Power-line networking is cheaper, faster, more secure, and easier to install than wireless networking. Granted, it's not as elegant, with Ethernet and power cables running from the wall to your networked devices--PC, printer, DVR, Xbox--but if its advantages are more important to you than the absence of wires, power-line networking makes a lot of sense. It's an easy and effective way to get reliable Internet access in the room in your house that's just out of range of your Wi-Fi router or to access your networked home-theater devices without having to run Cat-5 cables all through your living room. Zyxel's PL-100 HomePlug Turbo Powerline Ethernet Adapters aren't the fastest power-line adapters we've tested, but they are more than fast enough to share a broadband Internet connection, and they'll suffice for transmitting HD video over your network. The adapters are priced slightly lower than competing products from Netgear and Panasonic; each PL-100 unit lists for $109, but you can find them online for about $25 less than that. If you don't need the highest throughput from a wired network and want only to share your broadband connection throughout your home, Zyxel's PL-100 is one of the more affordable options.
Setting up the Zyxel PL-100 adapters is a snap--truly plug-and-play. The silver-and-black adapter is the size of a small alarm clock and supplies one Ethernet port, a 4.5-foot Ethernet cable, a power connection, and a 6-foot power cable. You'll need at least two adapters to establish a power-line network. We connected the first adapter to a Netgear Ethernet router (you can connect it directly into your cable or DSL router, as well), and we plugged it into the wall. We then connected the other unit to a laptop and plugged the adapter into the wall. Without even needing to reboot the laptop, we had an instant connection to the Internet.
The Zyxel PL-100 adapters feature three LEDs--Power, Link, and Ethernet--that let you know that the unit is receiving power, as well as whether it is receiving or sending data and whether it's connected to your Ethernet cable. The included CD contains a configuration utility that provides diagnostics and lets you protect your network with 56-bit Data Encryption Security (DES). We did not need to bother with the included setup utility to get the adapters working. You can network up to 15 other adapters from the main unit connected to your router.
In our Labs' tests, the Zyxel PL-100 HomePlug Turbo Powerline Ethernet Adapters clocked in at a consistent 29.6Mbps--slower than both the Netgear Powerline HD Ethernet Adapter's 52.7Mbps rate and the Panasonic HD-PLC's 35.4Mbps rate. While 29.6Mbps is well off Zyxel's theoretical maximum of 85Mbps, it's still more than enough for broadband Web surfing. This rate will also suffice for transmitting high-def content; HDTV peaks at 28Mbps, and the standard rate for over-the-air HD broadcasts is 19.4Mbps.