Logo   Banner   TopRight
TopUnder
Transparent
Actiontec MegaPlug AV 200 Mbps Ethernet Adapter
Transparent
Date: Nov 27, 2007
Section:IT/Datacenter
Author: Michael Santo
Transparent
Introduction and Product Specifications
When it comes to solid, reliable networking connections, nothing beats copper at the moment.  It's not the most convenient, as most people (particularly wives and girlfriends) don't want cables running across the floor, or even jacks in walls throughout the house.  That leaves wireless, and although most people have wireless-G at this time, 54 Mbps (when you consider actual throughput) pales in comparison to standard 100 Mbps wired Ethernet.  Even when you consider wireless-N, which still hasn't even been fully ratified, and its up to 300 Mbps speed, throughput isn't that fast by any means.  Let's not forget the issues with distance and signal drop that exist in both current wireless solutions.

The only other option, short of snaking CAT5 cables inside walls and around your home or office, is powerline networking.  It's not new, but only recently have products entered the market which have the potential to meet or even exceed 100 Mbps wired Ethernet.  One such product is the Actiontec MegaPlug AV 200 Mbps Ethernet Adapter, which we are evaluating here.


small_topography.png

Image Courtesy of Actiontec


The kit comes with two oversized wall adapters and two Ethernet cables. The idea is simple in concept: you plug one adapter into your router with a cable, then into a wall socket.  Next you plug the other adapter into another wall socket and from there run the cable to your PC.   Sounds simple?  In principal it certainly is.

Standards
IEEE 802.3, IEEE 802.3u, HomePlug AV

Additional Protocols
CSMA/CA channel access scheme(upgradeable to TDMA); CO device generates a periodic beacon carrier
for channel access scheme
Forward Error Correction (FEC)
Automatic Channel Adaptation

Data Rate
PHY Rate: Up to 200 Mbps over standard home power lines and 10/100 Mbps over Ethernet*

Operating Range
Up to 300 meters in wall power lines
Capable of passing through circuit breakers
 Security
128-bit AES Link Encryption with Key Management

Frequency Band
2 MHz – 28 MHz

Modulation
OFDM Symbol Modulation on Line Synchronization
QAM
QPSK
BPSK
ROBO Carrier Modulation
CSMA/CA channel access scheme(upgradeable to TDMA); CO device generates a periodic beacon
carrier for channel access scheme
Forward Error Correction (FEC)
Automatic Channel Adaptation

Data Rate
PHY Rate: Up to 200 Mbps over standard home power lines and 10/100 Mbps over Ethernet*
QoS
Integrated
Prioritized Random Access
Contention-Free Access
Segment Bursting

LEDs
Power, Link, and Ethernet

Power Input
100 to 240V @ 50/60 Hz internal

Regulatory Compliance
FCC Part 15 Class B
UL
HomePlug Certification

Environmental Ranges
Temperature: 0°C to 40°C
Humidity: 10% to 90% (Non-condensing)

Warranty
See Product User Manual

Operating Range
Up to 300 meters in wall power lines
Capable of passing through circuit breakers

Security
128-bit AES Link Encryption with Key Management
 Frequency Band
2 MHz – 28 MHz

Modulation
OFDM Symbol Modulation on Line Synchronization
QAM
QPSK
BPSK
ROBO Carrier Modulation

Transparent
Up Close and Setup
The Actiontec MegaPlug AV comes with everything you need, more or less.  There are two wall adapters, two six-foot Ethernet cables, a quick start guide, a "How To Change The Encryption Key" guide, and a configuration CD.  The quick start guide is typically short, and for somewhat tech-savvy (but not advanced) users it would amount to no more than common sense.   As we described earlier, plug in an Ethernet cable to one wall adapter, plug the cable into the router and find an open socket.  Then repeat the process with the second wall adapter (except, of course, that you plug the Ethernet cable into the adapter on the PC) and the units will then auto-configure from there.

 

         
Actiontec MegaPlug AV 200



In most cases, that's it.  Once you do this you will see your PC acquiring an address from the router in the system tray of your operating system.  Of course, there are caveats.  As you can see from the picture the wall plug fits pretty tightly against anything in the upper socket.  In fact, it was rubbing against a neighboring cord, despite the fact that the orientation of the plug in the upper socket was horizontal.

Unfortunately, as with most devices that use your powerlines for anything, you can't use a powerstrip or surge protector so you are constrained to finding not just an open socket, but an open socket near your router.  In many houses, that is not that easy to do, as often there are quite a few other devices plugged into nearby sockets, including the router.  We did discover, however, that if you use a plain extension cord, without surge protection of any type, that the setup will work.

You'll note 3 LEDs on the adapter above.  One is for power, a second indicates Ethernet activity, and the third is "Link" which, when lit means, since the adapters are paired, that there is a second adapter "linked" to this one.
Transparent
Software


Although the QuickStart Guide doesn't mention it, there is software that comes with the kit.   Most users won't use the software, but it's included on a CD that comes in the box.  The CD also contains Acrobat Reader and the full manual, in PDF form.

The only Actiontec software on the CD is the Actiontec Megaplug AV Configuration Utility.  This utility is used to change the encryption key that's used on the Megaplug network.  Of course, the kit comes pre-configured (or it wouldn't work out of the box), but if you want to change it to something more customized for your use, this is where you would do it.



