Faster Phone Line Networks

FRAMINGHAM (02/07/2000) - I've written before about my frustrations getting my home computers networked. I tried power line networking, phone line networking and wireless. The problem was that while connectivity improved over sneakernet, the speed was more like orthopedic shoes.

That's all about to change for wired and wireless connections. I tried D-Link Systems Inc.'s DHN-910 Home Phoneline Network, and I'm happy to report that home networks are now up to speed.

Ethernet speed, that is. D-Link promises 10M-bps throughput. I actually got more than 11M-bps doing an FTP file transfer of a 4M-byte file using Ipswitch's WS_FTP Pro application. The file, a snapshot of a system.dat file, was probably fairly compressible, accounting for the better-than-expected throughput.

I've been surprised by products' performance before, but it's generally not such a happy surprise.

The DHN-910 package includes two PCI adapters, two phone cables and software.

The adapters comply with the new HomePNA 2.0 standard for 10M-bps throughput, released in December. As such, they should interoperate with other vendors' adapters, as well as 1M-bps HomePNA 1.0 hardware. D-Link's was the first of these products I've seen; since I didn't have any others to test, I'll reserve judgment on interoperability.

The software is called MidPoint Lite, a stripped-down proxy server from MidCore Software. Run the proxy software on your Gateway computer, and it acts as a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server for your internal clients. It could hardly be simpler, which is just what you want in a product used mostly in homes. There's also a CD-ROM with a couple of shareware network games.

The only drawback I found was a slight performance hit on the Gateway system, a 450-MHz Pentium III connected to the Internet via cable modem, as Internet requests now had to pass through the proxy server. But the added delay was generally only a second or so, and I can live with that.

I got to know one of D-Link's technical support crew pretty well when one of my adapters died. She expertly walked me through many steps to try to get it working again before she told me to check the LEDs on the adapter. They were dark; it was dead. D-Link quickly sent a replacement that worked just fine. You can buy additional adapters if you have more than two PCs to connect.

Phone line networking isn't the only hardware moving to Ethernet speeds. The new standard for wireless data communications is 11M-bps. I'll be taking that for a spin in a few weeks.

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