Got a power-line network with growing pains? If you're running out of AC outlets, a product such as Maverick's Powerline 4-Port Bridge can help. It connects to your power-line network, which uses the HomePlug 1.0 standard, and uses an Ethernet hub to add as many as four devices. Although the Bridge does everything it promises and sports a simple, driverless setup, it left us wanting more. The generic black box cannot be positioned vertically or on a wall. Nor is it as fast as other HomePlug devices we've tested. If you need to connect only a single computer, check out the Linksys PLUSB10.or the
The Maverick Powerline 4-Port Bridge installs easily into your existing power-line network. Just plug it into a standard power outlet and connect up to four devices--computers, printers, Xboxes, or routers, for example--to its hub using Ethernet cables. We enjoyed not having to fuss with drivers. And because the bridge is standards compliant, it works with any Ethernet and HomePlug 1.0 device, assuming you use only 110V-120V AC power lines as the medium for your network. The Maverick's Ethernet ports automatically adjust for crossover or straight-through Ethernet cables, which makes it easy to connect to a hub or switch. The bridge comes with a configuration utility that lets you run diagnostics on a HomePlug network and change passwords. You can use the configuration utility only on a Windows computer, any version, plugged into the bridge via Ethernet.
Physically, the Maverick Powerline 4-Port Bridge is pretty straightforward. It's about the size of a cigar box, with a two-pin power cable and four RJ-45 Ethernet sockets. The front of the box has indicator lights for both the power-line and the Ethernet interfaces. Like all HomePlug power-line devices, the Maverick bridge uses 56-bit DES encryption to protect traffic. To add an extra layer of security, you need a PC running any version of Windows hooked up to one port of the hub so that you can run Maverick's configuration tool, the Cogency Connection Manager. It's basic, but it does an adequate job. Run it, and you'll get a breakdown of all the HomePlug adapters on your power-line network, complete with MAC addresses and connection status. You can change network passwords universally or individually. The Connection Manager also came in handy while we were troubleshooting a slow connection. It suggested a couple of fixes, one of which worked.
The Maverick's simplicity is its best asset, but a few mounting options would help it fit better into a home or an office setting. We wished for a vertical stand to help it squeeze into a tight corner on a desk or for recessed holes to hang it on a wall.
Running a power-line network consisting of two Maverick four-port bridges was one of the slower experiences we've had with this technology. In CNET Labs' testing, the bridges achieved transfer rates of around 3.5Mbps, slower than adapters we've tested from Siemens, Phonex, and Linksys. However, this is still much faster than the average broadband connection, and across several floors of a home, it will also outpace many 802.11b wireless networks.
CNET Labs throughput tests (in Mbps) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Oddly enough, the data transfer rate between the Maverick bridge and power-line adapters from other vendors seemed to be a little faster. Using the Cogency Connection Manager, which came up with more flattering figures than CNET Labs' Chariot test results, we clocked average data transfer rates of 7.7Mbps between Maverick and Phonex adapters but only 7.3Mbps between two Maverick bridges.
The Maverick Powerline 4-Port Bridge comes with a disappointing one-year warranty. Other competitors in this arena, such as Netgear and GigaFast, offer two- and even three-year warranties. It also lacks online support offerings. The company somewhat redeems itself with lifetime, toll-free, 24/7 phone support. We weren't able to test the phone support, though, since it won't start until the product is officially available in September.