TP-Link WiFi Powerline Extender Review

From smart TVs to DVRs and games consoles, many items of consumer electronics now expect a network connection to download media or to upload hi-scores. Most homes don’t have ethernet cabling as standard and surprisingly few of these gadgets actually have wireless connectivity. Even then, it’s rare to have good signal throughout the house.

TP-Link Wireless Extender Box

This is where the TP-Link 300 Mbps AV500 WiFi Powerline Extender can come in, solving two problems at a stroke. First, for those who aren’t familiar with Powerline, it’s a technology that uses the mains electricity circuits to transmit network signals and as most homes have power sockets in every room, it’s ideal for spreading the network round the house. This kit (TL-WPA4220KIT) from TP-Link has two adaptors, one of which connects up to the broadband router and the other goes into the otherwise network-free room.

TP-Link Units in Box

But that’s not all….the room unit provides both wired and wireless services. A pair of ethernet ports on the bottom of the adaptor can hook up two cabled devices, say TV and DVR, and the wireless extender can strengthen the 11n network in the room to keep a games console happy. The kit can be extended with additional Powerline units to supply multiple rooms with networking.

TP-Link Side On

That’s the theory…how does it work in practice? Frankly, everything went very smoothly. Out of the box, the two units found each other and paired up across the house. The wireless unit has a clever clone feature where you press the WPS button on your usual wireless box and then the “clone” button on the front of the wireless adaptor. After a few seconds, the TP-Link adaptor then presents the same SSID and password as the existing box, but chooses a different channel to transmit on. To all intents and purposes, it appears that there’s a single wireless network in the area. Clever and very easy. (The configuration can be done manually as well.)

Performance-wise, I did some testing using Totusoft‘s Lan Speed Test. Bear in mind that no two homes will be setup the same, so while the Mbit/s figures are of interest, it’s the relative performance that matters. Remember, no-one gets real-world data transfer rates anywhere close to the headline rate because of the networking overheads. With that in mind, I tested the download speed from a Buffalo NAS to a Toshiba laptop using a 500 MB file. The figures are approx averages of a couple of tests.

  • Wired connection via standard ethernet – 146 Mbit/s
  • Wired connection via TP-Link Powerline – 72 Mbit/s
  • Wireless connection via TP-Link Powerline – 64 Mbit/s

I’m fairly impressed with those figures. Effectively, the throughput over the mains was about half what I’d get from an ethernet cable but 72 Mb/s throughput is pretty good, with the wireless not far behind.

For further comparison, I had a 200 Mb/s Belkin Homeplug system, which is a similar but slightly older technology.

  • Wired connection via Belkin Homeplug – 32 Mbit/s

Again, interesting. The Belkin is rated at 200 Mb/s with the TP-Link at 500 Mb/s. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that 32 Mb/s isn’t far off 2/5ths of 72 Mb/s.

And finally, I tried doing what you are warned against doing, namely plugging the TP-Link Powerline adaptor into an extension lead. I think the figures speak for themselves. Rubbish!

  • Wired or wireless connection via TP-Link Powerline in extension lead – 15 Mbit/s

Overall, the TP-Link Powerline units work well and they’re a good way to provide network connectivity to blackspots, both wired and wirelessly. The wi-fi clone feature makes it especially easy to setup. If you are getting some new gadgetry for Christmas that’s going to need a network connection, give this  Starter Kit a look. It’s available from all good retailers, including Amazon.co.uk for around £70. There is an older 200 Mb/s version that looks similar so make sure that you are buying the right one.

Note, all the figures above are megabits per second. No megabytes here, except for the download file size. Thanks to TP-Link for providing the Starter Kit for review.

D-Link Cloud Cameras and Routers at CES

D-Link LogoD-Link announced at CES today a range of IP cameras and routers with cloud connectivity for remote monitoring and viewing.

