Plaster Networks PLN3 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter review: Plaster Networks PLN3 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter
The PLN3 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter is the first power-line adapter we've reviewed in a long time (more will be reviewed soon), and like all power-line adapters, it offers a quick way to extend your network via the electrical wiring of your home or apartment building. This is a handy and effective solution for those far corners of your home where your router's wireless signal may be weak or nonexistent.
The PLN3 is rather bulky but it has two Ethernet ports--other devices usually have one port--to host up to two Ethernet-ready network devices. It also comes with an online service that helps monitor the power-line connection. The device is compatible with all HomePlug AV power-line adapters from other vendors; it costs around $90.
Note that you'll need at least two adapters to create a power-line connection. If you don't already have some at home, Plaster Networks is offering a deal by knocking off $30 if you buy a pair of the PLN3 adapters at a time.
Design and setup
The PLN3 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter looks like a large power adapter for a small electronics device, such as a cordless phone or an external hard drive. It's about the size of two decks of cards stacked together. With this large size, it would be better if the adapter had a power cord, instead of just two prongs. As it is, the only way to hook it to the power is to snap it over a receptacle. This is a bad design as the adapter takes up a relatively large physical space and might even obstruct other adjacent sockets.
As the PLN3 doesn't feature a pass-through for the power socket, you will need a power strip in the far corner to extend the network. Note that the adapter might not work with all power strips or surge protectors because these devices generally degrade or block the signal from HomePlug AV adapters. In this case, the sure way is to plug it directly into the wall and make sure you have extra power outlets. To its credit, the PLN3 has two Ethernet ports. This means it can support up to two Ethernet-ready devices, such as a printer and a NAS server, at the far end. At the near end, where the adapter is hooked to a router, though, the second Ethernet port is redundant.
As with most other power-line adapters, there's really nothing to setting up the PLN3. For a typical power-line connection, say between the existing network and a device in the basement, you'll need two power-line adapters. The first adapter is to connect to the network by hooking it to an Ethernet port of the router (or the hub). The second adapter is connected to the device at the far corner. After that, you just plug both adapters into the power sockets. If the two locations share the same electrical wiring, which they do in most homes or apartment buildings, the network connection is now live. This whole process takes just a minute or two; we had no problem setting up the PLN3, and you won't either, most likely.
The PLN3 comes with a CAT5 network cable, which is needed to connect it to other network devices.
What makes the PLN3 different from other power-line adapters is the included Plaster Networks Service that automatically updates the adapter to the latest firmware and allows users to keep tab of their power-line network over the Internet.
This service is easy to set up. You just need to access it by pointing a browser to service.plasternetworks.com from a computer that's connected to the Internet via the PLN3 adapter. You will then be prompted to register a new account (or log into an existing one). Then the new adapter will also then be recognized and registered automatically.
From then on, each time you log in at the same address, you will be able to view the power-line connection's status, activity history log, and so on. You can also change the password for the each PLN3 Powerline adapter. This is a necessary step for an apartment building because if you don't enable password protection or change the default password, others in the same building might be able to join your network (and tap into your Internet connection, for example) by plugging another HomePlug AV-compliant power adapter into any of the building's power outlet.
The service is potentially a handy tool for other service providers to offer remote troubleshooting for your network connection should a problem arise. However, this is possible only if the problem doesn't disconnect your computer from the Internet, as the Plaster Networks Service requires a live Internet connection to function. This also means you can't take advantage of it if you want to have an isolated network.
Though we find this service useful, we didn't find it useful enough to justify the annual fee of $30. The good news is the service is free during the first year.
Note that if you don't want to use this service at all or do not even want Plaster Networks to be able to locate your PLN3 adapter (to update its firmware automatically, for example), you can turn this all off. To do this--on a computer that's connected to the adapter--point an Internet browser to PLNxxxxxx, where xxxxxx is the adapter's six-digit identification number printed on its side. This allows access to the adapter's Admin Console, where you can change all of the adapter's additional settings, including those relating to the Plaster Networks Service.
Unlike the Plaster Networks Service, the Admin console doesn't require a live Internet connection to work.
We tested the PLN3 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter by using two units and the same test methodology we use for wireless routers. The adapters consistently registered 22.4Mbps in our sustained throughput tests. This is about the same average speed of 2.4Ghz Wireless-N routers at 100 feet. This throughput speed can change depending on the electrical wiring of your home. At this speed, the PLN3 adapters can finish transmitting 500MB of data in about 3 minutes.
In our anecdotal movie streaming tests, the adapters proved that they can offer decent streaming for high-def content, as long as we streamed just one at a time with no other network activities, such as Web surfing or data copying, going on at the same time. We did notice, however, when we increased the file size of the movie or the workload, the streaming wasn't smooth at times, especially when we wanted to jump from one part of the movie to another.
On the other hand, for other casual network needs, such as printing, surfing the Internet, or even playing YouTube movies, the PLN3 will get the job done just fine.
Overall, we weren't terribly impressed with the PLN3's performance. We believe it is a good alternative when wireless networking is not a viable option.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Service and support
Plaster Networks backs the PLN3 Powerline adapter with a one-year warranty against defects or mechanical issues. You can also return it within 30 days after purchase. Other than that, we don't think you'll need much support for it. If you do, its phone technical support is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the company's Web site. You'll also find more information on the device and the Plaster Networks Service there.