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I’ve been working a lot more from my home office lately and it was getting increasingly challenging during this summer with both kids at home.  Okay, let’s be honest, my wife was probably more the distraction :-).  When we built our home 4 years ago we were both working from home and built an office specifically for the both of us.  3 dedicated power circuits to the room, hard-wired ethernet to that room x 4, wireless printing, split desks, tile floor, etc., etc. – everything I wanted in my office for convenience.

Fast-forward 4 years.  Add 2 kids.  Add wife who isn’t working anymore, but maintains a full-time job managing the local community stuff she’s involved in and of course, our family…which she does a fantastic job at I might add!  It was just getting too difficult for me.  I’ve been relegated to the basement back bedroom.  I didn’t want to work in our basement because there were no geek creature comforts and where I put the wireless wasn’t ideal for the room where I would work anyway (hindsight is 20/20 right?).  Well, I couldn’t fight it anymore.  One trip to Ikea to get a desk add-on to a piece of furniture she already had in her scrapbook/activity room and I had a desk (and a new chair).  It hasn’t been the best.  The lighting sucks and it isn’t as comfortable peripherally speaking as my designed office for me.  Recently I’ve anticipated adding more network stuff (NAS, VOIP device, etc.).  The wireless only solution wasn’t going to cut it for me.

Netgear Powerline HD KitAs such I never expected to be down there, I never wired for anything beyond the one port for the wireless access point.  I had a cabling guy stop by last night to talk with me about my options.  I didn’t like the 15-20 drywall hole option too much and said I’d think about it.  I remembered seeing something about ethernet over power lines.  I did some research and found the HomePlug Alliance which provided some good general information for me.  Enough to convince me that it wasn’t something I should just disregard as an option.  Today I went to Fry’s Electronics to peruse my options.  There were many.  From manufacturers I didn’t know to those that you recognize: Netgear, D-Link, Linksys, etc.  I didn’t really seek out any advice in the beginning on what would be best, so I fell into the marketing scheme – bigger numbers is better right?  So I bypassed the 14MBPS, skipped over the 85MBPS, and opted for the 200MPBS (I couldn’t find any higher).  I purchased the Netgear Powerline HD Network Kit.  It was on sale as well which made it more attractive (picked it up for $110).  I was skeptical but figured I had nothing to lose.  $110 or hundreds more in cabling and drywall repair jobs.  The kit comes with two adapters.  Plug one into an outlet, connect it to your router and plug the other where you need ethernet connectivity.  I did just that.

I’m happy to report I don’t notice anything different…which is to be expected.  It literally did “just work” for me.  I went to no configuration screens, installed no software, etc.  One blue light lit up on one box…a few seconds later the other blue light on the other box was blinking indicating they’ve found each other.  Happy times.  My speedtest.net rating showed the same speeds I expected to get and I don’t experience any noticeable lag between requests or anything.  I haven’t noticed anything in my home network going awry at all either.  My XBOX just died, but I think that is more of a coincidence than a side effect.  If it turns out it isn’t I’ll report back.

Anyhow, a cheap alternative to wiring.  Sure if you want fiber or gigabit connections, this isn’t going to work.  But for the average joe, the older home, etc. – so far it is turning out to be a simple alternative that works.  Simple to set up too which always is a plus.

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i recently wrote about my birthday binge purchases, one of which included an airport extreme.  in addition to the airport, i acquired a matching (in size so it fit right under it) lacie mini hard drive.  the reason for this (and the initial airport purchase) was i'm trying to consolidate some storage without having to have a running "machine" (OS) anywhere.  the airport touted the ability to plugin an external hard drive and share it with everyone.

well, i'm happy to report that my other birthday purchases are doing me proud.  the airport and lacie, on the other hand, are quite possibly two of the worst pieces of technology that i personally have ever purchased.  i know "your mileage may vary" and i'm not trying to blanket everyone, but for me, it is a complete failure.  which is disappointing because i read the reviews on both products and selected based on particular comments etc.  allow me to vent.

airport extreme:

while beautiful in industrial design, it lacks features i'm used to (and desire).  i should have known not to mess with my ol' trusty linksys solution, but i was lured with the shared drive and 802.11n spec inclusion.  alas, piece of poo.  the sharing of the drive?  yes, but only if it is a mac-formatted one.  i plugged in my existing western digital 320GB drive (which has my files on it) first, and the error log simply stated that it was unable to mount the drive and i must plug it into a computer and "repair" it -- and repair==re-format.  no thanks.  (this is why i bought the lacie which is a bigger capacity as well.)  also, the sharing itself for "mac or pc" is really for mac.  it doesn't use any standard other than its own...bonjour.  so on a windows machine i couldn't map to \\box\share but had to install bonjour for windows and use it that way.  argh.  why wouldn't they just use samba or something?

wireless options...this is probably the thing that bothered me.  first, where is the web-based admin?  nowhere.  i had to install a client on both my mac and win machines to configure it.  while the software is nice looking, it is fischer price features.  seriously, give me the advanced option and allow me to configure from anywhere within the network.  i don't use wep/wpa in my home wireless, but use mac hardware address filtering.  setting up this feature on the airport was not intuitive.  the logging/diagnostics (showing me the connected wireless clients) also only showed me the connected mac addresses?! wtf?!  you made me input the mac address and give it a name, couldn't you show me the name in the connected client list?  argh.

probably the single reason i'm returning it is performance.  yesterday i worked from home.  aside from being a bad idea with a 5 year old, 1 year old, and wife (whom i love so dearly :-)), the interweb was horrible.  my wife even commented something was wrong.  for her to notice something is wrong, means something is wrong.  i "rebooted" the airport a few times (a process that also is not intuitive, you must make a config change to "update" which results in a reboot.  anyhow, my wireless throughput was HORRIBLE (see andrew, i do have caps).  i honestly couldn't believe how slow it was.  as a test i tweaked a few configs but nothing would improve it.  i plugged my linksys back in and all was back to normal/fast.  i still don't know what the problem was, but i could isolate it to the airport.  for that reason alone, i'm ditching it (the other reasons just re-affirm my decision).

lacie hard drive:

again, great industrial design (for mac accessories) and fit perfectly under the airport and tucked away.  the problem?  turn it on.  unless you like the sound of a hair dryer up against your ear all day, this isn't for you.  seriously, with no data on it, nobody accessing it, just plugging it in and turning it on in a well ventilated, cool room, it hummed like a banshee.  i couldn't take it for more than 5 minutes.  my wife, who shares the same home office, looked at me and simply said "absolutely not."  i knew at that moment it had to go back.  i honestly could not believe how loud the thing was...horrible, horrible, horrible.

so i'm back to the apple store today to return.  i suspect they'll charge me a restocking fee which i'll gladly pay to be rid of these piles of garbage.

as always, your mileage may vary.  i consider myself pretty savvy and feel my assessment is accurate for the advanced user, but everyone is entitled to their opinion otherwise.  two big thumbs down on both products...big time.