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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Powerline Networking Tutorial & Speed Test Using the Linksys PLK300

When I recently picked up our new Sony LCD 52" Bravia TV (link to Amazon) not only was the picture improvement tremendous, but there is an Internet connection for the television that allows access to Yahoo! Widgets, YouTube, and other basic Internet connectivity. While I was disappointed in the fact that it did not include a built-in Wireless via 802.11G or RangeMax N -- I was forced to confront a growing issue in my home Entertainment system -- the need for several wired connections.

Previously, with my Sony Playstation 3and Nintendo Wii the problem was not so bad -- since both support wireless Internet connectivity. But take the new Sony 52" LCD, and in the Sony Blu-Ray player and the emerging connectivity for Sony ES receivers and you have a major need for connectivity.

The way I looked at it was that I had a couple of options:

1. I could mess with the wiring in my house (which has CAT-5E run through it) and install some wiring between the room where my Verizon FiOS connection terminates and my family room, add in a new switch and hook all the wired devices up.

2. I could install a wireless bridge to extend the wireless network into the Entertainment system and hook up the various components to the wireless bridge.

3. I could dive into the world of Powerline networking, where just by using a simple outlet, I could with the newer technology reach speeds up to 200Mbps -- of course, under the right conditions.

After thinking hard about #2, I ran into a number of articles suggesting that the Sony KDL-52Z5100 television experienced numerous issues with various types of bridges. The recommendation from a few folks on seemed to be to use the Powerline equipment and folks seemed to have pretty good luck with the Linksys PLK300 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter Kit.

After continuing to research the Powerline option, and due to a great deal on, I settled on the Linksys by Cisco PLK300 as the Powerline AV Kit of choice. For about $140, the cheapest around I got both a single port Powerline AV Adapter and a four-port Powerline AV Adapter, which was exactly needed. Throw in my Amazon Prime Free Trial and 2-day shipping free and I was sold.

If you're interested, I published a video on the setup and the performance of the video on YouTube, here it is. Feel free to keep on reading if you don't have the chance to watch as I'll cover several of the same topics.

Upon the Linksys by Cisco PLK3000 unit showing up at my house, everything I expected was inside. Two Powerline AV adapters, two power cords, and two RJ-45 Ethernet cables. I was ready to go.

The first step was to plug in the first adapater that would be connected to my gigabit switch in my office where the Verizon FiOS router terminates. No issues there, I plugged it directly into the wall (as recommended) and the switch.

I then went to plug in the device in my Home Entertainment Center. What I quickly realized that the 3-foot power cord that is provided is going to be too short for most people. It was for me, so I needed to come up with an alternate placement of the devices. Once I figured out where the next best place was for placement, I plugged it in and the good news was that I had instant connectivity.

I did not have to push any buttons, do any configurations, just plug and play and the adapter was working and providing direct connectivity to my PlayStation 3 device. In this case, Linksys gets high marks for the PLK300 (which is a bundle of the PLE300 and the PLK300) for easy of setup and first use.

Now was time for a real test -- how would the the Powerline AV Network perform? How close would I get to the 200Mbps?

At this point, I booted my Sony Playstation 3 up into the Ubuntu Linux mode so that I could establish network connectivity and test out a file copy of a large file (200MB or so) between my Network Attached Storage Device (D-Link DNS-323, which is awesome!) and the PS3 to see what kind of performance I would get. I started the copying and the results were less than impressive -- 2.1MBps, which roughly translates to 17Mbps, far short of the 200Mbps potential...of course based on the conditions of the wiring, distance, and electrical interference.

After reading the reviews, I was expecting to get somewhere between 30Mbps and 70Mbps, so only achieving 17Mbps was very disappointing. My home is relatively new constructions, so the age of the wiring is likely the least limiting here. Still, when comparing with wireless to the same location, I was actually receiving almost double as the Wireless G connection. In that regards, I was happy that I was able to achieve better rates.

Satisfied with the overall improvement, but not the overall performance, I decided to see if there were any advanced settings I could possibly reach knowing that forcing devices to 100-Full vs. Auto-detect can make big differences in certain conditions. I also wanted to check to see if there were any firmware of other upgrades available that could possibly filter out noise or give performance enhancements.

To make a long story short here, Linksys does not support these devices very well. Meaning, there's no utility that works (there is a Utility for the 200 series that is not compatible) and there have been no firmware upgrades since November of 2008 that are post on the site. There is also no advanced way to connect to the devices to tweak the settings which overall is a pretty big bummer.

Let with no options in terms of configuration, my only choices were to move the devices between power outlets to see what kind of differences they could make. Really, I approached it two ways:

1. Trying out through a power strip with cleaner power. It worked fine (although not recommended by Linksys, but the performance drops to roughly half of what it was previous. Generally, not a desired outcome.

2. I went ahead and tried out a plethora of different outlets between the two rooms. Not much to report here other than the end result is that my top end file movement speed was at roughly 2.1MBps, which appears to be the top end available.

In the end, the overall review on the Linksys PLK300 Powerline AV Network is really a mediocre one. Linksys gets extremely high marks for plug-and-play with a successful ease of setup. However, in terms of performance, advanced configuration, and overall support it's pretty poor. There for, that leaves me in the middle of the review. The good news is that it works just good enough for me to keep it, although I briefly concerned it when I saw the surprisingly low performance.

If you need to establish connectivity between a non-wireless device or a hard to reach wireless location -- the PLK300 is a great solution -- as long as you do not have to worry about speed.


About Brian said...

Great article, I've been interested in this technology, but wasn't sure what the performance would be, and had considered on multiple occasions using it in my own home. Really interested to know more after reading through your experience testing different connections to get better performance, this was a great teaser article!

Tim W. said...

Hey Ken,
Thanks for the review. I'd be interested in hearing how it is performing in a month or two to see if it just needed time to settle in or if it gets worse with time.

msf80 said...

Thanks for the review. Does your house run on 3 phased power?

Have you tried with WD Livewire? CNET review give them 9/10 for performance (40Mbps out of 200Mps). However, i found a another great video review plus real-life scenarios running in 3 phased power. Impressive result...!

I hope they can test it with PLK-300 and show better result with it.