The Devolo dLAN 200 AVdesk Starter Kit is aimed primarily at those daunted by the prospect of setting up an ordinary wired home network -- you simply plug it into electical plug sockets. In contrast to standard Windows networking configurations, this product is designed to get you sharing files within minutes at a theoretical maximum of 200Mbps -- twice as fast as an ordinary PC network.
It's a real alternative to both wired and wireless networks and should appeal to anyone with thick Wi-Fi-blocking walls, ceilings or floors, or those whose spouses forbid the installation of lengthy cables.
The Devolo dLAN 200 AVdesk Starter Kit's strongest asset is its ease of use. You can pretty much do it with your eyes (half) closed even if you've never configured a home network before. The pack contains two VHS cassette-sized AV adaptors, two Ethernet cables and a software CD. Each adaptor is connected to the mains as well as to each PC on the network, and after a quick spot of software installation, Robert's your proverbial relative.
Once up and running, the Devolo dLAN 200 AVdesk Starter Kit provides decent networking speed. It's nowhere near the theoretical maximum of 200Mbps, but in our particular environment (two dLAN 200 boxes plugged into the same power board) it transferred our 100MB file in 33 seconds, which is a throughput of approximately 24Mbps -- nowhere near the claimed maximum. We've seen the product reach in the region of 75Mbps during Devolo's own demonstrations, so your mileage will vary, depending on the conditions of your power lines at home.
Devolo claims the dLAN 200 AVdesk is designed to stream audio/visual content across a home network. It boldly claims to be able to stream not one but two 1,080-line high-definition video files simultaneously. We managed to stream one 1,080-line DivX file with just the odd dropped frame, but the system went completely to pot when we attempted to stream another. It dropped frames all over the shop and was ultimately unwatchable. Again, your own mileage will vary; we've seen these things stream two 1,080-line videos without any trouble in demonstrations -- but it all depends on the condition and circumstances of your individual power lines.
Security is a big issue with HomePlug-style devices -- it's not beyond the realms of possibility that a neighbour or flatmate might install their own Devolo dLAN 200 AVdesk to snoop on your home network. Thankfully this device has internal 128-bit AES encryption on all network traffic flowing between each adaptor, plus a password protection feature, and requires users to enter the specific ID of each box on their network at the time of installation. Accidental snooping is extremely unlikely.
Using the dLAN 200 AVdesk starter kit to share printers or an Internet connection between multiple PCs isn't particularly straightforward. Each box has to be assigned a static IP address within the same subnet in order to connect and use standard Windows networking features. They can be connected to a router in order to share an Internet connection, but to do this we had to install the devices as normal, then disconnect one and hook it up to our broadband router.
Devolo touts its dLAN 200 AVdesk Starter Kit as the ideal device for so-called 'triple-play' applications -- namely streaming hi-def TV, VoIP telephony and high-speed Internet. Unfortunately it assumes the user has considerable knowledge of these technologies. There's no bundled software to help you enjoy any of these, nor any documentation that points users in the right direction of third-party applications. Using VoIP, sharing the Internet or streaming video is something you'll have to sort out yourself.
Our final gripe with the product is one we've touched on already -- the performance. We can't tell you how frustrating it is for manufacturers to claim ridiculously high network throughput when the end user will get nowhere near the claimed level. But that's where we come in.
The dLAN 200 AVdesk is a good all-round product. It doesn't live up to its claimed 200Mbps network throughput, but it is exceptionally easy to install, it's secure and it can be used for a wide range of bandwidth-intensive applications such as VoIP or media streaming.
We'd recommend it if you want to create a fairly quick and secure home network without the hassle of wires, or in places where wireless networking isn't practicable.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide