ZyXel NBG318S Router
At a Glance
ZyXEL ZyXel NBG318S Powerline/Wireless Router (802.11b/g, 108mbps, WEP/WPA2)
The first HomePlugAV-compatible router gives you another alternative to ethernet.
Most routers give you two options for connecting a computer or printer to your network: ethernet and Wi-Fi. Ethernet is fast and dependable, but it isn't practical for going from room to room. Wi-Fi is slower and less reliable than ethernet. Neither is very good for transmitting Internet-based multimedia content from a broadband modem at one end of your house to a TV at the other.
ZyXel's NBG318S offers a third option: HomePlugAV. The standard, three-pronged AC plug that powers the router connects it to other HomePlugAV devices in a building as well. If you don't own any devices equipped with HomePlugAV, you can use an optional adapter with a power plug on one end and an ethernet port on the other. In theory, you can plug such an adapter into any ethernet-capable PC or peripheral and get a blazing 200-megabits-per-second connection to the router.
When I first plugged ZyXel's $80 PLA-400 adapter into a computer and connected to the router, it worked hassle-free at what felt like ethernet speed. But when I tried to set up HomePlugAV's built-in AES encryption (needed because the signal may be accessible from other units in your building), I hit a brick wall. The router couldn't give the adapter the information needed to allow them to talk to each other. Nor would the adapter accept that information from me. A firmware update for the adapter fixed the problem, but this experience shows that the technology is far from hassle-free.
Something else that you should know about: HomePlugAV doesn't work with devices based on the older HomePlug 1.0 specification.
The NBG318S lacks Wi-Fi Draft-N capabilities, but it doesn't stint on Wi-Fi; it supports 108-mbps Super G (to take advantage of it, a client device must use a Super G chip, too). In fact, this is the only router without Draft-N to reach the far corners of my Wi-Fi-hostile home without a big drop in signal quality.
With devices in the same room, though, the NBG318S falls a tad short. ZyXel gave the router only three LAN ethernet ports (plus the WAN port that connects it to your broadband modem). As a result, you can attach just three devices to the NBG318S without messing with Wi-Fi or HomePlugAV. Most modems have four such ports, and some in the NBG318S's price range have five. There is no USB port, either.
Setting up the nbg318S is pretty easy. Once you've connected everything and browsed to the setup program's IP address, a wizard walks you through the setup and can even provide a randomized password.
The wizard doesn't do everything, however. For instance, to encrypt your HomePlug network, you must enter the more intimidating Advanced Setup page. And neither the setup program nor the brief quick-start guide explain everything you may want to know. For example, the wizard page "Bandwidth Management" contains no explanation, and only one option: "Enable BM for all traffic automatically." Luckily, the included CD holds a far more detailed, 286-page PDF user guide that explains bandwidth management.
Does the NBG318S make sense as a way to share multimedia? It isn't any less complicated than Wi-Fi, but it may be a better alternative in some situations.