The two new cameras are the Cloud Camera 1050 (DCS-931L) and Cloud Camera 1150 (DCS-933L) which come with remote monitoring as standard via mydlink and mobile devices, but also offer new capabilities such as audio detection with image alerts based on sound, not just motion, and an integrated wireless repeater mode for expanded coverage that eliminates wi-fi dead zones and lets consumers easily add more Cloud Cameras without worrying about existing wireless coverage. That’s a pretty clever idea, building a repeater into the camera. Of course, these are 802.11ac devices and the 1150 also offers infra-red illumination for night operation.

 

DCS-931L CameraDCS-933L Camera
To go with the IP cameras, D-Link’s new 11ac routers are the wireless AC1750 Dual-Band Gigabit Cloud Router and Wireless AC1200 Dual-Band Gigabit Cloud Router (aka DIR-860L and DIR-868L) which deliver speeds of up to 1750 Mb/s and 1200 Mb/s respectively by combining both 11ac and 11n technologies. In addition, both Cloud Routers offer easy remote network management with the free mydlink Lite app from an iPhone, iPad or Android device, which is interesting and could be useful in a number of environments.

Catering directly to today’s increasingly mobile lifestyles, D-Link’s new Cloud Cameras and Cloud Routers offer the latest features and performance available for home network and monitoring needs,” said Daniel Kelley, Associate Vice President of Marketing, D-Link. “Keeping an eye on loved ones and valued possessions is easier than ever with greater Wi-Fi coverage and higher quality viewing and recording day and night. And, the new 11ac Cloud Routers give today’s connected homes with multiple user and high-bandwidth activities the ultimate in network performance and remote management capabilities.

The cameras and routers will be available in the next few months – The Cloud Cameras 1050 and 1150 will be available in February for $79.99 and $99.99 respectively. The dual-band gigabit Cloud Routers DIR-860L and DIR-868L will be later in April for $149.99 and $169.99.

Phenomenal D-Link Wireless Gaming Router at CES

D-Link LogoAt CES today, D-Link will announce a phenomenal wireless gaming router that will support data transfer speeds in excess of 1 Gb/s by combining 11ac and 11n technologies in a single router.

DGL-5500 D-Link Gaming RouterThe D-Link Gaming Router (DGL-5500) uses Qualcomm’s StreamBoost technology offering Gigabit wireless speeds for fast gaming and HD video streaming to multiple devices. The phenomenal wireless speeds of up to 1.3 Gb/s are achieved by aggregating both 11ac and 11n wireless technologies. Using both, 11ac can deliver up to 867 Mb/s and 11n, 450 Mb/s, which when taken together gives the 1.3 Gb/s. In addition to wireless connectivity, the router has four wired Gigabit ports. Obviously the receiving devices will need to support the same standards and there will be data overheads but it’s still amazingly fast.

And it looks pretty cool too.

The Gaming Router represents the ultimate in home network speed and control, offering the ability to fine-tune bandwidth to deliver the high-performance hungry gamers crave,” said Daniel Kelley, Associate Vice President of Marketing at D-Link Systems. “Through the unique Qualcomm StreamBoost technology, this router intelligently optimizes a home network for the games you want when you want, making lag time, buffering and failed downloads a thing of the past. With the new Gaming Router, play against real opponents live, any time day or night, for unparalleled multi-player combat performance and first-person shooting experiences online.

The DGL-5500 will be available from late spring with pricing to be announced.

TP-Link Mini Wireless Routers at The Gadget Show

TP-Link WR702N wireless-n routerTP-Link had a large stand at The Gadget Show Live with a huge range of different products on show. Switches, ADSL modems, wireless routers, IP cameras, Powerline adaptors; you could easily build a complete home IT infrastructure using only TP-Link products.

What caught my eye was a range of portable mini wireless routers, “nano routers”, that were smaller than paperback books. Three different models were on show; the first was the TL-WR702N, a relatively standard 11n wireless router but only 57 mm square and 18 mm deep – it’s the one shown in the picture left.

Second was the TL-MR3020, a bit bigger at 74 x 67 x 22 mm but offering 3G connectivity via a dongle as well.

