Review: Netgear MCAB1001 MoCA Coax-Ethernet Adapter Kit

(Note: If you haven’t already, and are interested in some of the background of my needs and this testing, you should read my earlier review of powerline networking hardware)

So after the disappointment of the powerline networking experiment, I decided to give MoCA hardware a shot. If it performed as advertised, MoCA made sense in our house: There were already live cable drops in both the rooms in question, and the technology seemed far less jankier than powerline. So I ordered the Netgear MCAB1001 MoCA kit, which included two endpoints. This review will be much shorter than the last one.

I love this hardware. In fact, I really only have two gripes which I could think of:

  • The configuration utility is Windows only, and is basically required due to…
  • One of the endpoints was configured in “All Pass”, which lets MoCA overrun the frequencies used for television.  One of the reviewers on Amazon mentioned this as well, so I knew to look out for it.  Fortunately I was able to use the configuration utility in a virtual machine I already had lying around, so I wasn’t stuck.  But if you’re a non-Windows user, you’d be screwed as far as I can tell. (Update: See the comments for a non-windows way to accomplish this)

Installation of this hardware was as straightforward as the powerline hardware:  Hook up the endpoints and you’re live.  The endpoints even have a button which disables all of the front panel LEDs, which should be a feature on every piece of hardware.  Time to cut to the chase and get to the numbers:

milgrim$ time nc -v -v -n pbook 2222 < big-file.bin
Connection to pbook 2222 port [tcp/*] succeeded!
124.98 real         4.20 user        31.90 sys

(1,073,741,824 bytes) / (124.98 seconds) = 65.5464874 Mbps

Compared to the 15 Mbps I got from the powerline hardware, this was literally night and day.  And this was using the USB Ethernet adapter on my Air, so I doubt it’s fully flexing the bandwidth available.  Almost as important as the bandwidth (and the reason I sat on this review for awhile) is the reliability.  After I wrote the powerline review I learned that I was seeing all kinds of dropouts and failures.  But the MoCA hardware has been seemingly rock-solid. I’ve done many large data transfers over the link and seen no trouble whatsoever.

I’ve been so pleased with this gear, that I’ve considered getting a third endpoint to put in the basement and move some ‘headless’ hardware down there (cable modem, Slingbox, time capsule, etc), as it’d be really easy to run a Coax drop down there.  Actually, I think the only barrier to that right now is that all the power in the basement is on the common circuit of the house, so I’d have to install an outlet that comes off of our breaker panel.  Anyway, I’m rather pleased with this hardware, and if you have similar needs, you might want to give it a spin yourself.

Review: Netgear HDXB111 Powerline HD Plus Ethernet Adapter Kit

Update: This equipment worked less effectively than I had thought when I originally wrote this review.  See this post for an update.

Update 2: Since some people don’t seem to be interested in clicking the above ‘update’ link, I’ll put some detail here.  This hardware is crap, don’t buy it.  Not only is it ridiculously slow, it drops connections all the time making your network useless for transferring large files (or streams).  I unloaded the powerline gear and replaced it with Multimedia over Coax (MoCA) hardware, which allows you to use your Cable TV coax for networking (in addition to TV).


When we first moved into the new house, I initially set up a single WRT54G access point (running dd-wrt) in the office in the back of the house. I quickly learned, however, that this location didn’t provide much signal to the rooms in the front of the house, most notably, the living room. Fortunately, I had a second WRT54G lying around as well as a good place to hide it in the dining room, so I set up WDS and used it to extend the network to the front of the house. This has been our basic network configuration for almost two years now. The equipment in the front of the house which requires network, such as the Xbox 360 and the Tivo, all have wireless adapters which are served by this second access point.

This was mostly dandy for your everyday bullshit web browsing and checking email. But as I started to put more demand on the network by pulling HD content off the Tivo, renting HD movies on the 360, as well as things like Netflix streaming, it started to creak. Truth was that not only was the signal between the office and the dining room pretty lousy, but just using WDS halved the bandwidth available to wireless clients. It was time to find a better solution.

The obvious solution is to use wired ethernet to distribute the network around the house. Unfortunately, our condo is the middle floor of a 3 story house, which means no access directly below or above us to easily run Cat5. While it wouldn’t be impossible to get some Cat5 snaked through the walls into the basement, it wouldn’t be easy or fun. If I took on this project, it would turn into a complete mess. If we hired someone to do it it’d likely be prohibitively expensive. Neither

nor myself are interested in running Cat5 visibly around the house, so that’s not an option either.

