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Home Networking: The Missing Manual by Scott Lowe

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Picking Out Powerline Hardware

If you're still game, you're going to need to bring three things to the Powerline setup party: a Powerline network adapter, a router, and some cables.

Powerline Network Adapters

Like every type of network, Powerline requires the use of network adapters (Section 1.1)—sometimes also called bridge adapters—that let your computer to talk to the Internet and to other computers hanging out on the network. If you've been reading this book from the beginning, you know that Powerline adapters (Figure 4-2) look a bit different than those used by Ethernet and WiFi networks.

At the top back of this Powerline network adapter are the prongs that you plug into an electrical outlet. You plug a cable into the Ethernet port (which is not visible in this photo), which then lets you connect the adapter to a PC or a router.

Figure 4-2. At the top back of this Powerline network adapter are the prongs that you plug into an electrical outlet. You plug a cable into the Ethernet port (which is not visible in this photo), which then lets you connect the adapter to a PC or a router.

Powerline network adapters come in two varieties: Ethernet and USB. Both versions use their respective cable types to plug into the appropriate port on your computer. (If your computer doesn't have an Ethernet port, check out Section 2.1.3, which tells you how to open up your system and install one.) Unfortunately, there's no such thing as a Powerline adapter that you can install inside your computer. You always have to use a Powerline-to-Ethernet or Powerline-to-USB adapter. If you do have an Ethernet port on your PC, you'll want to use the Ethernet Powerline adapter, because it's speedier than its USB counterpart.

Note

Most Powerline equipment is Windows-only. While this factoid is not much of a problem for 95 percent of the world, it tends to depress Mac people. Luckily for them, though, a company called SMC Networks (www.smc.com) is now making Powerline networking equipment that works with all-Macintosh networks. Macwireless.com also has some Mac-friendly Powerline devices (search under "Powerline").

You always need to have at least two Powerline network adapters on your network. You need one for each computer you want to connect to the network, and you also need a Powerline adapter to connect to the Ethernet port on your router. The Powerline adapter you connect to your router has to be of the Ethernet persuasion, but it doesn't matter whether the router you're plugging into is wireless (Chapter 3) or plain-old Ethernet (Chapter 2)—either way, both work with Powerline.

Note

Powerline adapters don't work well with electrical power strips, uninterruptible power supplies, and most surge protectors, because this equipment sometimes filters out the high-end frequencies on your electrical network—which is the range Powerline uses to transmit your network's data. Always connect Powerline equipment directly to an electrical outlet for best results.

Sockets with surge protection right on the outlet (look for the little colored button marked Reset if you're not sure if you have a protected outlet) render your Powerline device useless. Belkin (www.belkin.com), however, does make a Powerline-friendly surge protector that you may want to check out.

Powerline network adapter shopping list

Remember, you'll need at least two Powerline adapters—one for your router and one for every computer you plan to connect to the Powerline network. Here are a few models from some popular manufacturers.

Note

Mac mavens, listen up: in the list below, only the SMC EZ Powerline adapter includes encryption software that you can turn on directly from a Mac. The encryption software that comes with other adapters works on a Mac, but you've got to activate it from a Windows machine (Section 4.4 tells you everything you need to know about securing your Powerline network). Bottom line: if you're living in a Mac-only household, buy your gear from SMC. If you've got a mix of Macs and PCs, then you can buy from any Powerline manufacturer.

  • SMC EZ Connect Powerline-to-Ethernet (or USB) adapter (Windows and Mac friendly): $50 each

  • Linksys PLUSB10 USB Powerline adapter (Windows only): $65

  • Linksys PLEBR10 Ethernet Powerline adapter (Windows only): $65

  • Netgear XE102 Ethernet Powerline adapter (Windows only): $50

  • D-Link DHP100 Ethernet Powerline adapter (Windows only): $50

A Router with a Built-in Ethernet Switch

Routers (Section 1.1) are the traffic cops of every home network. They help distribute your Internet connection among all the computers on your network. As you learned earlier in this chapter, Powerline device manufacturers have pretty much decided that it doesn't make sense to make a Powerline-only router. Instead, if you've decided to use Powerline, you need to first get yourself an Ethernet or a WiFi router (make sure whichever you get comes with a built-in switch, which most do nowadays). Ethernet router details await you on Section 2.1; check out page Section 2.4 for a quick primer on WiFi routers.

Cables

You need two different kinds of cables when using Powerline:

  • The electrical power lines behind your walls, which you can't really change without potentially electrocuting yourself. Powerline network adapters use the electrical wires in your walls to communicate with the router and the computers on your network.

  • A USB or USB cable that connects the Powerline network adapter to your computer or router. If you buy an Ethernet Powerline adapter, make sure you have a standard Ethernet cable (Section 2.1.3.1) to connect the network adapter to the computer's Ethernet port. If you've got a USB Powerline adapter—you guessed it—you need a USB cable.

Cable shopping list

You can find USB cables in just about any computer shop or office-supply store, in varying lengths (prices vary by how long the cable is, but expect to pay between $10 and $20). You can even find them at Wal-Mart, which is one of the few places in America where you can buy frozen waffles, a bathrobe, Turtle Wax, and computer-networking supplies all under one roof.

Ethernet cable pricing also depends on the length of the cable. Big-chain computer stores may charge you $25 to $35 for a measly 10 feet of cable, but you can find the same length of cord for anywhere from $3 to $7 if you carefully scout the Web, Wal-Mart, or smaller, independent computer shops. Ethernet cable comes in several grades or categories (Section 2.1.4.1). Buy the cables marked Category 6 if you can; if you can't Category 5 or 5e work, too.

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