Finally, a brand new wireless router was on display, the TL-MR3040, that included a rechargeable battery giving several hours of use. More rectangular than square, it uses a 3G dongle (rather than integrated SIM tray), to get mobile connectivity. Price is expected to be less than £50.

Eric from TP-Link took me through their range in more detail.

Buffalo AirStation N450 USB Adapter

The Buffalo AirStation N450 USB adapter (aka WLI-UC-G450) is a 2.4 GHz 11n wireless adapter capable of a theoretical 450 Mb/s using a 3×3 antenna array. Sweet.

Buffalo N450 USB adaptor

If you are used to small wireless adaptors and tiny memory sticks, then the N450 will be a bit of surprise. It’s a pretty chunky number at a little under 9.5 cm long, including the USB jack. The otherwise plain, but shiny, exterior has a single blue LED to advertise activity.

Buffalo N450 USB Adapter

Setting up the N450 was a doddle. Insert CD, follow the prompts, reboot, insert N450, job done. On my laptop, the adaptor appeared as Wireless Network Connection 2. In order to use the N450, I found that it was necessary to disable the internal wireless card otherwise it seemed to take priority over the N450. (On my laptop there’s a switch for that, otherwise right-click on the icon and choose Disable.)

Network Adapters

Initially, the laptop couldn’t see my 11n wireless network, but it could see a different 11g network. I’d had this problem before so I knew what was up. The 11n network uses channel 13 as the frequencies there are clear from interference in my neighbourhood, whereas I have the 11g network down on channel 1. Unfortunately, some Wi-fi devices only recognise channels 1-11 as these are the channels allowed in the US, and it appears that the N450 is one of them.

Once I’d pushed my 11n network down into channel 11, everything went swimmingly. Regrettably I wasn’t able to test out the full 450 Mb/s connection as my access point only supported 300 Mb/s, but it was pretty quick regardless. Even then you never get the full 300 Mb/s but I regularly saw data transfer figures around 80 Mb/s, which I think is about right. Your mileage may vary, of course, and you’d probably get over 100 Mb/s data transfers connecting at 450 Mb/s.

The high data transfer rates will make the N450 of interest to those wanting to stream HD movies over a LAN to a laptop for viewing, but the adaptor needs to be paired with a suitably fast router or access point to get the maximum speed.

Available on-line for around £30. Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the adaptor.

Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti Router with DD-WRT

On review here is Buffalo’s AirStation Nfiniti HighPower dual band wireless-n router and access point with DD-WRT pre-installed, aka WZR-HP-AG300H. I’ve had the AirStation on loan from Buffalo for a couple of months and it’s really rather good.

Buffalo Nfiniti Router

As you can see from the pictures, it’s black and about 18 cm tall, excluding the antennae which swivel and tilt to give the best Wi-fi coverage. The unit can support two 300 Mb/s networks, one in the 2.4 GHz band, the other in the 5 GHz range.

Buffalo Nfiniti Router - rear

Round the back, there a four Gigabit Ethernet ports and as this a router, there’s the extra WAN port (the blue one) for connecting to an Ethernet modem (or hotel network port). There’s a single USB socket too that can used either by a storage device or by a 3G modem. In a nice touch, a USB extension lead is supplied, presumably to get the 3G modem positioned away from the high power antennas.

The supplied AirStation Navigator CD gets the AirStation router up-and-running with the minimum of fuss via a straightforward setup wizard. However, it’s largely superfluous as all the configuration of the AirStation can be done through the web interface. A handy tool on the CD that will find the AirStation on your network and provide the IP address. Once you’ve got that pasted into your web browser, you can access a whole plethora of settings.

DD-WRT Interface

Seriously, there are an awful lot of settings in here, from the usual IP setup through to setting up an advert supported Wi-Fi hotspot. I counted no less than 41 pages of settings and frankly, some of the stuff I had to look up to find out what it was about. Fortunately, you can leave the vast majority of the settings at their defaults and there is a setup assistant to start you off. All the usual features of a wireless router are here and then some. If you do find it all too intimidating, it is possible to flash the firmware back to more typical Buffalo wireless router software.

