The Good Driverless installation; more and better indicators and controls than the competition; excellent phone support.
The Bad Flimsy buttons; variable performance; not easy to integrate with competing products.
The Bottom Line The NeverWire is great for network skeptics and offers better implementation than the competition, but its performance is uneven.
Phonex PX-801 NeverWire 14
It would be brash to say that any product makes home networking easy, but Phonex's NeverWire 14 certainly removes a lot of the intimidation. It meets the HomePlug 1.0 standard, which uses 110V power lines as network cables, but it goes a few steps further than most of its competitors. It has more useful indicator lights and handy diagnostic tools, and unlike other HomePlug products, it installs without drivers. We found its performance variable: a little below average in lab tests but occasionally faster than the competition in field tests. In general, it earns a strong recommendation.It would be brash to say that any product makes home networking easy, but Phonex's NeverWire 14 certainly removes a lot of the intimidation. It meets the HomePlug 1.0 standard, which uses 110V power lines as network cables, but it goes a few steps further than most of its competitors. It has more useful indicator lights and handy diagnostic tools, and unlike other HomePlug products, it installs without drivers. We found its performance variable: a little below average in lab tests but occasionally faster than the competition in field tests. In general, it earns a strong recommendation.
The most convenient element in the NeverWire 14 setup is its total lack of software. You literally plug the adapter in at both ends and start sharing network resources. You can do this to a lesser extent with other HomePlug adapters, but Phonex takes things to a new level. When you attach other HomePlug adapters to a broadband router, for example, you need to use a special crossover Ethernet wire. With the NeverWire 14 adapters, you can use a regular cable and flip a switch labeled Hub and PC to the Hub setting. You can also reset your network's DES encryption in one fell swoop by pressing a button marked Secure on all your devices--which beats the "standard" HomePlug method of running a program on each computer attached to each adapter and entering a password.
The NeverWire 14's diagnostic tools and indicators give this adapter a serious edge over the competition. Typically, HomePlug adapters don't come with many diagnostic tools. If your network stops working, you're reduced to the old unplug-it-and-plug-it-back-in school of repair, or running Windows command-line diagnostics such as ping or ipconfig. The NeverWire 14 has a built-in diagnostic function operated by a push button and flashing indicator lights located on top of the unit. Hold down the Diags button for 7 seconds, for example, and the unit will find all the other NeverWire 14 devices, then flash the number it finds. If it's wrong or short a device, you look around your home for the unit whose test light isn't flashing, and that's the one that's not working. This approach, while handy, requires you to refer closely to a 76-page manual, which isn't everybody's favorite activity. However, you can also download a diagnostic program from Phonex that lets you reset passwords (something you'll need if you mix and match HomePlug adapters from different vendors on a NeverWire 14 network).
Although the device uses the same Intellon chipset as other first-generation HomePlug adapters, it works around the spec's limitations nicely. Plug in another manufacturer's adapter without driver installation, and your network cannot exceed three devices, and you top out at 16 devices even with drivers. The NeverWire 14 adapters don't have this limitation. Why? Well, the HomePlug 1.0 specification calls for only enough storage for 16 MAC addresses, and that's the amount built into the standard Intellon chipset. The NeverWire 14 adapters contain a ROM-based workaround to make it possible to add more adapters to the network; they dynamically swap MAC addresses into the address space. Only 16 devices can use the network at the same time, but more can be attached and recognized.
The good and the bad
But the NeverWire 14 isn't all good news. The diagnostic and security buttons are a little flimsy and, on more than one occasion, got stuck beneath the casing. And because the button controls are time-sensitive (holding one down for 7 seconds does something different from holding it down for 2 seconds), we relied heavily on the manual--a tiring chore.
HomePlug devices are prone to widely varying performance, and the NeverWire 14 adapters could quite easily earn the best and worst performance awards, with the slowest and fastest results in CNET Labs' tests. But in real-life tasks such as broadband Web access, the 4.3Mbps to almost 8Mbps transfer speeds we clocked are more than adequate to the task.
The NeverWire 14 comes with a disappointing one-year warranty, whereas manufacturers such as Netgear and GigaFast offer two- and even three-year warranties. Fortunately, toll-free phone support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The company's Web site also offers manuals and e-mail support.
The NeverWire 14's simple setup, ease of use, and handy diagnostics tools weigh strongly in its favor. If performance proved more consistent and the company extended its warranty, this would be a knockout product.