Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/09/28/review_networking_powerline_wd_livewire/

WD Livewire four-port powerline Ethernet adaptor

One plug to feed them all

By Tony Smith

Posted in Hardware, 28th September 2010 12:01 GMT

Review As more and more set-top boxes, TVs and Blu-ray players gain the ability to reach out to the internet for content, your average one-port powerline Ethernet adaptor just won't cut it any longer.

WD Livewire

WD's Livewire: power cable in at one end...

Case in point: I have an internet TV and an Apple TV box in my living room, and all of them are able to go online for content. The telly has no wireless capability, and while the Apple TV does, I prefer the speed Ethernet brings over wireless when syncing content to it.

So, two devices, one powerline adaptor. Result: swapping Cat 5 leads back and forth according to need. Not an optimal solution, and one that would be worse if I get a Freeview HD-capable DVR and a Blu-ray Disc player.

Too few free power sockets make putting in a heap of single-port adaptors a no-go. Fortunately, Western Digital has the solution: it's Livewire adaptor doubles up as a four-port switch.

To be fair, WD isn't the first to do this. Netgear had a similar offering out years ago, and in a more compact form-factor. I used one very successfully, but, as an 85Mb/s device it had to go when I upgraded to the 200Mb/s HomePlug AV standard.

WD Livewire

...and up to four networkable devices in the other

Thankfully, that's a technology the WD Livewire supports and delivers the push-button security set-up common to all the latest HomePlug AV devices, allowing me to swap a Livewire for said single-port adaptor and hook up telly and three other boxes simultaneously.

Ports multiplied

If you want to apply your own encryption key, you'll need to install and run the bundled Windows-only set-up software first, handy if you plan to add the Livewire to a powerline network you've already put in place.

WD supplies Livewires in pairs, and there's reason you might want to use one at the router end: you can hook up network kit directly rather than through the router.

WD Livewire

Powerline performance is highly dependent on the state of your wiring, and different power outlets can yield different results, all other factors being equal. Transferring a movie file from my network hard drive yielded an average speed of 56Mb/s, which is lower than other, single-port powerline kit I've tested, but not significantly so and still sufficient for 1080p Blu-ray content. That's a 1.4GB file copying over in 3m 24.1s, by the way.

Downloading a hefty file from the internet on one machine at 19.6Mb/s saw the movie transfer time rise to 4m 16.1s - 44Mb/s.

Certainly I was able to sync video to the Apple TV while simultaneously watching higher bitrate BBC iPlayer content on my Bravia telly. Of course, with both devices making use of the single link back to the router, there will be diminishing returns the more kit you add, but the upside is the convenience of connecting multiple devices to the one adaptor.

And it's not an expensive offering. You can buy the two-adaptor pack for around £77 which is what a pair of good one-port adaptors will set you back. Looking for a single-adaptor offering? Solwise has a three-port 200Mb/s adaptor here, but I've not tested it so can't yet recommend it as an alternative.

Verdict

WD's Livewire adaptors don't deliver any performance benefit over rival powerline products, but they do have the advantage of networking more than one device through a single power sockets - very handy if your home is not well endowed with mains plates. ®

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