D-Link PowerLine AV 4-Port Switch (DHP-346AV)

Three methods are available for connecting network devices to one another and to the Internet. Ethernet is fast, reliable, inexpensive, and easy to configure, but it requires running a wire between each device. Wireless standards such as 802.11a/b/g/n do away with the cables, but their speeds and reliability vary with distance and walls in between devices. Finally, powerline technology connects to a standard AC power outlet to route network signals through a building's electrical wiring, connecting computers, digital video recorders, Internet TVs, Blu-Ray players, game consoles, media servers, and the like over long distances and through thick walls without running new cables or transmitting wireless signals. Powerline makes an excellent bridge between wireless networks and wired devices that may be out of reach.

The D-Link DHP-346AV PowerLine AV does exactly that. It's a 4-port switch that connects to up to four Ethernet devices to an existing network. This makes it possible to connect devices located in two areas within the same building, even though they may be far apart. (To use the PowerLine capability, at the other end you'll need another powerline module such as the D-Link DHP-306AV PowerLine Adapter.) This makes it ideally suited for tying, say, home entertainment systems to a home network anywhere in the house.

The unit's Ethernet ports let you choose the priority level of a particular device. Higher-priority ports are guaranteed maximum bandwidth, while traffic on the lower-priority ports will move more slowly if necessary. For instance, you might connect game or voice-over-Internet devices to the high-priority ports to ensure that they'll run smoothly, without stuttering or latency. The highest priority is suitable for Internet TV and streaming media servers. It's a perfect solution for home-entertainment centers.

The DHP-346AV resembles many other four-port switches, but happily without the usual power brick, since the powerline connector uses an internal power supply. A security button lets you connect to an existing powerline system, and the supplied software allows you to manage multiple standard powerline devices, whether from D-Link or other manufacturers. The Ethernet connectors support the 10/100 standard (up to 100Mbps) -- more than fast enough for accessing the Internet and media devices. The powerline system is twice as fast, up to 200 Mbps.

In my testing, the switch functioned well with Ethernet devices, properly prioritizing their traffic. Likewise, powerline worked smoothly at a distance of up to 300 feet. Connecting was easy, and encrypting the signal required only a button press on each module. The encryption feature is great for ensuring that outsiders don't inadvertently (or intentionally) connect to your network if they happen to have access to an outlet on the same breaker panel, as is common in apartments, duplexes, and shared offices.

Note that powerline works with wall outlets rather than power strips, and preferably outlets with nothing plugged into the second socket to avoid interference with other signals passing through the electrical wiring. Some appliances on the same circuit, including refrigerators, washers, dryers, heaters, and power tools, may interfere with PowerLine devices, though I did not observe any such issues during my testing.

With a street price of less than $100, the DHP-346AV is a simple, effective way to extend a home or office network. The unit makes it a snap to connect computers, Internet modems, or other devices in one area to multiple devices in another area with excellent network performance.

(For more information about powerline, see the overview of the D-Link DHP-307AV PowerLine AV Network Starter Kit and the D-Link DHP-306AV PowerLine Wireless N Extender.)

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