Powerline Networking Upgrade – Part 1

This is Part 1 of 2 – detailing an upgrade to the network at Chez Clark & son.

History

We’ve been using some ancient Netgear XE104 powerline network devices.  These were a relic of the previous house, that were redeployed when we moved here in almost five years ago.

Since upgrading the broadband connection to the maximum available  76Mb/s, I noticed that my Powerline connected twin-Xeon workstation hadn’t received any of the benefit of the upgrade.  Linux ISO image downloads still took just as long as they always had.  A quick check using speedtest.net confirmed the machine’s maximum connectivity was stuck at 14Mb/s.  Ironically, this is the same speed our ADSL2 line achieved, prior to the upgrade.  Also, in a house with limited mains sockets, losing one solely for the powerline unit was becoming a continuous annoyance.

Powerline technology has moved on significantly in the years since I bought the XE104.  Some hours of research later I homed in on the TP-Link TL-PA9020PKIT.

The pair of 9020 kits

In order for this comparison to be vaguely scientific, I fired up my workstation with an administrator login, to access the Netgear software.  I’d forgotten that you cannot simply start the software as an administrator, you need to be full admin.  Something that would catch me later during the install of the TP-Link software.

The screen below shows the throughput of all the XE104 devices, prior to disconnection.

Unboxing

I bought two of the TP-Link kits  – making a total of four devices, to cover the entire house.  The boxes are remarkably spartan, with only a pair of Ethernet cables and an A3 size instruction leaflet.

Setup & Configuration

The quick-installation instructions worked well.  Simply pressing a Pair button on the side of the units to link them; doing the same for subsequent units.  Later on, I downloaded the configuration software.  The installation naturally required administrative rights, but instead of prompting UAC on my Windows 7 machine, the software just complained.  Using the right-click, Run as Admin option got me in quickly.

The configuration screen

I was greeted with the screen below; it is a simple screen but probably does everything it needs to.  After capturing the screen images, I used the built in function to set a suitably complex password, which I assume that its using as an IV for the 128 bit AES cryptography it purports to use.  I tried to use a password from a password vault’s generator, but that failed.  Also, in setting the password, the network lost connectivity and I had to repair the devices.  Not sure quite what that was all about.

Results

To finish-up a non-scientific test.  Before I disconnected the XE104 powerline devices, I downloaded a Linux Mint ISO image.  It took 22 minutes to complete.  After swapping to the TP-Link devices (and running the same approximately 15 minutes later), the same ISO image took three minutes and 22 seconds.

I ran a Speedtest for good measure; recall that my previous maximum speed was 14Mb/s – the new speed is approx 70Mb/s – pretty much full line speed.  See image below.

The Speedtest result – after installation

 

Of course internet conditions change, but that’s a pretty sizeable speed increase.  This bodes well for future plans to (re)rip the music collection and store on a NAS housed elsewhere in the house.   More on that to come.

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