Linksys PLEK400 Powerline Networking Kit

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Product: Linksys PLEK400 Powerline Networking Kit
Provided By: Linksys
Price: Find Lowest Price Online

Introduction:

Networking has come a long way in terms of speed, reliability and flexibility and today we are looking at a piece of technology from Linksys that tries to fill the void that exists between wireless networking and running cables everywhere.  We will be looking at the Powerline AV 1-Port Network Adapter Kit.  This kit uses the existing wiring in your building to run networking signals through.  Unlike the Trendnet TPL-307E2K kit, the Linksys kit doesn't provide wall receptacles so it will take up a wall plug.

There are a few benefits to Powerline networking that are worth mentioning.  First and most obvious, the infrastructure.  It's already there.  Most buildings have electrical wiring - at least in Canada and even some of our igloos are wired.  Second, there is no interference from wireless products.  Even though these products have some range issues - some are rated to just under 1000' and this exceeds typical wireless networks and doesn't require line of site.  There is no word on the range of the PLEK400 on the Linksys site, but we'll test it side-by-side with the Trendnet kit and see how it stacks up.

Box Front
Box Front
Box Back
Box Back

 

Linksys has a couple of Powerline products currently available - this one, and the PLSK400 which is a 4-port version of this unit.  The 200Mbps kit that we're looking at today is their entry-level single-port product that is designed to add one device to your network.

 

First Impressions:

As is pretty typical for Linksys products these days, the PLEK400 kit comes boxed up in some professional-looking packaging.  Linksys has gone with a blue theme looks good on the shelf and stands out as this is part of their brand identity.  The back of the box shows how simple it is to setup and how quickly it should be to get working.  Other than a few other specifications and disclaimers, there's not much else to look at here.

Bundle
Bundle

As you can see above, they've included everything you need to get plugged in to the wall, your network and your end-point device that you're trying to connect.  There are a couple of 5' Cat 5e cables and a quick-install guide on a piece of paper if you can't figure out how to plug these into the wall or your network. 

Profile
Profile
Front & Back
Front & Back

 

There really isn't a lot to the device itself.  They plug into the wall - something else can plug into them.  They connect to your network by the Ethernet port on the bottom.  You'll notice in the images above that there are three LED indicators on the front and a single button on the bottom.  We'll cover these a bit more in the testing section.

On the next page, we'll take a look at the features and specifications of the PLEK400 before we fire them up, take a look at the setup and interface then jump into testing.   


 

Linksys PLEK400 Features:

The following list of features and specifications have been pulled from the Linksys product page for the PLEK400 kit.  If you want complete information, please make sure to check their site for all the latest up to date information - including downloads and a lot more.

High Speed - Up to 200 Mbps*
HomePlug AV Technology for faster transfer rates. Get a grip on buffering and lag: With speeds up to 200Mbps* over your home's existing wiring, your Linksys Powerline network can handle all types of network traffic. From transferring large files to streaming 1080p HD video to your TV, your Powerline network will provide a smoother experience no matter what device it's plugged into.

Stacked Easy setup (No CD needed)
Simply plug the adapters into wall outlet or power strip for connectivity.

Universal Connectivity
Connects to any device with enabled Ethernet network port. With a standardized network connection, your Linksys Powerline network can connect to any type of device that is Internet enabled. By connecting to a Linksys Powerline network your devices can now harness the online capabilities they were designed for.

Push button security
Device pairing at the push of a button with no software required. To ensure that no other Powerline adapters are added to your network and your connections are more secure, you simply need to press the security button on each device to lock out any potential unwanted users. With 128-bit encryption between the adapters, you can rest assured your network is more secure.


Plug and Play
Use existing electrical outlets to connect to your network - simply plug the adapters into the wall for connectivity. By simply plugging one Powerline adapter into the wall outlet and your router, and then adding a second one to a wall outlet, you can create a wired internet connection anywhere in your home. It's as easy as plug and play. 

* Maximum performance for the Powerline AV Network Adapter is derived from HomePlug Powerline Alliance HomePlug AV specification. Performance depends on many factors, conditions and variables, including volume of network traffic, home wiring construction, operating system used, mix of networking products used, interference from other electrical devices, age of home wiring, wireline range and coverage as determined by wiring route or path between devices and other adverse conditions. Power outlets and electrical wiring must all be part of the same electrical system. 

 

Specifications:

 

Specs
 

 

 

So we can rightly assume that the best we're going to see from this kit is 100Mbps in a perfect environment.  Again, Linksys - as does Trendnet - opts to state that the 100Mbps network speed we'll see is in "full-duplex" mode.  This is misleading as most consumers would expect to see one-way performance of 200 Mbps.  Oddly how standard Gigabit networks don't claim to be 2 Gigabit - when in fact they are if they support full-duplex transfers...

We'll see how that shapes up as we head onto testing. 

 

Installation:

As I referred to previously, installation of the Linksys PLEK400 Powerline Networking kit is a snap.  It comes pre-configured and synchronized to each other so that all you have to do is plug each of them into the wall and then plug the network cables into your devices.  In order to connect to your network, you'll need to plug one into your router or switch and the other one into your device.

Within seconds, they synchronize and I had green lights all across the board.  On the devices themselves, there are three lights on each.  The bottom one lit up immediately as it indicates power to the unit.  The second light shows connection to the Ethernet cable as it connects to the device.  The top LED indicates a connection to the Powerline network.  If all lights are green, you're good to go.  The green Powerline LED will blink as you send and receive data - as does the Ethernet LED.  If the main power LED flashes... you have some issues.