Unable to come up with a true solution to this problem, I shelved it, accepting the status quo. A few days ago it occurred to me that there had been some companies developing equipment to send data over the electrical wiring of a home. Reviews on this equipment seemed to be pretty mixed, though. Some people raved about how brain-dead simple it was and how well it worked. Others complained it didn’t work at all. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to just give it a shot and if the equipment sucked I could always just resell it. I ended up ordering the Netgear HDXB111 Powerline HD Plus kit. It advertised a top speed of 200Mbps, but of course, actual data rates may vary…

I received the equipment yesterday and spent part of the evening doing some basic testing. First off, the actual setup of this equipment is just as brain-dead as advertised. I plugged each of the units in on opposite sides of the house and within a few seconds had link. That was it, it just worked right out of the box, no configuration, software, or anything else required. There was one other optional, but important, step, which was to ‘randomize’ the encryption keys used by the device. Out of the box, the key is set to a default value, but there is a ‘pairing’ procedure which generates a ‘random’ key and distributes it among the devices. You hold the “Security” button on the first device, and it goes through some motions and decides it is the primary device and generates a key. Then you hold the button on that device again, a light starts blinking, and you have 30 seconds to hold the button on another device. This distributes the key to the second device and you are, in theory, more secure. It apparently uses 3DES, but that requires trusting Netgear, so as always, it’s in your best interests to never rely on it. There is also some Windows-only (ick) management software you can install if you wish to use your own keys. Either way, it’s a pretty simple procedure and when you are done, you have link.

Before I started testing the speed of this equipment, though, I figured it was wise to benchmark the existing setup. I created an empty 1GB file to use for testing. 1GB might seem excessive, but I wanted to make sure I had enough time to get past TCP’s slow start and get a good idea of the maximum speeds involved. So the first set of benchmark numbers are sending data from my MacBook Air in the Office connected via 802.11g to Corinna’s Powerbook G4 in the Living Room connected via 802.11g to the second AP:

milgrim$ time nc -v -v -n pbook 2222 < big-file.bin
Connection to pbook 2222 port [tcp/*] succeeded!
968.65 real         9.04 user        44.13 sys

(1,073,741,824 bytes) / (968.65 seconds) = 8.45713106 Mbps

So the performance of my existing setup using WDS was so much worse than I had imagined. I had never really bothered to test it before, and was truly surprised at how slow it was. Next up, I plugged in the first Powerline adapter in the office and patched it into the WRT54G’s switch. I set up the second Powerline adapter in the Living Room and connected the Powerbook directly to it:

milgrim$ time nc -v -v -n pbook 2222 < big-file.bin
Connection to pbook 2222 port [tcp/*] succeeded!
545.85 real         7.88 user        65.73 sys

(1,073,741,824 bytes) / (545.85 seconds) = 15.007786 Mbps

For those keeping score at home, 15Mbps is much slower than 200Mbps. Even though I had never expected to get anywhere close to the advertised bandwidth, I was pretty disappointed. While 15Mbps was almost twice as fast as my existing setup, it was still rather slow. I tried removing some equipment from the equation, connecting the MacBook Air directly to the office powerline adapter (so the two laptops were, in theory, “directly connected”), but I got very similar numbers. I then wired both laptops directly into the same 100Mbps switch and re-ran the test, and got around 60Mbps, so the laptops themselves were not the limiting factor. I also tried placing the two endpoints in the same room, using different power outlets on the same wall, and the speed went up a bit closer to 25Mbps, although I managed to lose the hard numbers.

So where do I stand on this technology? Disappointed, but likely sticking with it for the time being. Even though the throughput is MUCH lower than I had hoped, it is still better than what I had. And until I can figure out a way to get real Cat5 between the two rooms, I don’t really see any other solution on the horizon. I’m certain that the slow speed is due to some noise in my wiring, but being that the wiring is new within the past 5 years, I’m guessing it is some device creating the noise. I guess I could try to figure out what it is, but I probably won’t. I’ll likely keep dicking around with the devices to see if I can get them to run any faster, and until then I’ll take what I can get. Someday I’ll either get physical wire between the two rooms or find another solution, and then I’ll unload the equipment.. But until then I guess it will have to do.

My journal, oh how I have neglected you!

I’ve been ultra-busy lately at both work and home, but looking back at the journal, I haven’t written anything other than movie reviews in over a month.  I’m even way behind on the movie reviews! Christ I wasn’t that busy, I’m just neglectful.  I’m sorry journal.

In the past month, I’ve been working on a fun project at work that has occupied quite a few cycles.  My plan is to finish it by the end of June, and I don’t think that is an ambitious goal.  The sin-laws visited over the Memorial Day weekend, and while it was part social visit, it was clearly also part indentured servitude.  coco_b has wanted to better utilize the awesome evening light that was hitting the street side of the house, but much of it was sequestered in the front bedroom (which is her little yoga/reading/working/office/chill space).  After some discussions, we decided to replace the lame slab door (in the distance in that photo) to that room with a set of french doors.  This way the room was still a defined, separate room, yet open or closed, we still get the beautiful evening light and both rooms seem bigger.  Corinna’s parents have done a ton of work on their home, and her stepfather does cabinetry and woodworking as a hobby.  Even better, they always seem willing to help us out on whatever crazy projects we dream up.  :)

So they drove all the way down (er, over?) from Michigan, arriving Thursday evening…  We figured that if they were coming to give us so much free labor and advice, the least I could do was make sure they were well fed while they were here.  The night they arrived I whipped up some cheese fondue from scratch and we had some fresh bread from one of the local bakeries.  Even if it isn’t hip anymore, Fondue is a great way to eat and socialize at the same time.  Over the weekend I also made my signature pasta+cauliflower+cheese+onion dish, as well as some mediocre skewers, swordfish provencal, and I don’t remember what else (if anything).  My vacation time isn’t as copious as Corinna’s, so I worked on Friday while they begun demolition at the house. The door was significantly wider and a bit taller than the existing door, and we also had to relocate a light switch.  While I somehow optimistically thought that this would be a one or two day project, it ended up taking the entire weekend (not including jointing and painting).  We still managed to have fun, watched a few movies, ate lots of food, and just hung out, but I still think it’d be nice if we didn’t enslave them next time they visited. :)  Corinna finished most of the finish work this past weekend, and the end result is awesome.

