Comparing the speed of a Devolo / TP-Link homeplug versus a RJ-45 cable

Procrastination can sometimes be measured in years.

In this particular case, 15 years passed between asking the electrician to run a CAT-5 RJ-45 cable to the first floor when building our house and today when I actually crimped the cable with ethernet plugs and made use of it. And boy, the speed difference is enormous !

There were of course a few years that I could not use the cable, due to the room being used for other things than intended. But the last five years or so I have used homeplug appliances like devolo and tp-link instead of connecting the network cable. The speed was okay, but not great, and I sometimes had network interrupts or slowdowns that I suspected originated from the homeplugs.

This weekend I finally bought the necessary tools to crimp the cable and perform a few speed tests. I used with my Safari browser, as this is an HTML5 test. Most of the other tests still seem to require flash, which I no longer wish to use.

Here is the short and sweet result of the speed test when using the homeplugs – you can get more results when clicking on the image :

And here is the result when I switched to using ethernet cable :

As you can see, the download speed of the connection is roughly 6 times faster by cable than via the electrical home network while the upload speed is only slightly higher. I redid the test with the cable using the Chrome browser to make sure that there was no caching from previous tests, and got just about the same results.

Wow. That’s a very, very big difference in download speed… I do wonder why the upload speed did not change significantly ?

Conclusion : while the homeplugs are certainly a viable solution for many houses where ethernet cable is not usable (old house, renting,…) you are certainly better of speed-wise in using a RJ-45 cat5 ethernet cable.

Devolo Powerline AV500+ network problems

I recently moved my buro up one level to the first floor, next to our bedroom. As I don’t want our bedrooms to be bathed in wifi radiation all the time, I’ve bought and installed 3 develo powerlines AV500+.

Devolo DLAN 500 AVplus
Devolo DLAN 500 AVplus

You connect one of these devices to your router via a network cable, and plug it in a socket. Then you connect up the others. Your network data is passed along via the powerlines, without needing to put wifi everywhere (plus it’s a hell of lot faster – these ones can go to up to 500Mbit per seconds, fast enough to stream movies to your ps3 !).

I used to have 2 older Devolo devices, but those were manual setups – you needed to connect them to your computer, and run a config program to set the network ip address and other settings. It worked, but it was a nerd tool.

These AV500 ones are much more sophisticated and just work out of the box. Plug them in, hook up the network cables, and they just work. Excellent !

Additionally, if you want to, you just press a button on each and they set up an encryption between the devices. This is a way to prevent your neighbour – who may be on the same power network as you – from plugging in a similar device and getting access to your computers and NAS (Network Attached Storage).

You can also configure them via the DLAN cockpit program, which scans for them and shows them in a graphical way letting you change settings, etc.

The one I bought have integrated plugs that have an integrated filter that filters out the oscillations of the computers / networked devices that they work for.

The problem

The problem I had was that upstairs I was constantly loosing my network connection. It worked for a time, and then suddenly would shut down again. The other devolo in the living room worked just fine.

After some trial and error (involving a switch, a router and some reboots) I noticed that I had to unplug the devolo downstairs connected to the router, and then it would work again when I reconnected it.

Further investigation via the DLAN cockpit program showed that there was one thing different – the version number of the upstairs devolo was lower than the others.

So I upgraded this one to the same version as the other Devolo’s and hey presto the problem seems to be solved – my network connection has been consistently up for the last 48 hours !

So, the conclusion is that all Devolo’s need to be at the same firmware level.  Thought I would share it with you for those who might have similar problems.

[Please note that this did *not* solve all my problems completely, please read the followup if you are still having problems]

Boxee, Plex, Majestic, XMBC on your mac mini for streaming to your TV or ps3 ?

I just spent the past few days installing and playing around with a few media center softwares that you can install on your mac mini.

The aim : streaming my media directly from the mac mini to either my Samsung SmartTV or to the PS3 connected through it. The mac mini is installed in another location, so streaming is either wireless to the PS3 or via a UTP-cable to the TV (although I can switch them easily enough, this is the current setup).

Anything else (streaming to iOS, for example) is a bonus. But my main itch to scratch was that I wanted to stop running around with portable disks and usb keys, and just centralize everything in one location, and my mac mini seemed the ideal place for that.

I’ve tried the following software so you don’t need to :

  • XMBC : I was very impressed with it finding the media quickly and the indexing done on it, retrieving additional information from online internet databases as well as with the local “front end” experience. However, I was disappointed in it’s streaming capabilities : it did not appear on either my TV or my PS3. Although it advertises that you should just activate ‘media sharing’ and that’s all, it just didn’t work for me – some forum browsing shows that others have had similar experiences, depending on what type of router, etc, though for many it works just fine. I would have stopped here if the streaming worked as this seems to be an excellent open-source package. Certainly if your mac mini is sitting right next to your telly this seems to be a good solution.
  • Boxee : while Boxee now sells it own hardware, the software available as-is has been discontinued. The software is still available on google code though (last update was jan 2012 as of this writing). The boxee software is not installed through drag’ndrop, so not sure how this uninstalls. It worked, but after seeing XMBC I was slightly less impressed. Integration with the web works fine though. The interface consists of only icons instead of text, making it slightly harder for a first-timer to muddle through although this is only a slight problem.
  • Majestic Media Server : I found a reference to this on one or other forum, but couldn’t seem to find a download link on their website. Seems that is for sale (trial version), so not free to download. It’s only for streaming, nothing fancy. In the end I found a version on CNET. Very simple interface, just a small window. This didn’t work at all, complaining of a port that was occupied by another process.
  • Plex : This was the final media center solution I tried, mainly because it is not open-sourced and is a spin-off from XMBC. It is however, free to download, and it works just beautifully.  It does come in two parts : the media server which does just what it says, serving your media to whatever device, and the media center which is the front-end to play the stream. If you are only interested in streaming to your PS3 just get the media server, which provides everything you need to add your media to the plex database. It also provides a basic webpage that shows you an overview of all your media and allows you to change your metadata. On your PS3 the Plex server immediately shows up and you can browse your media and start playing it. The accompanying front-end can be installed on another mac for example. You can also buy an iOS app that allows you to stream from the Plex media server to your iPhone or iPad.

