Costing between $80 and $100 each (you need at least two to network), the Netgear XE602 bridge is a bit pricier than Wi-Fi, HomePNA, or Ethernet, but it's painless to install. Plug one end into your PC's Ethernet port or a router, the other into a standard 110V power socket, and you're ready to go. The device fakes out your PC or router into thinking it's plugged into an Ethernet port. It also automatically handles any interference on the line from "noisy" appliances such as hair dryers or air conditioners. And the slender XE602 box even comes with a wall-mounting kit and a desk stand to keep things tidy.
Safety in the home
In a standalone house, where network security isn't an issue, the installation is driverless; you just plug in and play with Macs, PCs, and devices such as Internet radios, routers, and the Xbox. Netgear provides a clear and well-illustrated installation guide, and it uses Windows' home-networking wizards to handle the operating system settings. However, in shared housing where you want to encrypt your network signals, you need to install and run a 56-bit DES encryption program that plants a password of your choice in the adapter. You pick a password comprising between 4 and 24 characters, which is then transferred to the XE602. At this point, the adapter will communicate with only other adapters with that password.
The power of power line
The adapter performed better in CNET Labs' tests than expected, though it was still far below the theoretical 14Mbps maximum for these devices. In our tests, the XE602 responded to network pings about as quickly as wireless gateways from Intel and HP. But the real test of its practical use--data throughput--was more encouraging; it peaked at 6.1Mbps (averaging 5.2Mbps) and outstripped the competing Linksys Instant PowerLine USB adapter and several Wi-Fi devices. Certainly, electrical conditions such as noise and transients can affect the performance of these devices, but even in our unfavorable setting, it responded well. In our test house (a three-story, 70-year-old home with three wall air conditioners cutting in and out in the heat of summer), the signal didn't suffer the kind of range and interference issues that we've seen in Wi-Fi networks.
Netgear backs its adapter with a satisfactory two-year warranty, and free, toll-free technical support is available 24/7 for the life of the product. The Web site also offers installation guides, FAQs, and downloads.
Its simple installation and excellent performance make the Netgear XE602 Powerline Ethernet adapter a front-runner in the race for power-line adoption. But because prices are still a bit high, we don't see this technology replacing Wi-Fi anytime soon.
| Chariot throughput tests |
Measured in Mbps (longer bars indicate better performance)
| Response time |
Measured in milliseconds (shorter bars indicate better performance)
The Netgear XE602 Powerline Ethernet adapter delivered the best throughput of all the power-line products we've tested. It also managed to best wireless 802.11b gateways from Intel and HP.
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.