GigaFast PE901-UI 14Mbps HomePlug USB adapter review:

GigaFast PE901-UI 14Mbps HomePlug USB adapter

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The Good Solid performance; compact design.

The Bad Drivers can drag down older machines; potentially frustrating phone support.

The Bottom Line This is a solid choice among HomePlug network adapters, balancing price and performance well.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.7 Overall

Because HomePlug Powerline networking is new, it's not the cheapest technology available for wiring your home computers. But the GigaFast 14Mbps HomePlug USB adapter still manages to enter the market with a competitive price. And although this adapter didn't break any performance records, it was no slouch in CNET Labs' tests. Its metal-box design may not look pretty next to your Apple iMac, but it's the smallest adapter of the four we've tested so far, which counts in its favor. If space is at a premium and you can get a good price, go for it. If you want to mount an adapter somewhere, go for Netgear's XE602 instead. Because HomePlug Powerline networking is new, it's not the cheapest technology available for wiring your home computers. But the GigaFast 14Mbps HomePlug USB adapter still manages to enter the market with a competitive price. And although this adapter didn't break any performance records, it was no slouch in CNET Labs' tests. Its metal-box design may not look pretty next to your Apple iMac, but it's the smallest adapter of the four we've tested so far, which counts in its favor. If space is at a premium and you can get a good price, go for it. If you want to mount an adapter somewhere, go for Netgear's XE602 instead.

Same setup
For most HomePlug customers, the real buying decision will boil down to price and design. In the latter respect, GigaFast does pretty well. Its boxy blue design is not likely to win any art awards, but it's compact enough for a coat pocket: about five inches wide by four inches deep by one inch high. The included USB 1.1 cable plugs in at the front and the power cable at the back, while indicator lights display power, network link, network traffic, and any network collisions. At press time, the GigaFast was among the least expensive adapters in its class, with a street price of about $80.

The adapter includes a CD with USB drivers so that your Windows PC can recognize the hardware and an off-the-shelf program that you can use to change the adapter's DES encryption password. With HomePlug 1.0 networks, the network adapter carries the password, so you need to set up only one computer to program all the adapters in your network. You need at least two to set up your network, naturally, with one plugged into each computer you want to network. The GigaFast coexists with HomePlug Ethernet and USB adapters from other manufacturers on the same network.

HomePlug bug fix
The installation came with additional software that runs in the background to maximize the number of devices that can coexist on your network (currently, the upper limit is 16). But those apps dragged down the system performance of an older 233MHz Pentium II laptop we used for informal testing. We can't fault GigaFast for this problem since every HomePlug manufacturer--except Phonex--uses the same approach with the same results on this older test system. We found a workaround, however: When you set up your power-line network, don't perform a full install. Instead of running the automatic setup, simply plug in the device and point Windows to the device drivers on the installation CD.

Doing fine
Once installed, the GigaFast device integrated well into our test network, which included HomePlug interfaces from three other manufacturers. In CNET Labs' tests, it transferred files a little more slowly than Netgear's XE602 Powerline Ethernet adapter but faster than Linksys's Instant PowerLine USB adapter. But in common tasks such as network printing and Web surfing, the differences between these products are barely noticeable.

The company offers very good service and support. The unit comes with an impressive three-year warranty, and toll-free phone support is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. But unfortunately, GigaFast does not allow customers to hold on the line. If you can't get through, you must leave a message, and the company will call you back within one business day. The Web site offers drivers and e-mail support.

The first-generation GigaFast 14Mbps HomePlug USB adapter offers solid performance and easy setup at a competitive price. Plus, the company backs its product with a reassuring three-year warranty.

Chariot throughput tests
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
Netgear XE602 Powerline Ethernet adapter
5.2 
GigaFast 14Mbps HomePlug USB adapter
5.0 
Belkin wireless cable/DSL gateway router (802.11b)
4.9 
HP wireless gateway hn200w (802.11b)
4.9 
Intel AnyPoint wireless gateway
4.6 
Linksys Instant PowerLine USB adapter
4.5 
Phonex NeverWire 14 Powerline Ethernet bridge
4.3 
 
Response time
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP wireless gateway hn200w
3.0 
Intel AnyPoint wireless gateway
3.0 
Linksys Instant PowerLine USB adapter
3.0 
Netgear XE602 Powerline Ethernet adapter
3.0 
Phonex NeverWire 14 Powerline Ethernet bridge
3.0 
Belkin wireless cable/DSL gateway router
4.0 
GigaFast 14Mbps HomePlug USB adapter
5.0 
 
The GigaFast 14Mbps HomePlug USB Adapter edged out popular Wi-Fi equipment but fell short of its direct competitor from Netgear.

For practical throughput tests, CNET Labs uses NetIQ's Chariot software as our benchmark. For our wireless testing, the clients and routers are set up to transmit at short ranges and maximum signal strength. CNET Labs also runs Chariot software using the TCP protocol in response-time tests. Response time measures how long it takes to send a request and receive a response over a network connection. Throughput and response time are probably the two most important indicators of user experience over a network.



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