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NetComm NP201AV HomePlug review: NetComm NP201AV HomePlug

NetComm's redesigned its home plugs to make them somewhat easier to fit onto a plug socket — and significantly faster as well.

Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.
Alex Kidman
3 min read

Design

NetComm's original 200Mbps home plug units were our choice for the best of the previous generation of home plug designs. Not because they were particularly attractive — quite the opposite, actually, as these chunky purple plugs looked woeful and were difficult to fit into many double sockets and power boards without effectively blocking up two ports at once.

8.7

NetComm NP201AV HomePlug

The Good

Fastest home plugs we've ever tested. Easy encryption.

The Bad

Plugs are still big. The 200Mbps hype is still ... hype.

The Bottom Line

NetComm's redesigned its home plugs to make them somewhat easier to fit onto a plug socket — and significantly faster as well.

It seems NetComm's designers have been slowly listening, as its second-generation 200Mbps home plugs have a much better physical design, with plugs that are smaller and plug sideways into a socket. They're not quite as multifunctional as Belkin's Powerline AV Networking Adapters, which allow you to either directly plug into a socket or use a cable, but they're a solid step up in design terms.

Features

The feature set for these home plugs is, like so many others, in the name itself. They enable Ethernet signals to travel over ordinary electrical wiring at claimed speeds of "up to 200Mbps". As with every other home plug vendor, the "up to" catch is an important one, and NetComm hides a caveat in very tiny print on one side of the packaging that "Maximum speed is dependent on environmental factors". Which is the nice, legally covering way of saying that nobody actually gets 200Mbps out of any of these devices. Similar to the ridiculous 300Mbps claims made by most 802.11n wireless networking vendors, we reckon this is a raw deal for consumers, as many will assume they're going to come within striking distance of 200Mbps, and it essentially never happens.

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Performance

As with all Ethernet-over-power adapters, the real beauty of the NP201AV HomePlugs is the ease of set-up. Plug them in, hook up Ethernet cables to whatever it is you want networked — a router makes a good endpoint if you want to share cross-network and internet connectivity, but it's not mandatory — and just watch the packets fly.

There is still a catch here, and NetComm notes it on the NP201AV HomePlug's packaging. You've got to plug the home plugs into sockets that are on the same electrical phase, and for most consumers, you're not going to know that kind of information until you do plug them in. For this reason, we'd strongly suggest keeping your receipt and carefully opening the package; if the home plugs don't work across two power points, chances are they never will and a quick refund will be your best bet.

Like Belkin's recently released units, the NP201AV HomePlug also supports in-built encryption which is pre-enabled for the pair in the box. A Windows-only utility is provided if you want to tweak this, but otherwise the home plugs are platform agnostic. We had no trouble getting them to talk variously between a Netgear ReadyNAS, Xbox 360, PS3, Mac, Windows and Linux laptops with no extra work required.

We were quite curious to see how well the NP201AV HomePlugs would perform, given this isn't NetComm's first foray into supposedly "200Mbps capable" home plugs, and especially as those older plugs are the fastest we've ever tested at CNET Australia. On a straight file transfer test, the new plugs hit a new benchmark point for home plugs with an average transfer rate of 52.75Mbps when transferring a 600MB video file across the network. That's fast enough for HD streaming, although your transfer rates may vary depending both upon the wiring and distance between plugs, as well as the operating system parameters and file types and numbers you're sending.

The AU$259.60 RRP for the NetComm plugs is marginally cheaper than Belkin's offerings, but they're less flexible plugs. That having been said, we've seen them as cheap as AU$200 for the pair online, so shop around. If you're disappointed by wireless or can't put physical wiring in place and need the fastest possible Ethernet-over-power solution, NetComm's NP201AV HomePlug is what you want.