Wi-Fi routers are making a lot of noise in the home-and-small-office networking market these days, but power-line devices that route digital signals over a building's electrical wiring also get the job done with minimal fuss. Gateway's PLE-310 power-line Ethernet adapter combines a quick and simple setup with the ability to turn every outlet in a typical house or a small office into a wired Ethernet port. If only the PLE-310 delivered decent online support, it would be the perfect Wi-Fi alternative.
The Gateway PLE-310 comes with a 6-foot Cat-5 Ethernet cable, a software installation disc, and a skimpy manual with type too tiny for some to read. Thankfully, connecting the PLE-310 couldn't be easier: just squint through the directions, install the drivers and the configuration software from the included CD, and plug the device into an outlet.
With LEDs for line activity, Link, Ethernet, and packet collisions, the black PLE-310 is slightly smaller than both the Netgear XE102 and the Linksys PLUSB10. The Gateway PLE-310 power-line Ethernet adapter also plugs into two- or three-prong outlets without hogging both outlets.
The configuration utility is functional and responsive, and it bears an uncanny resemblance to the setup routines of other power-line products we've reviewed. The utility includes four tabs: Device supplies you with the PLE-310's MAC address, connection state, and a bar graph of the link quality; Network scans for available networks and displays an estimate of the top speed available; Security allows you to change the password from the default HomePlug; and Advanced lets you change the password of a remote adapter on your network. The system uses the industry-standard 56-bit DES encryption, which trails the bit strength that Wi-Fi products offer.
Based on the HomePlug 1.0 standard, the PLE-310 works with a variety of other power-line devices from various vendors, such as the Netgear XE102 and the Linksys PLUSB-310. We used the PLE-310 with Siemens power-line gear, as well as with a Buffalo AirStation repeater to create a Wi-Fi-to-HomePlug bridge. The PLE-310 works with Windows 98, 2000, and XP, but Gateway does not provide software for Mac or Linux PCs.
The practical throughput of the PLE-310 tops out at 5.7Mbps--good enough to be the fastest power-line Ethernet adapter on the market and far ahead of the 3.5Mbps that the SpeedStream 2502M and the Netgear XE102 provide. The PLE-310 worked with all of the outlets we tested in a 3,000-square-foot house, and it was still going strong with an additional 125 feet of industrial extension cord, making for at least a 275-foot range. This makes the PLE-310 a great solution for range gaps in a wireless network.
Gateway's one-year warranty is half as long as the two years of coverage you get with Siemens and Netgear adapters. You get toll-free, 24/7 tech support, but don't look to the Gateway Web site for FAQs or any troubleshooting tips beyond a well-hidden picture of the device.
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