The Western Digital Livewire Powerline AV Network Kit is very similar to the well-thought-out five-port Linksys PLK300 kit. However, it's much faster and offers three more network ports.
If you are looking to extend your network to the far corner of your basement at home, at around $110, the WD Livewire Powerline AV Network Kit is possibly the best deal among existing powerline adapter kits on the market.
Design, setup, and features
The Livewire kit comes with two identical powerline adapters, and each has four network ports. This means at the far end one adapter can host up to four Ethernet-ready network devices out of the box. At the end where the other adapter is connected to the router, instead of losing one network port for it, you now gain three more, as the adapter can also work as a hub.
This is a great design, as you can use the two adapters interchangeably and don't have to worry about getting an extra hub to support the powerline connection in case you have already used up the router's ports. In the case of the Linksys PLK300 kit, the two adapters are different and can only be used at a specific end of the powerline connection.
The WD Livewire adapters themselves are rather bulky, about the size of a small squarish four-port hub. They have an on/off power switch and a sync button. Pressing on these buttons within 2 minutes of each other will create a private connection between the two adapters, preventing other HomePlug AV powerline adapters from connecting to them. This is a quick security feature to keep those living in the same apartment building from tapping into your local network or the Internet connection by using another powerline adapter.
When you want to disable this security feature to make the WD Livewire adapters work with other HomePlug AV adapters, you just need to reset them by sticking a pin into the tiny reset hole on the bottom.
Like all HomePlug AV adapters, the WD Livewire kit is not designed to work with power strips or surge protectors and needs to be plugged into the wall directly. We tried the adapters with a few power strips anyway, and they actually worked with some. However, they indeed didn't work with any surge protectors.
Each of the WD Livewire adapters comes with a standard detachable, relatively slim power cable, which allows you to place the adapter away from the power socket. The adapters automatically support the voltage ranging from 100V to 240V, meaning they can be used anywhere in the world.
Like all other HomePlugAV powerline adapters, it's easy to set up the WD Livewire kit. You first connect one of the adapters to the existing network's router (or hub) and the other to devices at the far corner of the house to which you want to extend the network. After that you just need to plug both adapters into the power source and that's it. You just made yourself a powerline connection.
In case this is somehow still not clear enough, the WD Livewire also comes with a CD that contains a well-illustrated flash application to walk you through via a few steps. There's also a similarly well-illustrated setup poster included in the package.
The CD also has the WD Livewire utility software that helps manage and view the adapter's performance or upgrade the adapter's firmware.
The WD Livewire kit offered the best throughput performance among powerline adapter kits we've reviewed.
The kit consistently scored 40Mbps, significantly faster than the 32.5Mbps of the once-fastest Linksys PLK300 kit. This is a sustained throughput speed; we tested the adapters by moving a large amount of data from one computer to another via the powerline connection. At this speed the kit transferred 500MB of data in about 100 seconds. This is a comparable speed to that of fast wireless-N routers. Note, though, that this speed depends on the electrical wiring of the house/building where the kit is used, so the result may vary in your particular situation.
While this is a noticeable boost compared to other powerline adapters, the WD Livewire kit isn't able to stream high-def content as well as Western Digital claims. In our anecdotal tests, it worked fine with contents at 720p or lower. With 1080p, especially with Blu-ray bit rate, we experienced a delay and choppiness, even when we streamed just one movie to one client a time.
All in all, however, we found that the WD Livewire kit is the best among HomePlug AV adapters and it is a great alternative to a wireless connection.
Service and support
Western Digital backs the Livewire Powerline AV Network Kit with just a one-year warranty for the North America market, even though it offers a two-year warranty in Europe. The company's Web site is an excellent resource for support-related matters; it has a comprehensive list of forums, knowledge bases, driver downloads, installation help, and FAQs. Technical support is also available via live chat, e-mail, and phone.