Netcomm's NP285 Turbo HomePlug Ethernet looks almost exactly like its predecessor, the 14Mbps HomePlug -- so much so, that the only way you'll be able to tell them apart is the marking on the front of the adaptors that denote whether they're the older variant, or the newer "Turbo" variant, which tops out at 85Mbps transfer speed.
Like its predecessor, the Turbo HomePlug is designed to replace or compliment existing wired and wireless networks, especially where wireless signals won't penetrate or where it'd be impossible (for cost, landlord, physical or aesthetic reasons -- or perhaps all four) to lay down networking cable. The Turbo Homeplug uses existing electrical wiring to send data signals between power points for whatever purpose you need, from standard file sharing to connecting up home multimedia devices such as media centres and gaming consoles.
Keeping things identical with the earlier release, the Starter Kit we tested contains two Turbo HomePlug adaptors, two sections of ethernet cable and a setup CD-ROM. Once again you've got to make do with a PDF manual. That's not so handy if you're using it in a non-computer environment, like connecting up a games console to a router. The two HomePlug adaptors are very chunky affairs, so you'll be hard pressed to fit two of them on a double adaptor -- more on why that'd be a bad idea later. On each adaptor is a socket for ethernet cable, along with indicator lights for power, ethernet cable and network activity.Features
When we reviewed the original Homeplug adaptors, we bemoaned the rather low data rate on offer -- at 14Mbps, they were only slightly better than the 802.11b wireless standard. The Turbo Homeplugs are a significant step forward, as they offer up to a claimed 85Mbps data rate -- that's better than standard 802.11g data rates, although a touch lower than the turbo rates offered by some vendor-specific wireless solutions, which typically claim rates over 100Mbps. While the basic pack contains only two connectors -- and realistically, in most scenarios one of those is likely to be utilised near a router, giving you only one "real" port per pack -- you can connect up to 15 Homeplug devices in one network. The older and slower HomePlug adaptors are compatible with the newer Turbo Homeplugs, although naturally you'll be dropping a lot of speed if you set up a mixed-mode HomePlug network of this sort.
Despite hundreds of claims -- and millions of dollars of advertising spent trying to convince consumers -- networking is never really easy. Still, the whole HomePlug concept strikes us as one of the easier units to set up, at least on the surface. Plug one adaptor in near a router or PC that you wish to network from (or share Internet with), and the other at the terminating ethernet end. Attach the supplied ethernet cables, step back, and watch the data ping around your power cables.
As with many things that appear simple on the surface, however, there's a catch. As with the original HomePlug adaptors, the quality of signal -- and whether you'll get a signal at all -- depends on both the internal quality of your electrical wiring, as well as how many extension cables, double adaptors and especially powerboards sit inbetween your devices. We hit an almost identical scenario to that of our original HomePlug testing with the Turbo HomePlug, in that the adaptors refused to "spot" each other initially. Because they're such binary devices, there's little you can do except play around with plug configurations -- once you find something that works, it should work for as long as the power keeps flowing.
The 85Mbps rated speed of the Turbo Homeplug opens it up for a great many more applications than the original HomePlug devices, especially for home entertainment purposes. We tested with a home media centre and Microsoft's Xbox Live service. While it's impossible to specifically state that Xbox Live performance was greatly improved by the Turbo HomePlug -- there are too many variables involved in system lag on Live to state too much of anything, really -- the appeal here is in the simple setup, as you don't need to fuss around with wireless bridges or adaptors -- and the same should hold true for the upcoming Xbox 360.
On the media centre front, the Turbo Homeplug is a great enabler. With the original HomePlug, we could stream audio without concern, but any kind of video file was always subject to errors, lags and crashes during display; switching over to a Turbo HomePlug network removed these problems instantly.
Wireless networking kit has become amazingly cheap in the past couple of years, to the point where it's almost not worth considering going with anything else -- as long as your setup area isn't already bombarded with lots of other spectrum-grabbing networks, interfering electrical devices or tricky retaining walls that turn wireless networking freedom into wireless networking frustration. Netcomm's Turbo HomePlug is a little costlier than comparable 802.11g wireless equipment, but for those who can't utilise a wireless network for any of the above mentioned reasons, it's a great alternative option.