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Western Digital Livewire Review: Powerlines Really Do Work !

Hardware Review

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#1 of 12 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 12 2010 - 10:16 AM

I live in a large multi-level home where my wireless
networking has had a certain degree of difficulty with
coverage.  I have a router that sits in my office on the

far upper level of my home whose wireless signal
drastically fades by the time I get to the family room

or outside deck located on the opposite lower end of

the house.


For years I have been unhappy with the poor speeds

and overall experience of using a laptop in the areas

I want to use it in the most.


But what was I going to do?  I don't have the expertise

to strand 500' worth of Cat5 cable across my home.

A friend at work told me that he was using a Belkin

powerline kit to feed Internet to his computer that

was located several rooms away from his router.

According to this friend, he was getting fairly good

connection speeds.

Now in case you have no idea what a powerline network
is all about, I invite you to read this Wikipedia article that

talks extensively about it.  In short, your home's electrical

system is used to transmit Internet data from a transmitter to
receiver.

Powerline networking has gotten a bad rap over the
years --- and rightfully so.  Initially it provided questionable

performance.  However, over the years, the technology

became standardized and as a result, there are better

performing products now in the marketplace.


Considering to go with powerline networking was my

absolute last choice.  However, the more reading I did

over the past week about the technology as well as

the raving reviews that have been posted about some

of the better powerline products, I decided I had nothing

to lose but try it out for myself.



http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


The product I ended up purchasing was the Western Digital WD
Livewire.  Recent reviews on CNET and AMAZON have rated this

particular model as the very best available as of the writing of this

review.  Mind you, a newer chipset technology has just been approved

this year which means that there will be faster and even more effective

powerline kits being introduced shortly.   I was not going to wait.  At

a pricepoint of $100 I thought this could very well be the solution I was

looking for.


I have to say up front that I was very apprehensive about buying this
product.  From what I read, powerline technology can be hit or miss and

while many people have success with the technology, many see no
results at all.  Suffice to say, I opened the packaging very carefully
anticipating I was going to return it to Amazon.


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


The WD Livewire consists of two 4-port routing units with AC cords and short ethernet cables.

http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


There are several huge advantages of going with the WD Livewire over other

Powerline models.  First, instead of being a big bulky unit with a plug directly

attached to its end, the detachable AC cord allows you to move the unit away

from the wall.  Another huge advantage is the fact that this is a 4-port outlet

that will allow you to use it as a hub to plug in up to 3 additional devices outside

of the primary Internet connection itself.


Setup could not be any simpler.  Simply plug one of the WD routing boxes into

an AC outlet and then connect it to your router via ethernet cable.  Then take

the second WD routing box and plug it into the AC outlet on the other side of

your home or in a secondary room within 2 minutes and watch the green connection

light come on indicating that a communication between the two units has been made.


All of this took less than 5 minutes once removed from the box without the

assistance of the supplied directions or Windows software whose purpose is

to monitor current connections and add new livewire modules.


There are two very important things you must know here.  First, you should not

plug these units into extension cords or surge protectors.  They will absolutely

degrade performance.   Also, both AC outlets that you choose must co-exist on

the same power grid in your home.   Momentarily, I will talk more about the problems

that will occur if you mix and match AC outlets on different grids.


Now let's see if this powerline kit really delivered the goods....


First, I took my Macbook Pro and ran speed tests to show its performance,

without the powerline, directly wired to my network.


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


This is what you would consider my normal wired connection speed to

my Verizon Fios network.

http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


Here are the results after plugging my laptop directly into the powerline

router via cable at the opposite end of my house.  As you can see I did

not lose much signal here.   I found this to be highly encouraging for what

I was about to do next.




http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


Since I wanted to expand the overall WiFi coverage at the opposite

end of the home I plugged in my Apple Airport Extreme to the newly

created powerline Internet connection.   I placed this combination near

the family room that I wanted to provide a stronger signal to.


For kicks and giggles, if you want to see all the advice I received

on accomplishing this task, please read my exchanges in this thread.

Really have to thank Bob Timmons for helping me out with this.


