My rating: Five Stars
Do you need to network two computers to each other, or connect a computer to the internet, but the devices you need to link are in different rooms? Running the cables through the walls probably isn't an option. A wireless network might be the normal solution; but wireless networks can be horribly complicated. So is there an alternative? Yes, there is! Read on.

Wireless networks need to be complex. They're designed to allow a sophisticated computer signal to follow a device such as a laptop which someone might be wandering around the house with. That's some technical achievement. And it's an achievement which, for many of us, is completely unnecessary. That's because the equipment we're connecting isn't moving at all. Quite frankly, if we could get a cable through the wall or down the stairs to connect our boxes, that's exactly what we'd do.

Devolo dLAN 200 AV adapter plugged into the mains The good news is that there is an alternative. You already have a wiring system going around your house or office, called the electricity mains, and although it's hard to believe, it's quite straightforward to add your computer signal to that very same wiring. The technology isn't very complex, and it is literally "plug in and go". Journalists like myself have been shouting about this technology for a while, but this year it's really come into the mainstream with generally accepted standards, some great products and performance which actually outstrips wireless network speeds. Here's a good article on the HomePlug standard, if you're technically-minded.

For everyone else, here's what you need to know. With HomePlug networking, you can connect computers to each other, or to your broadband connection, even if all the components are in separate rooms. You just plug each component into your standard mains sockets using a special adaptor. That's it. For example, I first invested in this technology at home in summer 2007, when I moved my home office to a different room. Moving the desk and PC was easy. But my cable broadband connection point was permanently fixed in the old room. The solution? A HomePlug standard networking kit.

Devolo dLAN 200 AV starter kit I did my research, and one product was clearly head and shoulders above the rest, with five-star reviews in dozens of magazines already. The Devolo dLan 200 AV HomePlug system is an update on earlier products (which are still available, and cheaper, but conform to older, slower standards). As usual, I wasted ages searching around for the cheapest price, but as usual, prices were much the same everywhere and it made sense to go to Amazon with its reliable, fast delivery. A "starter kit" promised me everything I needed to connect two rooms.

A couple of days later a box (left) was delivered, and it contained just five items: two plug adapters, two cables and an installation CD. A "quick start" sheet suggested I just plug everything in, so I did. In my old room, I plugged a HomePlug adapter into the wall socket, and connected it to the cable modem with one of the leads. Lights started to flash. In the other room, I plugged the other HomePlug adapter into the wall socket, and connected it to the PC.

Devolo dLAN 200 AVdesk

Devolo dLAN 200 AVdesk

You'll see references around the web to the "AVdesk" version of the Devolo dLAN 200. Instead of the plug on the wall connecting straight to your network cable, this version inserts an intermediate box in the chain, which looks like a modem or a router. Forgive me, but I can't see the point of this unless you like more boxes and more flashing lights. The "AVdesk" unit only has one Ethernet port on the back, it's not a router or anything. My guess is that it was the company's earlier effort at this sort of networking, before they managed to cram everything into the "plug version" here. Go for the version linked to below.

I then went back to the box to get the installation CD out, and as I did so, I noticed something on the PC's screen. Internet activity. Yes, the whole thing really did work "out of the box". I was up and running! It transpires that the software on the installation CD allows you to password-protect and secure your network, but in fact that's probably not really essential anyway. One Minute Installation it says on the box. More like 45 seconds, I'd say.

That brings me to another advantage of this technology over wireless networking. When you're broadcasting your computer network around the locality via radio waves, it's not surprising you need all sorts of highly complex security to protect it from other people. With a HomePlug system, you only really need security from other people who might be connected to your mains electrical circuit, which I guess is only going to be relevant if you're in a shared building. Finally, although I've never worried about this, I know there are many people who simply don't like the idea of a wireless network beaming signals around their house, from a health point of view. With a HomePlug system, that's one less domestic electromagnetic wave transmitter to worry about.

So, would I recommend the Devolo dLan 200 AV? Unreservedly. But click on the Amazon link below, as they normally have plenty of other users' comments. I can only find one thing to complain about, and that's the price: at 140 it's probably a more expensive system than a wireless one, if your PCs are wireless-ready and all you need is a wireless router. But trust me, if you value your time and want to avoid the heartache of setting up a wireless network, it's worth every penny.

Stop press: I've now tested the setup with a Mac as well as a Windows PC, and that worked first time as well!

The link below will take you to the Devolo dLan 200 AVeasy starter kit product information page at Amazon UK. If they have it for under £140, this is what you want. Five Stars CR


Product information on the Devolo dLan 200 AVeasy at Amazon UK