Last Friday, jeffm was in town, and he suggested we all go to Fenway to see the Sox.  While this SHOULD have been awesome, the lineup was a little shaken up with injuries, and they got completely destroyed by the Mariners.  It was still a fun time, I had never been to Fenway with such a large group (8 people) before..  Afterwards we hit up Precinct in Union Square, which was quite a bit of fun, although it was a little out of the way for roryk and I.  Jeff’s friend Christen went to the game with us and works there, so we got a serious hookup.  New people, old friends, and good drinks ALMOST make up for shitty baseball.  Almost.

Busy day!

I woke up this morning at 6:30am, but called BS on that right away and stayed in bed until 7:30am, when I gave up trying to fall back asleep and got up.  After puttering around for an hour or so I took a shower and ran out to Home Depot to finish the order for our french door.  coco_b placed the order earlier in the week, but she was unsure of the jamb size, so she put it on hold until we could measure it and get back to them.  While I was there I got a new shower head as well as a new motion sensor for the back stairwell.  I came home, made pancakes for breakfast, and then we took a solid nap.

When I woke up from our nap, I saw our downstairs neighbor Greg in the back yard preparing to rake the lawn.  We totally slacked off last fall and never bothered to clean up the yard before the first snow, so it was time to take care of it.  I joined him, and it only took us a few hours to polish the whole thing off.   At some point I also installed the new shower head and the motion sensor.  Not to mention cooking (ok, reheating) dinner.  I was pretty friggin’ productive, eh?

On an unrelated note, I received a letter in the mail from the Red Sox Ticket guy, thanking me profusely and containing a gift card to the Halfway Cafe, which is pretty awesome!

Our Christmas Tree


Our Christmas Tree
Originally uploaded by seangraham

Corinna and I spent some time setting up our Christmas Tree tonight… It is so awesome! Our generic to unique ornament ratio is pretty bad right now, but I’m sure before too long we’ll have too many ornaments to actually put on the tree… :)

I just dumped a buttload of random phonecam pics into my Flickr Photostream. I had a bunch of them sitting on the phone dating back to before our trip to Spain and figured it was about time to get them handled…

Portal

My life over the past two days has been consumed with Portal and watching baseball.  Portal is the bomb.  I walk to work now and think about how it would be awesome to shoot a portal there and there…  I even had portal dreams last night;  It has reached the Tetris level of puzzle greatness where it consumes most of my thoughts during the day.  I haven’t even played Half-Life: Episode Two yet.

The Sox game last night was awesome, Hopefully they’ll keep up the good work and win through game 7.  Our new couch is apparently being delivered tonight, which will hopefully increase guest comfort.

The Girard Plague(tm)

Had a little get together for some various college friends this weekend in Hopatcong…   I’ve done this for the past few years, and everyone seems to enjoy it, especially when the weather is as gorgeous as it was this weekend past.  We just chilled out on the Party Barge, Regency Edition, swam, ate, and drank.  This party is always complicated because the boat really is the limiting factor, as it only seats 14 including the driver.  We were pretty much at capacity this year, which means I might seriously have to look into renting a second boat next year…  Which should make invitations less complicated but increase the planning required.

and

were among the attendees, and they came with a bit of a cold.  Unfortunately, I seem to have picked up that cold, and it is really kicking my ass (but I’m still glad they were able to come to the party)…   I’ve been out of work for the past two days, but I’m starting to come around…  I’m sure tomorrow I’ll be fighting off the congestion, and I probably won’t walk to work, but I’m starting to get a little stir-crazy in the house.

The couple buying the condo below us closed today, so it is our first evening with neighbors in two months.  I’ve gotten so used to having the run of the place, it will take a little getting used to.  They seem cool as hell, though, so I’m not anticipating any troubles…

Various Weekend Bits

and I spent most of the weekend hanging out around the house and plowing through the massive unpacking chores ahead of us..  Corinna finally had the opportunity to get the bedroom mostly in order, so the boxes of clothes are mostly gone and things are starting to find their “right place”.  I continued to sort through my stuff, trying to pare down stuff…  I’ve come across even more stuff to give away.. 

Eventually I’ll post a master list of stuff, but if you have the need for a Netgear 8-port 10/100 switch or a SMC 8-port 10/100 wired NAT firewall/router, or a PS1 without any cables or controllers, which I believe still works, but I haven’t touched it in years…  let me know. 

I ordered my TV, it’d be awesome if it came before the weekend, but I doubt that will happen…