Now mind you, you can easily plug your laptop or networking device

directly into the ethernet port in the back of the WD Livewire for maximum

signal strength.


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


This speedtest shows how bad my WiFi coverage usually is in

the family room.

http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


After establishing a powerline connection and using my Apple

router to extend it wirelessly, you can see how much the signal

dramatically increased.  It more than doubled.


The Apple iPads are notorious for having bad WiFi.  Unless you

are close to the source of the signal your iPad will exhibit a minimal

amount of signal bars.  

Prior to hooking up my router to the powerline I was getting 11.50MB/s

download speed with one indicated bar of coverage.  After the powerline

addition it dramatically increased to full bars of coverage and 22.50MB/s

download speeds, very similar to the tests shown above.


A few moments ago I warned about using powerline networking with
AC outlets that are not on the same grid.   About 15 years ago we had

an extension put on our home that included the new family room I have

been trying to cover wirelessly.   A new addition means new wiring.  All

the electrical outlets associated with the addition are on a separate fuse

box.  

http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


The top box shows speedtest results from the WD powerline connected to
an AC plug that is on the same grid as the transmitter in the office.


The bottom box shows what happens if you plug the powerline into an outlet

that is not on the same grid.  You can see the dramatic signal loss.



CONCLUSION


I am really amazed here.  I did not think I would obtain the dramatic results

that I did.  I have effectively been able to expand my wireless coverage,
more than doubling the signal strength without having to use cable.


Of course, a few questions still remain.  Will the powerline provide consistent

signal strength or will it fluctuate due to line noise caused by appliances or other

electrical interference?  I haven't really had time to test the new coverage

extensively to figure that out.


Another concerns is power outages.  We go through several such outages

a year and I suspect that the powerline will have to be manually reconfigured

each time electricity is lost.  All that means is replugging both units into the

wall to establish a connection.  It sounds easy, but somewhat annoying when

you consider your home Internet resets itself.


All in all, you can bet that I am one happy camper here.  I am hoping this

technology will work equally well for those of you with same coverage problem

I have.  I would suspect just about everyone does.

http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/


Ronald J Epstein
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#2 of 12 OFFLINE   Parker Clack

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Posted December 12 2010 - 10:51 AM

Nice write up Ron. I have been using a Netgear AV200 Powerline setup with my XBox 360 and HTPC to stream my recorded shows in MCE. I never could get a good signal from my wireless setup and the Netgear works about as well as a direct connection over CAT 5. I haven't had any issues with signal loss due to other components causing electrical interference and when I have lost power to the house I haven't had to reconfigure anything. I am sure that the WD Livewire will do the same or better.


I do like the fact that this is a separate unit that you plug in via a cord instead of direct connection to the outlet.

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#3 of 12 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 12 2010 - 01:40 PM


Quote:

Originally Posted by Ronald Epstein 

I live in a large multi-level home where my wireless
networking has had a certain degree of difficulty with
coverage.  I have a router that sits in my office on the

far upper level of my home whose wireless signal
drastically fades by the time I get to the family room

or outside deck located on the opposite lower end of

the house.


For years I have been unhappy with the poor speeds

and overall experience of using a laptop in the areas

I want to use it in the most.

[...]


http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/

I'm searching my heart for pity for a guy with 25 Mbps UPLOAD!!! ... Nope, can't find any. Posted Image


Ok, seriously, interesting writeup. :) I had a somewhat similar issue initially: I'm in a bog-standard two-story colonial with my wireless router in the lower right office and I had bad wifi reception in my upper-right master bedroom. The problem, for me, was the router was on the floor behind a full filing cabinet. Twelve inches of paper was a very serious hindrance of the wifi signal. Moving the router to the top of the desk fixed everything, and I've got solid wifi throughout the house, in the basement and even sitting in my car in garage. I'm sure you explored your options, but I'd encourage anyone with some wifi problems to try some simple positioning changes on their wireless base station.


These powerline solutions have been out...I recall reading about them in the 90s, always with mixed reviews. I'm glad to hear that there's a kit like this that's robust. Running ethernet is a pain, but this is a literally plug and play solution. I'll keep this in mind if friends mention needing a better network solution.



