Lies, Damned Lies – and Claims from Powerline Adapter Manufacturers!

Among undoubted charms, one of the few little challenges presented to me by my current home is the fact that I have no easy way to run network cables around. All the walls are brick; the floors are concrete, there’s nowhere to conceal cable runs. As a result, I’ve invested in Powerline adapters, little units that come in pairs and which you can plug in to a couple of mains sockets and which, if you’re lucky, can route Ethernet traffic around your property using the heavy gauge mains cable as a transmission medium.  This kinda works…

Back in 2015 I purchased a pair of adapters with a claimed throughput of 1.2 Gigabits per second. Since they were massively faster than the 500Mb/s units they replaced, I was quite happy with them, although I noted at the time that they didn’t quite deliver as claimed…

This evening I’ve just installed and tested an upgraded pair of adapters, this time boasting a claimed 2000Mb/s [2 Gigabits] of throughput. So fast, in fact, that I should expect them to be at least as fast as a direct network connection, right? Ho, ho, ho…

I ended up running 30 tests across 3 different scenarios:-

1. Direct – Laptop with SSD to Gigabit Switch to QNAP TS670 NAS
2. Legacy via 2 x AV1200s over approx 10m of mains ring
3.  New via 2 x AV2000s over approx 10m of mains ring

For the Powerline Tests I performed power-recycle resets and then conducted 3 full test runs to let the adapters “train” themselves before capturing data. Each test was conducted as pairs: one test was for a large single file [approx 9Gb]; the other was for approx 250 files in a folder structure with the total size approx 9Gb].

For each of the above configurations and the two tests, I ran each test 5 times. I then averaged down the 10 results for each configuration to a single value and report the results as bytes-per-second not bits-per-second…

1. Direct Connection – 153,294,088.732 bytes per second
2. Powerline AV1200s – 16,193,844.940 bytes per second
3. Powerline AV2000s – 27,324,602.086 bytes per second

In other words, despite claiming to be twice as fast as conventional Gigabit Ethernet, the AV2000 units actually only returned – as you can see from the above data – about 17.82% of the performance of a direct connection. From equipment claiming to have twice the performance of a direct connection…

Sum-Up: Powerline Ethernet Manufacturers: full of sh#t!

[ Oh, and in case you’re wondering – the 1200 units were perfectly capable of letting me watch streamed 4K content from YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime, delivered down a BT Infinity 75Mb/s FTTC service – so the 2000s will be more than sufficient]. They’re good, just nowhere near as good as claimed… ]

Amazon Packaging; Not “Amazing Packaging”…

So, being somewhat interested in technology, I do tend to make the odd gadget purchase from time to time. Last Sunday was not exceptional, then, when I placed an order for 5 hard drives. “Five?” you ask. “Isn’t that a lot?” Well, yes. As a matter of fact, four of these things were intended to go in one of these… It’s called a “NAS”, which is an acronym for “Network Attached Storage”. In simple terms, it’s a little box full of hard discs on which you can put all your digital “stuff”. Placing your files on this device instead of inside of one computer means that you can access your content from any computer on your network.

In my case the box I chose also supports a clever way of sharing the data so that every piece of data is stored on at least 2 discs in the box – if one disk fails you don’t lose your data… which is quite cool. Anyway, I decided that since my box was running out of disc space, I would order some larger-capacity disks. I checked around and Amazon were offering the best price. I ordered 5 [4 plus a spare] last Sunday, with Amazon promising me “next day delivery”. Five days later the delivery arrives, looking like this:-

Literally a large cardboard box containing over £1000 of hard drives with a short piece of paper to act as “padding”. Incompetent doesn’t even begin to come close to the idiocy that was this delivery. The thing is that hard drives are delicate things. The insides work in tolerances of thousandths of a millimetre – so you can just imagine how much a hard drive likes being thrown around in a box like this.

After a phone call, Amazon have promised to replace them, tomorrow, with properly packaged drives. Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling installment of “Postal Prats” and “Delivery Divots”…

The Sound of Silence

Back in June 2012, I bought myself a Shuttle X35 fanless PC. This fabulous little personal computer came with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom dual-core CPU, to which I added 4Gb of laptop RAM and a 90Gb Kingston SSD. Result: a stunning little desktop machine more than capable of handling a 1920×1200 monitor and providing me with basic web and email activities, and completely, 100% silent to boot. What’s not to like?

Truth be told, precious little. In fact, the only real “gripe” I could level at the X35 was an inability to power a pair of monitors. But let’s be honest, what could I reasonably expect for £180?

Fast-forward to August 2014 and, sadly, my Shuttle suffered what turned out to be a crippling failure when it’s integrated Ethernet Port decided to die on me. I suspect this was due to  slightly excessive cable tension… but whatever the root cause, it turned out to be terminal. Time to hit the web and come up with a replacement. And I struck gold. The folks over at AtLast Solutions have been building a range of fan-less and small-form-factor PCs for quite some time know, and their experience shows.

A phone call to discuss my requirements and I was recommended the “Newton” system, built around a dual-core i5 processor. Offering 4 cores with hyper-threading, this model had not been my first choice (since I had been tempted by the Core i7 options). However, I soon learned that the i5 alternative has improved graphics (courtesy of Intel HD5000 Pro GPU, roughly twice as powerful as the i7’s 4600GPU) and runs cooler to boot. I pushed the specification to the limit, opting for 16Gb of RAM and a huge SSD, but now have a machine that dual-boots between a 64-bit edition of Win7 Pro [supplied and installed for me] and a 64-bit edition of Linux Mint 17.0 (Qiana). This combination works flawlessly: I can select my OS of choice at boot time, and switch between them in seconds.

No, this is nowhere near the economy level of the Shuttle X35, but, oh my, it simply blows away the older unit in terms of speed and sheer fun. Better yet, the Newton is equipped with an HDMI Port and a Display Port… My Dell 24″ Monitors have suitable connectors, so I now switch between systems using monitor input selectors rather than a KVM switch. Much, much better.

Awesome solution: I’m chuffed.

Huge thanks and kudos to AtLast Solutions!

Taz, Part 4

I think there is (or needs to be) a tradition which states that, just when you think things are going brilliantly well, a snag will come along that trips you up. The build of Taz was no exception to this rendition of Murphy’s Law. The guys at RapidPCs had worked (very) late into the night to put together dual cooling circuits, and get everything topped up with coolant ready for a good cycle of running-in testing, which typically consists of running performance tests to get everything nice and warm, then carefully watching temperatures and cooling system performance.

The preliminary work complete, the guys called it a night… only to return the following day and realise that the GPU wasn’t entirely straight in it’s PCI slot, and that a couple of the tubing runs were in need of some length adjustment. We had a chat about approach on Saturday, and Simon has the machine for another week so that he can continue to fine-tune to his satisfaction. We’re aiming for a really cracking finished article here, with the hope that we can use pictures to showcase the work and win some more business.

The really great news from this assembly, however, is that this system is practically silent, even under the kind of loads used in stress testing. Some of that comes down to good component selection; most of it to a really thoughtful build…

Taz, Part 3

As it turns out, my prediction of Taz being ready early was somewhat optimistic. Although the bulk of the build went extremely well [better than expected] the complexities of building two cooling circuits in one case soon surfaced – not least of which turned out the be the general unavailability of the reservoirs we’d originally chosen. But, from adversity we sometimes capture an advantage, and so things turned out here, in the form of a timely motherboard upgrade.

Well, put another way, in honour of the impending arrival of Taz, one of my friends offered me this absolutely spectacular motherboard upgrade. Needless to say, it was a big hit with the guys at RapidPCs!