If wireless seems too expensive, complicated, and insecure for your network, consider power-line networking, which offers a compelling alternative for a home or a small office. The top gun in the power-line market is now the Gateway PLU-300 power-line USB adapter, which provides easy setup, top performance, and excellent range but falls short on Web support.
The black Gateway PLU-300 power-line USB adapter is about the size of a Twinkie and comes with a 6-foot USB cable, a CD with software, and a manual with type that's too small to read comfortably. After installing the software from the CD, connect the PLU-300 to your computer via a USB cable, plug it into the wall, and it's online. There are LEDs for link, power, power-line activity, and data-packet collisions, so you can tell at a glance what's going on. The PLU-300 fits into two- or three-prong outlets without taking up both plugs.
The supplied Gateway Power Line Adapter Configuration Utility is a dead ringer for HomePlug products from other vendors, and its tabbed interface is simple and
straightforward. The Network tab lets you scan for nearby networks and displays the approximate speed of your connection, while the Device tab shows the device's MAC address, connection status, and link quality. The Security tab lets you change the password for the system's 56-bit DES encryption. The Advanced tab is for changing the password remotely.
The PLU-300 power-line USB adapter works with Windows 98, 2000, and XP operating systems, but Gateway offers no drivers for Mac or Linux PCs. Because it uses the HomePlug 1.0 standard, the PLU-300 works with a variety of other power-line devices, including the Netgear XE102 and the Linksys PLUSB10.
With a throughput of 5.7Mbps, the PLU-300 is the best-performing USB power-line adapter we've tested. It is a little faster than the Linksys PLUSB10 (5.2Mbps) and well in front of the Siemens SpeedStream 2501 (3.5Mbps). Although the PLU-300's maximum throughput is less than what you will get with a wireless 802.11g solution, we listened to Internet radio, watched video, and surfed to our heart's content with the PLU-300.
Range is another of the PLU-300's strong points. In our tests, the Gateway PLU-300 power-line USB adapter stayed online using outlets that were 150 feet apart and separated by an additional 125 feet of extension cord, bringing the total to more than 275 feet, better than any other wireless solution we've tested.
The one-year warranty that Gateway provides on the PLU-300 power-line USB adapter is less than the two-year policy you get with Netgear power-line products. And Gateway's support Web site comes up severely short, providing no FAQs or other guidance, only a picture of the device. On the positive side, however, Gateway offers generous, 24/7 toll-free tech support for the lifetime of the product.
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