Dux computer Digest (http://ducw.com) Review of the
D-LINK DHN-910 PHONELINE NETWORK IN A BOX
by Larry F. Byard
Last updated: 6/7/00

INTRODUCTION.  If you are looking for an easy to install network for your a home or small office, the D-Link DHN-910 Phoneline Network in a Box may be just the solution.  Besides the ability to network with existing telephone wiring, the DHN-910 is reasonably fast, is simple to expand, and provides basic Internet sharing.

The DHN-910  implements the Home Phoneline Alliance (HomePNA) 2.0 Specification for a 10 Mb/S (megabits per second or Mhz) phoneline network which was derived from Epigram, Inc.'s (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Broadcom Corporation) iLine10 network.  The HomePNA 2.0 spec. is a broadband variation of the Ethernet which:

IN THE BOX... is a Phoneline network, of course.  This kit will network two PCs out of the box.  All you add are the PCs and a little time.  The attractive retail package includes:

All you need to add an additional PC is another network adapter and phoneline cable.

THE DHN-520 NETWORK ADAPTER. The heart of the DHN-910 network is the DHN-520 PCI network adapter.  It glues together two Broadcom chips and network magnetics.  The large chip towards the right side of the board is the Broadcom BCM4210 PCI/MSI controller.  It...

"features a highly adaptive and integrated Internet Communications Processor that transmits and receives data at speeds up to 10 Mbps and above while overcoming the challenging wiring impairments present on the existing installed base of home phonelines. The maximum data rate for the BCM4210 controller is 16 Mbps."

The small chip to the upper left of the BCM4210 is the BCM4100 iLine10TM Analog Front-End.  It...

"is designed to provide maximum front-end performance for home networking applications such as PCI adapters, USB adapters, and embedded systems (such as Broadband Gateways) requiring a high-speed home phoneline networking interface..."  Key features include:

The BCM4210 and BCM4100 combination "functions on existing home telephone wiring (up to 1000 feet) without disturbing normal phoneline operation or other existing services such as POTS, V.90 modems, ISDN or G.lite DSL."

The magnetics are located in the "black box" behind the RJ-11 jacks on the expansion board bracket.  They couple the BCM4100 transceiver to the telephone line.

The DHN-520 adapter has two RJ-11 ports. The RJ-11s can be used to daisy-chain multiple HomePNA adapters together using home phonelines.  The adapter is designed to operate on standard analog home phone lines and will not work over digital phone lines from a PBX system.   At least one adapter in a daisy-chained network segment must be plugged into an active telephone wall jack.  The adapter requires a voltage in an active phoneline to operate--a negative if you want to use a  room without an active phone jack.

DOCUMENTATION.   With exception of the trouble-shooting sections, which are scanty in both cases, the Quick Starter Guide and Networking Basics for the DHN-910 and the MidPoint Lite Quick Starter Guide are well written and illustrated.  The DHN-520 User's Guide is inadequate.  The picture on the cover does not look like a DHN-520.  The specs are sparse.  The information provided is lacking to the point that it doesn't even tell the reader how many PC's can be on DHN-910 network or how far apart the network nodes can be, etc.  In fact,  that information is not available on the D-Link, Broadcom, HomePNA web sites--perhaps it's a secret?  I would guesstimate that the maximum number of nodes would be around 15 and the maximum distance would be about 500 feet.  I did send an E-Mail inquiry on these matters to D-Link's tech support, but have not received an answer.  When I receive an answer I will update this review.  The only things I could find on the DHN-910 in the tech support section of D-Link's web site was a driver download for the DHN-520 and one FAQ on MidPoint Lite.

INSTALLATION.  The network installation on two Windows 98 computers was quite easy.  The network adapter installation on the first computer was smooth and without incident: shut-down, turn-off, and unplug the computer; remove the cover; install the board; plug the supplied phone line cable into a wall jack; plug-in and turn-on computer; insert the DHN-910 CD; when Windows detects DHN-520 tell it to search for the drivers on the CD-ROM; and insert the Windows CD, if Windows asks for it; and click when prompted to reboot after the files are installed.   Installation on the second computer was not so easy.  My wife's computer does not have a CD-ROM drive.  It sure would have been nice if the DHN-910 CD had a utility for moving the DHN-520 drivers to a floppy disk.  I temporarily installed a CD-ROM drive on Claudia's computer and installed the drivers.  The rest of the network configuration and hardware installation was made quite simple by D-Link's excellent documentation.  I found that the DHN-520 adapter was quite well behaved in my computer, which is loaded to the hilt.  There were no IRQ problems with either computer.