In use, the AirStation was fire-and-forget. I setup the router a few weeks before Christmas and since then I’ve only had power-cycle the device once, which in my experience is very good. Performance was also good with no problems streaming HD media from a network NAS and QoS settings can prioritise video and gaming traffic over other packets. I had a wide range of devices connected to the AirStation including laptops, Android smartphones, an HP TouchPad and a Nintendo Wii, with no lock-ups or unexpected drops apart from the one mentioned previously.

Using the Android app Wifi Analyzer, the AirStation’s range was a few metres better than my other 11n wireless access point, but whether that was attributable to the “HighPower” or the directional antennas is hard to tell. Perhaps it doesn’t matter as long as the extra distance is there.

Overall, this is an excellent wireless router that should be seriously considered by anyone who wants to tweak performance to the max.

The Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti Router is available from the usual retailers for around £80. Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the WZR-HP-AG300H.

TRENDnet Concurrent Dual Band Router

At CES in Las Vegas today, TRENDnet will be showing off the first concurrent dual band wireless 11n router.  This is the first router on the market that can offer full 450 Mb/s by using both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radio bands.

With advanced MIMO (Multiple In, Multiple Out) antenna technology and three streams per antenna, the concurrent dual band technology can generate a maximum theoretical throughput of 450 Mb/s and much improved coverage.

The router also comes with gigabit Ethernet ports to ensure high performance on the wired connections, making this an ideal partner for high-definition video streaming from NAS.

“A true 450Mbps concurrent router will provide networking enthusiast with another great option,” stated Sonny Su, Technology Director for TRENDnet. “With the proliferation of so many wireless networked devices, performance matters more than ever before.”

Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS) also makes connecting wireless devices straightforward.  Press the WPS buttons on each device and they connect up securely.

The TEW-692GR will be available this coming April for $249 from online and retail TRENDnet partners.

Side note: the Wifi standards 11b and 11g use the 2.4 GHz frequency and 11a uses the 5 GHz frequency.  However the latter never gained widespread adoption. 11n can use both frequencies, though until now most 11n wireless equipment used either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz but not both.

Buffalo AirStation Wireless-N Review

In a little bit of a UK scoop, the folks at Buffalo lent GNC three of their latest wireless “n” products for a first review.  The three AirStation devices were announced and covered by GNC back in October, so we’ll skip the usual pleasantries and get down to business.

First up, was the AirStation N-Technology USB2 adapter (WLI-UC-GNM) which is as small as it looks in the picture.  Installation is very straightforward – run the installation CD first to install the drivers, pop the adapter into a spare USB port and job done.  I was able to connect to an existing 11g network and the 11n network without any problems at all.  There’s also a little application installed which allows selection between the 20 MHz and 40 MHz bandwidths which equates to the 75 Mb/s and 150 Mb/s settings.   There’s more on the real-world data transfer rates later.

Next was the AirStation N-Technology 150 Mb/s router (WCR-GN).  This is actually smaller in real life than the picture would suggest, being only 11 cm high, excluding the aerial.  After connecting the router to the network via an ethernet cable, the installation program allows the user to choose from two different possible scenarios – router or bridge.  Once selected, the installation program finds the router and configures it.  The user is asked to set a device password and to give the device an IP address.  Although a configuration program is included, I found it easiest to use the router’s web interface to set things up.

The configuration for the wireless side was pretty impressive, with support for multiple SSIDs, including one that was passed directly out over the WAN and was unable to access the LAN.  This caters for legacy devices such as media streamers or games consoles that only support unsecure WEP.

The WCR-GN supports WPS and AOSS, Buffalo’s equivalent. Frankly, I could never get the AOSS pairing to work. It’s so little effort to put in an encryption key, I’ve no idea why anyone bothers with these user-friendly time savers, because they never are and never do.

To give the 11n devices a proper evaluation, I carried out some data transfer rate testing using LAN Speed Test for TotuSoft.  The table below gives the nominal and measured data rates for different connection types.