#4 of 12 OFFLINE   mattCR

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Posted December 12 2010 - 01:42 PM

I've also been using the Netgear Powerline networking for some time - and have converted several older facilities to using it as a means to get to hard to reach areas.. it's excellent.   Great write up Ron.


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#5 of 12 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 13 2010 - 03:37 AM

You guys are going to laugh.


For the heck of it I called Verizon Fios.  Asked them

what it would cost to have a tech come out and string

Interntet cable across my home.


I was quoted $135 with no added monthly fees.


That's $35 more than what I paid for the powerline kit.


No brainer here.  Going to return the powerline kit and

go with a wired connection.


That being said, I still think that the powerline was

an exceptional alternative if this solution was not available

to me.


Ronald J Epstein
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#6 of 12 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted December 13 2010 - 04:11 AM

I had no idea that an ISP would do contract work for home cabling!


That will be a better solution, even if slightly more expensive.



#7 of 12 OFFLINE   Keith Plucker

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Posted December 13 2010 - 05:33 AM

How does security work with something like this? Any idea? For instance, if someone where to plug a powerline adapter to an outlet on the outside of your house, for instance, in the patio area, would they be on your network at that point?


-Keith


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#8 of 12 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 16 2010 - 05:16 AM


  I had no idea that an ISP would do contract work for home cabling!


At $140 for what would amount to an hour of work it seems to me

that they would be happy to provide this service.



  How does security work with something like this? Any idea?


Keith, it's my understanding that the powerline adapter creates

its own security network.  There is a security button that you can

push on both units that secures it from anyone else tapping into

it.



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#9 of 12 OFFLINE   mattCR

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Posted December 18 2010 - 12:38 AM



Originally Posted by Keith Plucker 

How does security work with something like this? Any idea? For instance, if someone where to plug a powerline adapter to an outlet on the outside of your house, for instance, in the patio area, would they be on your network at that point?


-Keith



Well, yes.. if someone plugged in a powerline adapter to somewhere else in your house, they could get on.. if it's a powerline network that allows multiples..  Most powerline networking kits are one to one.. one sender, one receiver, not multicast.   But let's say you have a multicast powerline network... it could be done.   But this is the oldest kind of network security.  If you can't spot a guy haunched down on your patio with a laptop, you have other security issues :)


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#10 of 12 OFFLINE   ZeroZero7

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Posted March 20 2011 - 02:33 AM

Hi Ronald,
Kudos for your great review on WD Livewire! Btw..I would like to share with you that recently I viewed this video on YouTube and this dude did a testing on WD Livewire and claims that they have found the ultimate solutions for most PLC adapters. Check him out at this link:  If what his claims are "true" then it will be great news for all plc fans. Posted Image  


#11 of 12 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted March 20 2011 - 03:13 AM

Wai Kin,


Welcome to the forum and thank you for the kind words.


Could you explain to me a little about PLC?  I know very

little about PLC adapters.


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#12 of 12 OFFLINE   ZeroZero7

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Posted March 22 2011 - 04:15 AM

Hi Ronald,

Fyi...you may find more information about plc (powerline communications) at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HomePlug. This plc adapters technology have been around for about 11 years already. The most widely used plc adapters are from homeplug. These PLC adapters started with the 14Mbps (chipset) way back in the year 2000 and eventually progresses to 85Mbps (Turbo), and later to the 200Mbps (in 2007), and now 500Mbps and 1000Mbps (Gigabit). Most of these PLC adapters peformance (throughput) are somehow very susceptible to noises in the powerline and also noised induced into the powerline (like noises generated by the air conds, mobile phone charger, laptop charger, surge protectors, hair dryers, vacuum cleaner, water pump, light dimmer, etc.
With these noises the performance of the plc adapter can deteriorate further making streaming a Full HD (1080p) not quite possible. Even if possible you may not get the smooth streaming of the video. I hope the wikipedia on homeplug can tell you in much more details on plc.
Cheers and best regards!