Once you insert the CD, it will prompt the install the utility (compatible with Windows 2000, XP and Vista).  It takes almost no time to run and once installed, launches immediately.  You then see the configuration screen above.  It's very simple, as you can see.  You enter a new encryption key, and hit "Save Key".  You have to do this for both Adapters, which means you have to connect them both, one at a time, to the Ethernet port on a PC and then run the utility.  As we said, all of this is probably not necessary for many home users.  However, it's a nice feature, should you have more stringent security concerns and the encryption algorithm utilized is a robust 128-bit AES link-level implementation.

Transparent
HH Testing Platform and SANDRA XII Network Tests

How we configured our test systems: When configuring our test systems for this article, we set up a desktop and laptop system on the same network.  The desktop was connected via its 100Mbps port whereas the laptop was connected using the Actiontec kit.  For the test, the default - out of the box Actiontec encryption was employed and Windows Firewall was disabled on each system as well. 

HotHardware's Test Systems
AMD & Intel Inside!

 

System 1:
IBM Thinkpad T-43
Intel Pentium-M CPU
(1.86GHz)

1.5GB DDR2 RAM

ATI Mobility Radeon X300
Actiontec MegaPlug AV 200
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

75GB Hard Drive (ATA)

Windows XP Professional 32-bit


System 2:
Intel Pentium-4 Williamette
(3.0GHz)

ASUS P4C800 MB

2GB  DDR2 RAM

BFG Technologies Asylum GeForce FX 5950 Ultra

On-board Ethernet
On-board Audio

120GB Hard Drive (ATA)

Windows XP Professional 32-Bit

SiSoftware SANDRA
Network Bandwidth Test

The first half of our evaluation is going to consist of synthetic network bandwidth testing courtesy of SANDRA.  In this test, the program requires at least two machines to be on the network, with SANDRA automatically identifying the second system as the host.

small_satnet1.png    small_satnet2.png

With Windows reporting that we had a successful 100Mbps connection via the Actiontec kit, the Network Bandwidth testing showed an average bandwidth between 54Mbps 802.11g and 100Mbps, and slightly, very slightly, below 802.11n.  Not bad.  We should also note that ratings for bandwidth are absolute peak and are not completely representative of real world results.  With networking performance, there are a multitude of factors, including latency, that can affect the actual performance.  Notice the Actiontec MegaPlug AV unit had latency characteristics that fell somewhere in between 802.11n and 802.11g (the latter providing a lower latency connection) performance but over 2x higher latency than standard 100Mb Ethernet.  So, in terms of latency, as an alternative to 100Mb Ethernet, the Megaplug AV 200 held relatively strong.  In our next test, we'll try to give you an idea of more real world results.

Transparent
Real World Transfer Tests
In our second round of bandwidth testing, we timed the process of copying a large file to and from a server to demonstrate the performance of the Actiontec MegaPlug AV 200 Mbps Ethernet Adapter. 

In this test, a shared folder was created on a workstation with a 700MB AVI in that folder.  Next, we copied the file from our desktop to the laptop, with all commands initiated at the laptop.  When this test was complete, we copied the file back to the workstation.  Tests were run with the Actiontec adapter as well as with our laptop's integrated 54Mbps Wireless adapter.

 



With the Laptop-to-Server test, it took 303.97 seconds to transfer 700MB of data on the 802.11g connection, compared to 167.88 seconds with the Actiontec connection.  When we break it down a bit further, knowing 700MB to be a constant, we can convert the performance to megabytes per second followed by megabits per second and then calculate the average speed at which the file was transferred.

Laptop WiFi to Server Test @ 54Mbps:
700MB / 303.97 sec = 2.30MB/s
2.30MB/s x 8-bits (8 bits to a byte) = an average speed of 18.40Mbps.

Actiontec MegaPlug AV 200 connection via Laptop to Server test:
700MB / 167.88 sec = 4.16MB/s
4.16MB/s x 8-bits (8 bits to a byte) = an average speed of 33.28Mbps.

The improvement in performance with the Actiontec hardware was nearly double that of 802.11g. 

Transparent
Performance Analysis and Conclusion

Performance Summary:    We recorded notable improvements in both range and transfer speeds using the Actiontec MegaPlug AV 200 Mbps Ethernet Adapter versus a standard 802.11g connection.  However, the claim of 200Mbps doesn't match test results, as the synthetic tests recorded a maximum theoretical connection speed to the host machine of somewhere between an 802.11g connection and 100Mbps.  In our real-world transfer test, however, we did see throughput nearly double that of the 802.11g connection.  As the idea of this adapter is to eliminate the need to drape wires all over your house, it certainly works as advertised, and without any drops in connectivity.

Setup was flawless and simple.  Basically you can run the MegaPlug AV 200 right of of the box with no issues.  Additionally, unlike wireless, there was never an issue with dropped signals or lost connectivity.  If you've ever watched your wi-fi connection, particularly on 802.11n, you will see it fluctuate up and down significantly.  However, although it's understandable that you cannot use a surge suppressor / power strip with the adapter, this small shortcoming can make it difficult to find a good location to install the adapter.

For those who are looking for a bit more mobility without the aggravation the Wi-Fi brings, this is a great option for the Small-Office-Home-Office market.  Relatively speaking the kit is not cheap.  Retail price is $169.99 though it appears street prices can be found as low as $140, including shipping.  So you'll pay for the added stability and performance that the MegePlug AV 200 brings but in our estimation, especially as an alternative to re-wiring with RJ45 cables, it's worth it.

  • Super-simple to install and use
  • Solid connection with no drops vs. wireless 
  • Can configure encryption settings if necessary
  • Must use a bare outlet (no surge suppressor)

Discuss This Article And Share Your Comments With Others!

A Forum Thread Has Already Been Started on the Topic!



Content Property of HotHardware.com