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 dslreports.com 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.

UP24 and why I will buy a Fitbit next time

TL;DR The design flaw of the UP24 makes for a product that breaks easily and cannot be repaired. It is too expensive for what it delivers.

Last year, the second of July 2014, I bought an activity tracker from Jawbone, called the UP24. It was very stylishly made in matt black plastic. It performed well and has made me realise I need to move more. So far so good.

But now, less than a year later it is broken. The plastic is deforming at both ends, the small status light no longer works, battery charging is nearly impossible because the connector is loose and the button on the other end no longer works.

It has become just a piece of dark plastic that I will probably have to throw away. 150 euros down the drain (it currently sells for 129 euros, fyi).

My colleague, who has a Fitbit, recently broke his plastic bracelet. Rather than buying a new activity tracker, he just bought a new bracelet for about 30 euros. Still a lot of money for a plastic bracelet, but a whole lot cheaper than buying a new Fitbit.

The Fitbit itself is just a small device inside the bracelet, so he transfered it into his new bracelet. While he paid 30 euros for the bracelet, at least his is still functioning. At least he had the choice to replace it whole or in part.

I love the app, I love the functionality. But I don’t like throwing money away.

The next activity tracker will need to be sturdier, and/or be able to be repaired or have similar functionality like the Fitbit. So the next activity tracker unfortunately for Jawbone, won’t be anything from them.

Surface Pro 3 Review

I’ve been using a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 ( a 2in1 hybrid tablet/laptop pc ) for a few months now, and I thought this would be a good time to share some feedback.

The Surface Pro 3 I bought is equipped with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 256 GB SSD and 8 GB ram. I chose this version because I wanted a good CPU that will last me a year or 3, and enough disk space to comfortably store stuff. It’s the laptop that I tote with me just about everywhere.

Here are some bullet points that capture my feelings towards it:

– WEIGHT : it’s incredibly light, my backpack feels almost empty, especially compared to when I take my (2011) Apple Macbook Pro. The current Macbook Pro weighs a lot less, and against a Macbook Air the weight difference is almost negligible ( Surface 3 is 2.42 pounds (with keyboard) against the Air’s 2.96 pounds). It’s a handy carrying size.

– SCREEN : the screen is big enough and with a high enough DPI to really make your pictures and movies ‘pop’. I love it.

– DRAWING : I originally bought the Surface Pro 3 for the included N-Trig pen, as I wanted to take notes, and I always wanted to learn how to properly draw. I’ve found out that I’m not using it as much as I want to, although note taking works fine it’s something that I will have to get used to. I’ve bought Clip Studio Paint to draw with, which works fine if you want to freeform draw. But what I’m really looking for is a ‘webdesigner’ vector drawing program that is usable with gestures and touch. On the mac I would go for iDraw, Artboard or Sketch. On Windows 8 I can’t really find a similar program except for Inkscape and the now-defunct Microsoft Design which isn’t fully touch-compliant. Adobe Illustrator or the now defunct Fireworks seem good alternatives, but they cost too much for my limited usage of them.

– WINDOWS 8.1 : using it with Touch it now makes sense. Suddenly everything is much more intuitive. I didn’t really understand how to work Windows 8.1 until I started using it on a touch-capable laptop. It all makes sense : the charms, the swipe up or down, swipe from left to get to your previous app – it all works beautifully. I even started swiping the screen on my mac (to my great frustration). Touch really adds an intuitive dimension, and I for one am waiting for Apple to add it to their laptops.

– HARDDISK SIZE : 256GB for an SSD is plenty of space. Although it is filled up for about half of it’s size already, now that most programs are installed, there should not be a lot of extra disk space needed, bar a few games now and then. I’ve bought a Sandisk 128 GB memory card from amazon on which I store music, movies and some less-frequently used software. If I need the soft I move it first to the SSD – launching from there is very slow, but that is probably more due to the micro sd card.

– PERFORMANCE : I really can’t fault the performance of the Surface, there are no hiccups, everything runs smoothly, even QGIS and a few games on it. The i5 Surface has a Intel 4400 graphics card. While some older graphic-intensive games do work (Fallout 3, Divinity Original Sin), in general they make the fan go on and the Surface gets really hot. You can certainly play games (a few of the best can be found in the Windows store AND are adapted for touch), but it’s best to limit yourself to some less graphic intensive games.

