Nik's Technology Blog

Travels through programming, networks, and computers

Powerline Networking Now Fast Enough For Streaming HD Content

I've decided to give up waiting for the 802.11n standard to be ratified. When you spend hard earned cash on a piece of kit, you want to have some confidence that it will work in a year or so. Most of the high-end routers on sale today use a proprietary pre-802.11n or draft 802.11n, which may or may not be compatible with devices that meet the standard, when the IEEE pull their finger out.

What is Powerline networking?

Powerline networking has been around for sometime. Essentially it uses your electrical mains wiring as the media to send data over as if it were category 5 cable. You simply plug a box into the wall socket, which converts these signals that multiplex over the mains wiring to Ethernet. Typically you'd have one next to your router, which connects to your routers Ethernet socket, and the other in the room where your computer is located.

Advantages of Powerline over Wireless networking?

One of the main advantages of Powerline networking over Wi-Fi is that there are no dead spots where you can't get a good connection. As long as you are near a mains outlet, you can have a connection; Albeit with an Ethernet cable connected to the wall.

The latest batch of Powerline networking kits are sporting theoretical speeds of up to 200Mbps! Although in practice, overhead in the system, mains wiring and the 100Base-T outputs limit this maximum throughput; However, I have been getting speeds of over 100Mbps along my mains wiring, easily more than 802.11g, and more reliable too.

Installation does not require software drivers, it literally is a case of plugging them into the wall sockets, and connecting up the Ethernet cables and turning them on. This also means out-of-the-box Linux, Vista and OSX support! They'll also work with games machines and media extenders, or any other piece of kit that has an Ethernet port.

I purchased the Devolo HomePlug dLAN 200 AVDesk Starter Kit, which comes with two HomePlug adapters. They include Quality of Service for uninterrupted Internet TV and IP telephony circuitry, and they were given a "best buy" from PC Pro magazine.

There are other manufacturers who produce Powerline networking equipment, like Netgear's HD Powerline adapters, but after reading this review in PC Pro I decided to opt for the devices that conform to the Powerline AV standard.

Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor and Hardware Incompatibility

Just to recap, I bought Windows XP Media Center edition with an upgrade voucher to Windows Vista Home Premium last year. After sending off all my details to claim my Vista DVD and receiving it, I thought it best to clear some room on one of my hard disks and run Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor before I go any further.
I had previously ran a beta version of the upgrade advisor prior to upgrading my OS from Windows XP Pro to Media Center edition and as far as I can remember all my hardware was compatible (software was another story!).

Problems!

However... While upgrading my machine to Media Center I also upgraded some of my hardware. I upgraded my wireless 802.11b Netgear MA111 USB stick to a US Robotics 5418 802.11g PCI adapter (This allows for video streaming around my house via my Xbox 360, and also reduces the amount of USB devices I have hanging off the back of my machine).
I was also severely running out of disk space, so I added a SATA RAID card and bought two SATA HDDs so I could set up a mirrored (RAID 1) configuration for a little peace of mind).

After running the upgrade advisor you can now probably guess what devices weren't supported in Windows Vista...Yep, the USR5418 wireless PCI adapter and the Adaptec 1210SA SATA RAID controller, typical I thought!

I have checked the manufacturers' support sections for these devices, but future Vista drivers for them don't look promising. So unless I can find a driver that will work with these devices I don't see much point in upgrading to Vista at the moment. Can you imagine the Aero interface in all it's glory, but no data to access and no web to surf on!! The only other solution is to upgrade these components again, but I am reluctant to spend anymore money on my aging computer.

Hardware Manufacturers or Microsoft?

So who is to blame for this lack of compatibility? The devices aren't exactly that old, Microsoft has had numerous beta versions of Vista available for hardware and software companies to test and develop for, but it seems they want you to buy the latest product instead. Even big companies like Apple had problems with iTunes after the Vista launch.

Windows Vista Upgrade

I finally received my Vista Home Premium upgrade DVD this morning. I got an email claiming it was being shipped earlier this month and commented on my thoughts here.

Unlike the retail versions of Vista you don't get the snazzy clear box with the rounded corner. I can't complain though, it came in a clear DVD case with a quick start guide and a new OEM Certificate of Authenticity (CoA). You may remember I bought a copy of Media Center 2005 with a Vista Upgrade voucher last year.

It also comes with a slip of paper that states the following:

Licensed Device. This Windows Vista software replaces the Microsoft Windows XP software that is eligible for the upgrade to this software. You may install and use this software only on the device on which you acquired the Windows XP software.

Reassignment to Another Device.

You may not reassign the license for this software to another device.

It also goes on to talk about transferring to a third party and support services.

This goes someway to answering some of my questions. When I get around to installing Vista I'll no doubt be adding some more posts here. I need to give my hard drives a spring clean before I can do that though ;-)

Windows Home Server

I signed up to test the new Windows Home Server Public Beta a while back and received an invitation to download and review it.

Like a lot of people I am frequently running out of storage space on my machines and needing to upgrade. I am also fairly concerned about data backups too, so much so that I upgraded my main machine a while back to include a SATA RAID 1 mirror for my core data over 2 x 320GB drives.

Most people however don't have the need or knowledge to set up a decent backup or redundancy solution, so Windows Home Server when purchased installed on a piece of purposely designed hardware should fill this gap in the market.

When I get a spare few minutes I'll download the DVD and test on an un-used machine. I'm particularly interested in the usability of the software since it will mostly likely be bought by and used by people who are not particularly technically minded.

From what I've heard it does not include Media Center (since it's a headless OS), but it features Windows Media Connect, so I'll be able to stream my music and video straight to my XBOX 360 without having to have my main machine running.

Vista Home Premium Upgrade Voucher

I finally received an email yesterday confirming my Vista Home Premium upgrade has been dispatched.

Way back in October 2006 I upgraded my main machine from XP Professional to Windows Media Center Edition in order to be able to stream content to my Xbox 360 in my living room. I bought an OEM version of the operating system with a Vista Home Premium upgrade voucher included.

On receiving it though I discovered what was needed to claim my upgrade. Microsoft don't make it easy I can tell you that now! Firstly the offer was restricted to system builders registered with Microsoft, this wasn't made clear on the site I purchased it from. It didn't phase me though, I registered and now receive lots of system builder spam :-)
I went ahead anyway and fingers crossed it's paid off and I'll get my hands on the new OS shortly.

My next problem is going to be installing it on my aging computer and trying to understand what pieces of hardware I can upgrade without having to re-validate my OEM copy of Vista. Oh what have I got myself in to?? :-)