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Inside Details

Since Intellon came up with the HomePlug 1.0 plus Turbo technology, it's no surprise that the three products tested use the same Intellon INT5500 chipset. Figure 1 shows the Actiontec Ethernet adapter internals, where you can see the Intellon chipset, Realtek RTL8201CP Single-Port 10/100M Fast Ethernet PHYceiver and other components that complete the powerline interface and form the DC power supply to power the adapter.

Actiontec HPT100 internal view

Figure 1: Actiontec HPT100 internal view
(click image to enlarge)

Figure 2 confirms that the 4-port "hub" Actiontec offering actually features a 10/100 switch, courtesy of the Marvell 88E6060 6-Port Fast Ethernet Switch that is a member of Marvell's Link Street switch chip line. I'd like to see Actiontec both change the product name, plus add the Ethernet port speed to its product literature, to better inform consumers of what they're buying.

Actiontec HPT400 internal view

Figure 2: Actiontec HPT400 internal view
(click image to enlarge)

The NETGEAR XE104 innards pictured in Figures 3 and 4 show essentially the same electrical design (which I'm guessing is a copy of an Intellon reference design), but with a stacked two-board approach. This is necessary to get everything into a nicely-designed wall-wart format.

NETGEAR XE104 internal assembled view

Figure 3: NETGEAR XE104 internal assembled view
(click image to enlarge)

NETGEAR XE104 internal disassembled

Figure 4: NETGEAR XE104 internal disassembled
(click image to enlarge)

Finally, at first glance, you might mistake the SMC board shot in Figure 5 for the Actiontec "hub" in Figure 2, which also uses a separated-at-birth plastic enclosure that differs only in its larger size. But a closer look shows a board design that's essentially the same as the single-port Actiontec with things moved around to accomodate SMC's choice of desktop box vs. Actiontec's wall-plugged "wart" form factor.

SMCHT-ETH internal view

Figure 5: SMCHT-ETH internal view
(click image to enlarge)

Setup & Administration

HomePlug devices are protected with 56 bit DES encryption incorporating a user-settable 4 to 24 character alphanumeric, case-sensitive key. All the utility applications supplied with the products refer to the key as the "Private Network Name". In the case of all the tested devices, this name came set to "HomePlug". The good thing about this is that you can just plug in the devices and (hopefully) be up and running without having to load any software or configure anything.

The bad news is that HomePlug technology is capable of reaching into adjacent apartments, dorm rooms and even your next-door neighbor's home. So if you don't change the default Network name and your neighbor also decides to use a HomePlug device, your networks could be accidentally joined and security compromised.

The further bad news is that Intellon has seen fit to create a password change utility only for Windows, leaving Mac OS, Linux and users of any other non-Windows OS with no choice but to run with the default password. In addition, since none of the devices come with a physical reset-to-factory-default switch, those users are also out of luck if they happen to inherit HomePlug devices that have had their default password changed.

If you are running Windows, you might want to load up the utility at some point because it provides some useful performance and troubleshooting data. Figure 6 shows the info displayed by the NETGEAR utility about the other four adapters plugged into various outlets around my home. Of course, the Rate shown is the MAC layer, i.e. raw data, rate and not the application-level, i.e. usable throughput. More on this shortly.

NETGEAR Utility Main screen

Figure 6: NETGEAR Utility Main screen

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