– KEYBOARD : the clip-on keyboard really should be integrated in the price – without one, you are buying an over-priced tablet. With one, the ensemble of tablet + keyboard is still pricey but you suddenly have a good laptop as well. The keyboard is ok, the keys have a bit of a good give and I would not want to work on this keyboard day and night like I would with my macbook pro, but they suffice well for travelling.

– BUGS: there were some initial bugs (not sleeping, not waking, iffy wifi connectivity) that were not immediately solved which garnered quite a bad press. Since then there have been several firmware releases that have solved the majority of the bugs. I only experienced the limited wifi issue in the beginning, but after an update this bug went away. However, it still (very infrequently) comes up and the only solution is to reboot the system (which goes fairly fast, but is still a hassle for such a pricey beast as this one).

My current conclusion :

All in all, I’m very happy with my purchase. It is a very fine fully featured travelling computer with enough space to store all your stuff in. I absolutely love the intuitive way of working with a touch display and hope that Windows 10 will keep this functionality (or I won’t be upgrading). I like Windows 8.1 in it’s Touch-enabled version quite a lot more than on a regular laptop, but in all honesty I still prefer the Apple desktop as I have more experience with that and it makes more sense to me.

If Apple would add a touch screen to their new or future macbook (one that I can draw or write upon with a pen) that would probably be my next buy instead of a Surface 4. Since that won’t be the case for quite some time or maybe for ever, I will continue using my very nice 2-in-1 hybrid tablet / laptop.

Google ChromeCast : nice but limited (in Belgium, for now)


Last month I was passing through France and had the opportunity to buy a Google Chrome Cast doohicky for 35 euros; since then you can now also buy it in Belgium.

For those not in the know : the Chromecast dongle allows you to ‘cast’ things from your smartphone to your tv. So for example you can show Youtube clips or the latest snaps of your kids on your tv.

Setup is a breeze, really the easiest setup ever for such a complicated interaction of software and hardware – just install the hardware on your tv and install the chromecast app on your smartphone, the app gets you up and running in minutes.

Behind the scenes it must be quite complex: the app disconnects your smartphone from your wireless network, searches for the Chromecast dongle which is on it’s own default network, and asks your wifi password so it can pass it on to the Chromecast, updates it with the latest firmware, reconnects to your network, and it’s working ! I was fairly impressed with the ease of setup.

Once the setup is done, you can start ‘casting’ pictures, home-videos, etc from your smartphone to the chromecast. Each app that can do that has a chromecast icon somewhere that you can tap, and then select your chromecast dongle.

The data you are casting is actually not directly sent to the chromecast, but first goes up to the internet, and then back down to your dongle.

  • Disadvantage : your casted picture/video travels out of your local network, to make a detour on the internet – more distance makes it slower
  • Advantage : Google Movies / Netflix movies / Youtube clips stream at a decent resolution for your smartTV, and probably come ‘directly’ from the Google/Netflix/Youtube servers instead of traveling via your app.

I played around with it for few days, and here is my feedback :

  • It makes any tv with a spare HDMI and spare USB port a ‘Smart TV’ so you can upgrade your TV for a low low price of 35 euros
  • It plays well with your smartphone and any apps that can cast data (I use Android, YMMV on an iPhone)
  • In our world where our mobile phone is becoming more and more a centerpiece of our live, this integrates very nicely
  • If you could just use it for casting your own pics and (silly YouTube) videos, then the price of 35 euros is just right to make your tv smart, but it will be sitting mostly unused behind your tv: unfortunately out-of-view is out-of-mind
  • However, when you can use it to control your NetFlix account (or other similar streaming service)and order movies from your mobile to stream to your TV, *then* it becomes much more interesting !
  • Netflix has announced that it is coming to Belgium sometime this year. Meanwhile Google has quietly opened Google ‘Play’ Movies in Belgium as well… in the same week as they announced that their Google Chromecast is available in Belgium as well…

    Hmmmm… smells like a strategy to me 🙂