Connection Nominal Data Rate Measured Data Rate
LAN 100 Mb/s 65 Mb/s
11g 54 Mb/s 20 Mb/s
11n @ 20 MHz 75 Mb/s 34 Mb/s
11n @ 40 MHz 150 Mb/s 44 Mb/s

Bear in mind that with all the encryption on the wireless transmissions, the measured data rate will be much lower than the nominal data rate.  These figures are broadly in line with other data rates reported on the Internet.  HD video requires a minimum sustained data rate around 25 Mb/s, so it looks to me that the 11n data rates are good.  Microsoft have an article on HD formats which is worth a read.

Finally, I got out the Nfiniti Dual-Band Wireless-N Ethernet Converter (WLAE-AG300N).  I was most interested in this as it promised to be convertible between an access point, extender and bridge, and a full 300Mb/s device.  The Converter has two ethernet ports meaning that things like Bluray players and IP TVs can connect through the bridge back to the Internet.

As before, the installation was a breeze and in the first instance, I set up the Converter as an access point.  This worked great and I was able to get data throughput in the 44Mb/s range.  Remember that although this was a 300Mb/s device, the USB adapter on the laptop was only a 150Mb/s device so the data rate was limited by the USB adapter.

Setting the WLAE-AG300N as a bridge back to the WCR-GN Router was less successful.  Although I was able to get the two devices to connect, I was never able to establish a 11n level connection; it only connected as if it were an 11g network and throughput was around 20 Mb/s.  I worked with Buffalo’s tech support to try and get a resolution but it wasn’t sorted by the time I returned the device.

Overall, the USB2 adapter and the 150Mb/s router worked well and I think they’re good value for money at RRPs of £19.99 and £29.99 respectively.  Judgement is reserved regarding the Ethernet Converter (£39.99) as it worked well as an access point but the bridging was poor.  If you were only setting up a 150Mb/s network, a pair of WCR-GN routers would actually be a cheaper way of establishing a connection from ethernet-only devices.

Thanks to Buffalo for the loan.

Buffalo Adds To AirStation Wireless-N Range

Buffalo Technology has added three new wireless-n (802.11n) products to its AirStation range, including the N-Technology USB 2.0 Adapter, N-Technology 150Mbps router and the Nfiniti Dual-Band Wireless-N Ethernet Converter.

Starting with the AirStation N-Technology USB2 adapter, this is the smallest wireless-n adaptor I’ve seen – it’s more like the little Bluetooth or wireless mouse transmitters – but still manages 150 Mb/s.  It would be perfect if you’ve already got a laptop that only has 11g wi-fi and you want to upgrade.  At just £19.99, it’s a bargain!

And if you want to upgrade your whole wireless network, then you’ll need to take a look at the complementary router, the AirStation N-Technology 150 Mb/s router (RRP £29.99).  Finished in fashionable white, it draws design cues from the Link- and DriveStation range.  There are four 100 Mb/s LAN ethernet ports round the back for hard-wiring.  There’s a further single port for the WAN so note that this is a pure router – there is no modem; ADSL, cable or otherwise.  DHCP, NAT and SPI firewall features are built-in.

Finally, for those devices that have ethernet ports but don’t have wireless-n, then check out the Nfiniti Dual-Band Wireless-N Ethernet Converter. This plugs straight into a power socket and incorporates two ethernet ports for connections to games consoles, DVRs, Blu-ray players and so on.  Unlike the other devices, this converter can transfer data at 300 Mb/s and given that it’s likely to be used for streaming media, this is a good thing.  You’ll be able to pick this up for £39.99.

All the devices above use Buffalo’s AOSS (AirStation One Touch Secure System) which simplifies the process of wirelessly connecting them together.

With luck, GNC will be able to bring you a hands-on review of these in the next few weeks.

Buffalo have also released an application called “WebAccess i” for the Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch that allows owners of the Tera- and LinkStation NAS devices to download and upload files across the internet.  It’s available from the iTunes store.  (I’m told that it’s “really cool”, but I haven’t yet been able to test it.)