabling encryption on them usually makes configuration more complicated,
involving a software utility (running on a Windows PC), and the need to enter a password that's a long string
of alphabetic characters. While encryption on a powerline network isn't quite the imperative that it is with
Wi-Fi, it's still important, because powerline data signals traverse circuit breakers and halt only when they
reach an electrical transformer. (Transformers shared between multiple households are a given in any
multi-unit dwelling, and they're also quite common among detached single-family homes.)
Thankfully, the Belkin adapters don't require a cumbersome security configuration process since they
come out of the box with encryption turned on. Plug the pair of devices into their respective wall outlets,
and they automatically negotiate a 128-bit encrypted link via a preconfigured passphrase. The powerline
network's encryption status is shown via one of the adapter indicator lights; the other two denote the
quality of the Powerline connection (either above or below 200 Mbps) as well as the presence of Ethernet
connectivity to an attached device. A pushbutton atop each adapter lets you re-sync them to a new
Within seconds of plugging the Belkin adapters directly into wall outlets several rooms apart (plugging
powerline adapters into surge suppressors or battery backups is a recipe for poor network performance due to
the power filtering those devices perform) and connecting them to a router and a PC, the latter had received
an IP address via DHCP and was up and running on the network.
We used iPerf to gauge how fast data could travel between a pair of Gigabit Ethernet-capable Windows 7 PCs
using the Belkin adapters as the conduit, and the results were impressive. The tests consistently measured
throughput of between 220 and 265 Mbps, which was anywhere from two to three times higher than powerline or
MoCa networking products we've previously tested. Even better, the throughput held up when we configured the
iPerf to transmit two, four, or eight parallel streams, indicating that the Belkin should easily handle heavy
traffic generated by multiple attached devices. (Although the adapters only provide one Ethernet port, you
can connect additional devices via an inexpensive switch.)
The level of performance you ultimately wring out of the Belkin powerline adapters will depend on the
capabilities of devices you connect to them, as connecting either adapter to a device with a mere 100 Mbps Fast
Ethernet port can represent a potential bottleneck. That's an important thing to remember, because while many
desktop and notebook PCs and routers sport Gigabit Ethernet ports these days, they're far from a given.
Moreover, most consumer electronics devices—game consoles, streaming devices, and set top boxes/DVRs
etc., make do with 10/100. (Sony's Gigabit- capable PS3 is a notable exception.) That said, an HD data stream
is considerably less than 100 Mbps, and we had no problem streaming high-quality HD video to a TiVo, Xbox
360, and PlayStation 3 using the Belkin kit.
Despite the implication of "starter kit" in the product name, the Belkin adapters aren't currently
available individually. While that won't be an issue for most, it will be for those that want to use the
Belkin adapters to network devices in two separate locations back to a router, thus needing three devices.
For situations where you need more than two devices, it's worth noting that Belkin says its Gigabit adapters
will interoperate with—as opposed to simply co-exist with—older 85 Mbps HomePlug AV powerline
products (though we weren't able to test it ourselves).
When wireless won't cut it and you need a high-performance, low-hassle way of networking devices around
the house, the speed and easy setup of Belkin Gigabit Powerline HD Starter Kit won't disappoint you.