The result : in short, only Plex fulfilled my needs. All the others gave either errors or did not show up on either the Samsung TV or on the PS3. Only Plex showed up in both, immediately, and while the Samsung crashed when I selected “Movies” in the interface, on the PS3 it works perfectly and streaming even over wireless worked perfectly.

I’ll probably buy the iOS app as well, and start consolidating all my media on my mac mini.

The verdict : while not open-sourced, and while some component are to be purchased (e.g. the iOS app) Plex is well worth the install.

Local swf file with networking workaround: use Mini-Server (Windows)


Recently  I created a small app to show off in a demo. It’s supposed to live on a webserver, and loads an xml file which contains urllinks using an HTTPService, and then assigns these links to buttons in a tabbed navigator flash component that’s located somewhere in the html page.

For the demo, I created a few dummy html pages that are kept in the same directory and pointed the urls in the xml to use those.

The problem I faced was that I didn’t have a handy webserver to store my release build on when I wanted to demo the app – when I started it up using Windows File Explorer, double clicking the bin-release html file, Flash decided to put it in a mixed sandbox security mode: local-with-network, which means that you forfeit local access to other files. And so my app suddenly couldn’t find it’s xml file anymore. And the purpose of the app is to put it up on a website, the local execute was just to demo to app.

[When you run your app inside the FlexBuilder program, by the way, this all works fine without any problems – it’s only when you do a release build that you suddenly start to learn about security sandboxes and apps with local or networking rights.]

I didn’t fancy writing a server in Python/CherryPy. Although quite possible,  it would take time, and I wanted a solution right then and there. It needed to be portable, and smallish, and as long as it could serve some static pages with client-executed content in it I would be happy.

Enter Mini-Server, which is completely standalone program, vintage 2006, about 462K, and does the job admirably. If you install PHP and show it where it lives it can even do php pages. It’s made by John Owen, which apparently is a nom de plume for a whole rafter of bitmonkeys who churn out one program after another… 🙂

Anyway, the problem is now solved: I start the mini-server, specify the port and root folder (only once, an ini file is saved for the next time), and hit run. I can then show off my demo site with a flash app that is served via http. Once the demo is done, I hit the stop button. It all fits on a usb stick, neat !

Please note that this is a small server for development purposes only. The author notes this as well, and it’s not something  I would stick on the intarnet without extensively testing it’s capabilities/security issues. But it is still a neat program to have on your usb stick when you rapido need a webserver!

Another solution is, on compile-time, using the flex-compiler publish setting to indicate the sandbox you want your application to be in. A user can then trust the flash app and it can then use both local and networking links. See the above Adobe link in the text for more details if you are looking for that solution.

A group is it own worst enemy

A very interesting article. Published in 2003, but very very relevant and worth reading if you are at all interested in group interaction, how this reflects on the internet, and what the results may be in the future.

An extract :

we can now start to have a Small Pieces Loosely Joined pattern. It’s really worthwhile to look into what Joi Ito is doing with the Emergent Democracy movement, even if you’re not interested in the themes of emerging democracy. This started because a conversation was going on, and Ito said “I am frustrated. I’m sitting here in Japan, and I know all of these people are having these conversations in real-time with one another. I want to have a group conversation, too. I’ll start a conference call.

“But since conference calls are so lousy on their own, I’m going to bring up a chat window at the same time.” And then, in the first meeting, I think it was Pete Kaminski said “Well, I’ve also opened up a wiki, and here’s the URL.” And he posted it in the chat window. And people can start annotating things. People can start adding bookmarks; here are the lists.

So, suddenly you’ve got this meeting, which is going on in three separate modes at the same time, two in real-time and one annotated. So you can have the conference call going on, and you know how conference calls are. Either one or two people dominate it, or everyone’s like “Oh, can I — no, but –“, everyone interrupting and cutting each other off.

It’s very difficult to coordinate a conference call, because people can’t see one another, which makes it hard to manage the interrupt logic. In Joi’s conference call, the interrupt logic got moved to the chat room. People would type “Hand,” and the moderator of the conference call will then type “You’re speaking next,” in the chat. So the conference call flowed incredibly smoothly.

Meanwhile, in the chat, people are annotating what people are saying. “Oh, that reminds me of So-and-so’s work.” Or “You should look at this URL…you should look at that ISBN number.” In a conference call, to read out a URL, you have to spell it out — “No, no, no, it’s w w w dot net dash…” In a chat window, you get it and you can click on it right there. You can say, in the conference call or the chat: “Go over to the wiki and look at this.”

This is a broadband conference call, but it isn’t a giant thing. It’s just three little pieces of software laid next to each other and held together with a little bit of social glue. This is an incredibly powerful pattern. It’s different from: Let’s take the Lotus juggernaut and add a web front-end.

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