Linksys says that you will need at least two of these in order to complete your HomePlug network, but they don't have any current information on the product page or in the FAQ for the maximum number of devices that can plug into your HomePlug network.  We'll just have to use our imaginations and say "less than 254". 

I don't often read instruction manual when it comes to testing products - or using products that I buy.  I'm a "Let's see how easy this is to use" kind of guy, so I plugged the PLEK400 before I read anything much on the box of the website.  I have a little more experience with HomePlug and Powerline products now than when I reviewed the Trendnet TPL-307E2K kit.  As such, I realize that companies inflate their performance numbers to make things look better than they are, so I fully expected it to be a 100 Mbps port.

The PLEK400 clearly states on the box that it is a 200Mbps device, and I wondered how on earth they can get 200Mbps performance over a 100Mbps wired Ethernet port.  I'll make this short.  They can't.  Just as with the Trendnet unit we reviewed a while back, the information states that the devices come with 100Mbps jacks.  Any consumer buying the product would see the 200Mbps sticker and expect to get that performance.  Right off the bat, I discovered that the best I can do is half of that - but after looking around - this is sadly typical of Powerline products.


 

Test Setup:

On a wired 100Mbps connection, we often get 94Mbps - with a 6% overhead of inefficiency.  Wireless networks, on the other hand typically get around 30%-40% of rated throughput so it will be interesting to see what kind of throughput we get on this 100Mbps Powerline kit.

We ran performance number from this hardware over three different ranges.  The "Short Range" setup was done in the same room - here in my office at BCCHQ South.  The medium range was done in the same building, but the network was required to span a couple of floors.  When it comes to long range testing, we actually moved the connected device to another building almost 200 meters away.  This is pretty extreme and shows the benefit of a Powerline kit and how it can operate without line of site.

On the next page we'll jump into testing before we wrap up with our final thoughts.

 

Network Performance:

As far as performance goes, we fired up iperf to do a little benchmarking on this HomePlug Powerline kit.  Iperf results show bandwidth that the network is actually capable of.  In the real world, we rarely see networking performance on wireless and Powerline hardware meet the specifications, but that's where we are able to take out the limitations of file transfers and see what the hardware is capable of.  We use iperf with confidence as it shows how good the network hardware actually is and if it can perform anywhere close to its rated specs.

iPerf Single Thread Performance

 

iPerf Multi-Thread Performance

 

As this is now our second Powerline kit we've reviewed, we are able to compare it to the Trendnet TPL-307E2K kit.  We used the exact same wall receptacles at the same ranges with the same networking hardware.  This is a fair 1:1 comparison and as you can see in the charts above, the performance of the Linksys kit is quite dismal.  While the range of the Trendnet kit was impressive, the range of the Linksys PLEK400 was not.  The LED indicators on the Linksys unit don't indicate signal strength, so we just have to assume that things have a good connection.  After checking the speeds with iPerf and running ping tests, we discover that the Linksys kit is not great - at all.

Using a multi-threaded iPerf instance we managed to squeeze out an average of just over 30 Mbps with a ping of 4ms within the same room.  At this speed we are seeing about 15% of the rated performance of the device - and this is under ideal conditions.  Even if we give the kit the benefit of the doubt and call it 100Mbps, we only get 30% of the rated performance and we should see a lot more than that.  In fact, the Trendnet kit performs almost twice as good.

As the range increases, the performance gets worse, and at medium range - we get less than 10Mbps - considerably less than 200Mbps and about 80% slower than the Trendnet kit at that range.  Once we reach the maximum range, the PLEK400 is unusable.  

 

Final Thoughts:

The PLEK400 from Linksys promises a lot with their advertising, but fails miserably to deliver the claimed performance - not just by technical limitations, but by physical hardware insufficiency as well.  As does Trendnet, they cripple the product immediately by limiting the Ethernet port to 100Mbps so it cannot reach the 200Mbps speeds advertised on the box.  Perhaps the chipset inside the device is capable of more than 100Mbps, but when they limit the input side of things, I seriously doubt it.

The build quality of this kit seems pretty solid.  I has a nice durable feel to it but the fact that it hogs a wall outlet gives preference to other kits that allow a pass-through connection to power.

The included cables were appreciated and are just the right length to hook to the device that you've plugged the power into.  In some cases, a longer cable might be nice, but for most instances and typical uses of this kit, the cables work well.

Thankfully, installation is a snap.  It's simple, straightforward, non-complicated and fast.  You couldn't really ask for an easier product to install, setup and use.

The performance of this kit is downright horrible.  There is nothing good to say about it at all, sadly.  Even at super short range, the performance is pathetic, and if you are transferring a single file, you won't even see 20Mbps and 5 year old 802.11g will outperform this at almost any range.

At a range where the Trendnet kit we looked at recently still pinged 100% without packet loss and delivered 3Mbps, the Linksys PLEK400 kit dropped almost 50% of the packets and transferred at a dismal 0.2Mbps.  This isn't much better than dial-up over a 28.8kbps modem.

In my experience, there is no price point at which this kit becomes attractive.  The performance and range are too weak to be compelling and my advice is to shop for another product.

 

Pros:

  • Super simple to install and setup
  • No wireless interference 

 

Cons:

  • Not 200Mbps
  • Only have 100Mbps ports
  • Performance drops rapidly as range increases
  • Unusable at long range
  • Drops packets
  • Poor performance at any range

 

BCCRating

If Linksys plans to stay involved in HomePlug networking, they really need to step up their game as this product fails to impress on any front.