It looks like a large AC/DC power adapter, but Linksys's PLUSB10 version 2 is really a convenient means of connecting your computer to a power-line network through a USB connection, and it works with any computer that's running Windows 98 SE or later and has a free USB port. Linksys substantially reduced the size of the PLUSB10 from the brick-sized original version to a more compact night-light design. But the latest version is still substantially larger than the Siemens PowerLine USB adapter, and a single unit can hog two outlets arranged side by side. The bulky blue-and-gray PLUSB10 may be too large for some wall power sockets--especially those mounted on skirting boards or in tight corners.
The bulky size of the adapter is particularly galling because you can't use surge-protected power strips for power-line networks (they block the network signal along with the power surges), so the HomePlug standard places a premium on wall-mounted power sockets. You may want to measure to ensure that you have enough clearance to accommodate the PLUSB10 version 2. Three inches by three inches by five inches ought to do it.
The PowerLine Configuration Utility scans your network for other power-line devices and helps you set up security.
Once we had plugged in this power-line adapter and installed the software, our impression of the PLUSB10 version 2 improved. The installation wizard runs automatically when you load the CD and guides you through a foolproof setup procedure, leaving a shortcut to the PowerLine Configuration Utility on your desktop. The Configuration Utility scans your network for other power-line devices and allows you to set an encryption password for your network, but it lacks a nice feature that Netgear includes with its power-line products: it can't change the passwords of all of the adapters on a HomePlug network at once. On the positive side, the PLUSB10 version 2 sailed through our compatibility tests, automatically connecting to HomePlug 1.0 adapters from several manufacturers.
Chariot throughput tests (Longer bars indicate better performance)
As its benchmark, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot 4.3 software on a console system with clients running NetIQ's Performance End Points 4.4. Our throughput tests measure the transfer speed of a file that a user might send across the network. This is known as the payload throughput and does not include packet errors and other data that might be transferred over a network. Payload throughput can vary widely from the bandwidth speeds vendors advertise and is a much better gauge of what you're likely to experience with a standard file transfer. For more details on how we test networking devices, see the CNET Labs site.
Performance is the PLUSB10's strong suit. This USB power-line bridge delivered throughput on a par with that of Ethernet power-line bridges we have reviewed. Although it couldn't quite match the transfer speed of the SpeedStream power-line Ethernet adapter, it ran circles around the Netgear XE102. With a maximum throughput of 5.2Mbps, the PLUSB10 version 2 runs at about the same speed as wireless 802.11b devices, but it's much slower than wireless gear based on the 802.11g and 802.11a standards. Still, the PLUSB10 version 2 is much faster than most broadband Internet connections and should offer plenty of speed if your objective is to share an Internet connection among two or three computers.
Linksys supports the PLUSB10 with a one year warranty--half that of the slower Ethernet-based Netgear XE102--and toll-free technical support around the clock. You can also find FAQs, manuals, and drivers on the Linksys Web site. For computers without an Ethernet card installed, this is a speedy and well-supported product.