10Mbps over phoneline is here! True, at about $65 per computer, it's about 3X the cost of a 10baseT NIC. But as long as you have a phone jack in the room where you want to put a computer, you don't have to worry about drilling holes, snaking cables through walls, or settling for lower speed than a 10baseT network. Laptop users, however, will have to wait to join the party until a PCMCIA or USB product is available. (NetGear has announced a USB product, but S3/Diamond has not.) So if you've been holding off networking your computers together because you didn't want to install CAT5 cabling, wait no longer! The HomeFree Phoneline 10Mbps kit will have you up and running in no time!

S3/Diamond HomeFree Phoneline - 10Mbps

Tim Higgins

Home Networking
S3/Diamond HomeFree Phoneline - 10Mbps
 
Tim Higgins  tim@timhiggins.com 
www.timhiggins.com

Bottom Line:
10Mbps is here!
Good software bundle.
Win2000 drivers!

S3/Diamond Homefree Phoneline - 10Mbps boards

The Stats
Product Name S3/Diamond HomeFree Phoneline 10Mbps adapter 
(Homefree 10Mb)
OS Supported Windows 95/98, NT4, 2000
Transmission
Method
Phoneline
Standard

HomePNA 2.0 (10Mbps)

Card Format PCI
Data rate 10Mbps (Manufacturer's specification)
7Mbps measured
Price
(List / Street)
$130 / $110 
(2 computer kit)

Introduction
The S3/Diamond HomeFree Phoneline 10Mbps comes in a kit that includes two PCI card adapters and the following other goodies:

  • Install CD
  • Installation Guide Poster
  • Getting Started Guide
  • Qty 2 10ft phone cord

You'll need a minimum of a 486/33 or better machine with at least 8MB of RAM (16 recommended), 20MB free hard drive space, and CDROM drive.  The CD has drivers for Win95, 98, NT4 and Win2000

I tested the product with Win98 and Win95 machines. The Installation CD comes with  Wingate 3 for Internet sharing.  There's lots of other stuff on the CD, including a Windows utility called AlterNet which lets you switch networking setups if you're moving a laptop between networks, installers for Internet Explorer, Netscape Communicator, Adobe Acrobat reader, and Real Audio.  Also included are a download utility for the Rio MP3 player, the manual, and FAQs.  Note that you can also buy a single card kit. 

The card has Link and Activity indicators and uses the Broadcom BCM4210 chip.   Two RJ11 mod jacks are provided, one for the wall connection, the other to plug in either a phone or modem. 

Getting it installed
Installing the Homefree 10Mb was about the same as installing the USB unit I recently reviewed (read the review here). S3/Diamond has very good documentation (although a little light on Troubleshooting info), but unlike the Homefree Phoneline USB, the Installation Guide does not mention that you don't have to run the Network Setup Wizard if you don't need to share your Internet connection, and you know how to install a NIC.  All you need to do is let the Windows Plug and Play wizard install the drivers off the CD when it detects the new hardware.

If you're a first-time networker, you'll probably be better off letting the Network Setup Wizard guide you through the installation, since it will make sure you name your computers properly and setup the proper protocols.  However, you'll also get Wingate Internet Sharing software installed if you use the Wizard, since there's no way to tell the installer to not install it.  Again, ok for computers that have not been networked before, but a possible problem if you're adding phoneline nodes to an existing network (see below).

By the way, although it's not mentioned in any of the documentation, the installer adds a handy Control Panel named iLine10. This is a little utility from Broadcom (the maker of the chip that does all the magic) that shows you adapter information, runs a little chip test diagnostic, and gives you some information about the Networking configuration. If you check the "Launch from System Tray" box, you can hold the mouse cursor over the System Tray icon and it will show you how much data has been Transmitted and Received.

Yikes! That was fast!
The installations went smoothly on both my Win95 and 98 test machines and after rebooting both machines, I was ready to give it a test run.  My setup was:

  • 300MHz Pentium Celeron A(with cache), 128MB memory, dialup modem connection, Win98
  • 166 Pentium, 80MB memory, Win95
  • Machines directly connected via 25 foot telephone cable

Not a very tough setup and certainly not at the limits of the specified range of 500ft, but good to get started with.  Browsing with Network Neighborhood was quick and not noticeably different from my normal 10baseT network.  I ran sets of pings and got a solid 1ms delay, with 0% packet loss.

Time to measure actual data transfer speed.  I transferred my 5.3MB test .zip file between computers and got an average of 7Mbps!  Impressive!  I switched back to my 10baseT network just to check and found that I got the same transfer rate!  I added another 25 feet of phone cable and still got the same result. Wow!

Since things were going so well, I thought I'd test the backward compatibility claim with 1 HomePNA 1Mbps card.  I attached a HomeFree USB box, reconfigured, rebooted, and the network came right back up.  I didn't run any speed trials in this configuration, but you should expect speed to be limited by the slower 1Mbps adapter.

I reran speed tests with one each of the S3/Diamond and Linksys Phonelink 10M boards (read the review here).  I obtained virtually identical results!

Sharing the Internet
The Homefree 10Mb kit includes a 6 user copy of Wingate for sharing your Internet connection.  As I mentioned before, if you run the Network Setup Wizard, you'll automatically get the server verison installed on the machine that you choose as the Internet Sharing Computer and the client version installed on all other machines.

If you have a working network, you need to be careful with setting up Internet sharing. Read this for more info.

If you don't have an existing network, then setting up Internet Sharing should be painless. Wingate contains a DHCP server,  which can supply your Sharing clients with their proper TCP/IP settings (you can, of course, set things manually, too). It also contains good setup routines which usually do a good job of examining the network and setting things up properly.

Summary 
10Mbps over phoneline is here!  

True, at about $65 per computer, it's about 3X the cost of a 10baseT NIC.  But as long as you have a phone jack in the room where you want to put a computer, you don't have to worry about drilling holes, snaking cables through walls, or settling for lower speed than a 10baseT network.  Laptop users, however, will have to wait to join the party until a PCMCIA or USB product is available. (NetGear has announced a USB product, but S3/Diamond has not.)

So if you've been holding off networking your computers together because you didn't want to install CAT5 cabling, wait no longer!  The HomeFree Phoneline 10Mbps kit will have you up and running in no time!

© Tim Higgins 2000


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