Actiontec 14Mbps HomePlug Ethernet Adapter

Reviewed by: Jim Huddle, April 2005
Manufactured by: Actiontec Electronics
Requires: entium 200MHz CPU, 64MB RAM, Windows 98SE, ME, 2000 or XP, Ethernet network adapter, TCP/IP installed, 2 available AC power outlets
MSRP: US$129.99

The wife and I watched our present home being built. Once they had it framed in but before they started putting up drywall I seriously considered sneaking in and running cat 5 cable throughout the house. The wife gave me one of those wife looks. If you're a married man you know the one I'm talking about. If you're not a married man or you're a woman, it's very similar to the one you mother used to give you when you were little and she felt you were being especially dim-witted. Suffice it to say I didn't do any sneaking and the house was not wired for networking.

Once we were moved in, I set up my servers and workstations in the loft. It's the only room in the house over which I have any say, but that's another story. I have always been bugged by the lack of connectivity in the rest of the house, particularly the garage (it's a guy thing). As I stated in a previous review a wireless access point works pretty well, but there are times when I want a wired connection. One case in particular is when I have a laptop running Linux and the onboard wireless NIC isn't recognized. Anyway, I got excited when the HomePlug Kit showed up as a review possibility and I burned bits getting my request in.

I was hoping the technology had finally matured to the point that it would be a viable solution and an alternative to wireless. Don't get me wrong, wireless is great, but units for the home just can't have the security options available that one from, say, Enterasys has, and still be affordable in the home and SOHO market. The Actiontec HomePlug unit bypasses these concerns by allowing you to run your network connection over your home's electrical wiring.

The Actiontec Kit is HomePlug 1.0 compliant and the adapters come with two prong plugs so you can use them with ungrounded outlets. The Kit consists of two adapters, two Ethernet cables, a quick start guide and a CD containing the manual and management utility. Set up takes about two minutes. Plug one adapter into an outlet near your broadband router or switch and attach the Ethernet cable to the adapter and switch. Take the other adapter to where you want connectivity, plug it in and use the other Ethernet cable to connect a PC. Give the adapters a few seconds to find each other and that's it—you have connectivity. The range of the adapters is listed by Actiontec at about 300 meters, which should be fine for most homes. The adapters should also work in any home with standard copper wiring, though Actiontec notes they may not work in houses built before 1950 with alternate wiring.

You probably shouldn't stop there however. While by default 56-bit encryption is enabled, it's also based on the default password from the manufacturer. Why is this a big deal? Well, it's possible that your neighbor, who also has the Actiontec Kit, will be able to receive your adapter's signal join your network. That might be fine for you and the folks next door, but typically you will want to keep your data available within and restricted to your own home.

To secure the adapters, install the management utility on the PC connected to the adapter. The utility interface is small and easy to navigate. The utility consists of four tabs. The first is Device where you can see the link quality of the adapter you are attached to and connect to other adapters if desired. The Network tab shows all the adapters plugged into outlets. By default it only shows those adapters that have the same password. If you add more adapters you can click the "Scan HomePlug Network" button to bring up the additional units. Actiontec recommends a maximum of sixteen adapters per network. In the average home, that seems more than adequate.

The Security tab is where you set the adapters in your home to talk to each other and ignore your neighbor's setup. On the back of each adapter is a device ID. The ID is unique to each adapter and each adapter's ID in your network must be added to the HomePlug device list. Simply type in the ID and click Add. Once you have all your adapters added, change the password and click the "Set Password for All Devices" button. Your adapters will now ignore any device with a different password because the encryption will be different.

The manual included on the CD is well written and to the point. It will walk you quickly through the setup of both the hardware and management utility. The system is so simple that you will probably never need it again after your first setup.

Simple things that work well tickle me to no end. This kit fits that description and I'm very amused! The best part is it required no sneaking around or wife looks. What more can you ask? Recommended.

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