ZyXel Powerline Home Network Kit

March 3, 2009

ZyXel’s Powerline Home Network Kit makes it easy to build a versatile home network without having to run cabling. The kit, which contains a HomePlug AV Powerline Wireless Router (NBG318S) and a HomePlug Powerline Ethernet Adapter (PLA401), uses your existing AC wiring to create a powerline network while offering wireless networking capabilities and a three-port router—all for less than $200.

The NBG318s is actually three network devices rolled into one: a three-port router for wired communications, a wireless router, and a powerline router with support for the HomePlug AV standard. Though it’s nice to have built-in wireless capabilities, the router does not support Draft N (802.11n) Wi-Fi and is limited to 802.11g. On the plus side, it is a Super G device, which means it uses channel bonding technology to achieve enhanced throughput performance of up to 108Mbps (standard 802.11g is rated at 54Mbps).

The hardware is housed in a glossy white plastic cabinet that measures 6.4×4.6×1.4 inches and can be mounted on a wall for optimal range. The rear panel contains three Fast Ethernet (10/100Mbps) ports, a WAN port, a Wi-Fi antenna connector, a HomePlug encrypt button, a Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) button, and a reset button. The encrypt and WPS buttons make it easy to set up secure powerline (encrypt) and wireless (WPS) networks without having to manually configure security settings. Unfortunately, this router does not support Gigabit Ethernet (1000Mbps). We also found it odd that the access point uses a single radio antenna instead of two or three for maximum reception, as many routers do.

The front panel features a row of LEDs that indicate when the HomePlug, WAN, and LAN ports are successfully connected. A blinking light indicates network activity, and the light is off when the connection is broken or disabled. There’s also a Wi-Fi activity light that glows when wireless clients are connected to the network and blinks when there is wireless network activity. Additionally, a power LED and indicator tells you when the WPS function has been activated.

The PLA401 Powerline adapter, which measures 3.9×2.7×1.7 inches, contains an Ethernet port, an encrypt button, and a reset button; it must be plugged in near the PC you want to connect to. The plug is positioned at the top of the device so you can use the lower portion of a dual-socket outlet without blocking the upper socket. The front panel contains three LEDs: the power light, a HomePlug LED that indicates that another HomePlug device has been detected, and an LED that indicates that you’re connected to the Ethernet.

The NBG318S router offers plenty of setup help, including a Web-based configuration with wizards that help you set up your wired, wireless, and powerline networks; basic and advanced screens for managing your settings; and a CD with an interactive, Flash-based “configuration genie” that walks you through each step using an easy-to-follow multimedia video. The configuration menu is easy to navigate and contains individual tabs for managing the wireless, WAN, LAN, and HomePlug segments of the network. You can also enable or disable the DHCP server function, view a DHCP client list, and manage security features (including WPA and WPS2, a built-in firewall, a content filter, and network address translation). Other management tools include a bandwidth manager that allows you to assign traffic priority to specific applications (such as gaming or VoIP), a Quality of Service (QoS) menu for prioritizing wireless multimedia traffic, a remote management console, and static routing tables.

Installation was a snap. We connected the router to a cable modem using the included Ethernet cable and attached a desktop PC to one of the wired ports. The router’s DHCP feature automatically assigned IP addresses to the desktop system and our wireless client, a ThinkPad laptop. As a wireless router, the NBG318S performed pretty much as we expected, given its limitations. At a distance of 50 feet we transferred a 100MB file in 41.9 seconds; a 500MB file took 3 minutes and 43 seconds. In comparison, the Draft-N-capable D-Link DIR-628 completed the 100MB transfer in 28 seconds and the 500MB transfer in 2 minutes and 6 seconds. Our video file streamed smoothly at up to 40 feet, but playback became choppy at the 50-foot mark.

The HomePlug adapter connected to the router without a hitch and performed quite well, transferring our 100MB file in 28 seconds and our 500MB file in 2 minutes and 13 seconds. We also transferred a 4GB folder in 15 minutes and 32 seconds. These scores were right in line with Netgear’s XAVB101 Powerline adapter. Video playback was smooth and perfectly in sync.

Although the kit’s $199 price may seem steep, you do get a lot of connectivity options in a single device, and unlike Netgear’s XAVB101 kit, a router is included. If you do need to expand your network, you can find additional PLA401 HomePlug adapters online for around $65. If you can live with yesterday’s Wi-Fi technology, the ZyXel Powerline Home Network Kit is a very good deal.


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