The cable going to the wall can be connected to either of the RJ-11 jacks on the DHN-520, which are not labeled; but I found that the network would not work with a telephone plugged into the other RJ-11.  It also would not work when I plugged a RJ-11 Y-splitter into one of the RJ-11's and plugged the cable going to the wall and the cable going to the telephone into the splitter.  Everything worked fine when the instructions were followed; i.e., plug the Y-splitter into the wall and plug the cables coming form the DHN-520 and the phone into the Y-splitter.  If the computers are in the same room and there is only one wall outlet, they can be networked by plugging one of the into the wall and daisy chaining the others by running the supplied phoneline cable (or longer lines which are widely available) from the RJ-11 jack on one DHN-520 directly to the RJ-11 jack on the next computer, and so forth if you a have more than two DHN-520's.  However, as previously mentioned, one of the computers has to plugged into an active telephone wall jack.  If you are going to use existing telephone wiring, all of the DFE-520's have to be on the same telephone line (same number).

I did not install the DHN-910 on my file server nor did I install  the MidPoint Lite Internet Sharing software and test it with the DHN-910 network.  Both of these steps were done for the review of the D-Link DFE-910 10/100 Network in a Box.  I am certain the results and experiences would be very similar to the those documented in the DFE-910 review, as the network bandwidth required for Internet sharing is well within 10 Mhz provided by the DHN-910.

OPERATION.   The telephone wiring in my shop, office, and showroom is a dismal mess.  There are dangling boxes and splitters all over the place, connecting computers, printer, FAX, etc.--a real Pandora's box of electronics.  In this environment the PHN-910 worked flawlessly and at full speed; albeit the network distances were not great.  As advertised, the network did work when phones, etc. were used simultaneously on the same phone line.

PERFORMANCE.  Below are the results of Larry' simple benchmark tests.  The test consists of copying the Windows 98 Upgrade cab files, or about 105 MBytes,  from one computer to another.  Although, the DHN-910 is no 100 Mhz Ethernet, the test results show that it is a very good performer.  The speed is comparable to a 10 Mhz Ethernet and beats the pants off a much slower, but useable, 1 Mhz Phoneline network.  It has all of the performance that most people need, who don't want to run network cable, and is quite satisfactory for these environments.  It should also provide good performance for most game environments.

NETWORK

TRANSFER TIME
DFE-910 100 Mhz 100BaseT Ethernet1 min., 21 sec
10 Mhz 10baseT Ethernet3 min, 3 sec.
DHN-910 10 Mhz Phoneline Network3 min., 42 sec.
Intel AnyPoint 1 Mhz Phoneline Network29 min., 34 sec.

BOTTOM LINE.  The DHN-910 has a suggested retail price of $119.00.  Although that is a bargain compared to the stated HomePNA goal of $100.00 per network node, I think it is quite a stiff price to pay for two boards, which are no more complex than Ethernet adapters, and some phone wire, pamphlets, and CDs.  However, it is cheap if you consider the cost and inconvenience of running CAT 5 cable.  A single DHN-520 network adapter has a suggested retail price of $69.00, which is cheaper than a 100 Mhz hub and Ethernet adapter, but is still verging on a rip-off for a board of this complexity.  I am sure  competition will drive these prices down.  If running cable is not problem and you just need to network just two computers, the price of two 100 Mhz Ethernet adapters, a crossover cable, and Internet sharing software is considerably less than this kit.  The DHN-910 includes good  documentation (with the exceptions stated above), MidPoint Lite, and a lifetime warrantee and support from a major manufacturer.  But, MidPoint Lite is certainly not as good as some other Internet sharing products and is not supported directly by MidCore (the network adapter manufacturer--D-Link--is supposed to support the product).  It appears to be a product designed to induce the buyer into upgrading to a full-featured, higher-performance product from MidCore--a popular means of selling software lately.  The Installation even includes an offer of a 25% discount on MidCore products for owners of MidPoint Lite.  The cheapest MidCore Internet sharing product is the 2-user Companion product.  At $119.00, or $89.25 with the discount, it is considerably more expensive than the $39.95 for a 3-user license of SyGate which is presently running on my network.

If you don't want to run CAT 5 cable and don't mind opening computers to install network adapters, and you are planning to expand your network, then the DHN-910 is a  reasonably fast, easy to install, easy to expand network starter kit at a reasonable price.

Note.  Do not route the phoneline cable through a surge suppressor. They may reduce or completely block the home networking signals.

Larry

Copyright, Disclaimer, and Trademark Information Copyright 1996-2003 Larry F. Byard.  All rights reserved. This material or parts thereof may not be published, broadcasted, rewritten, or redistributed by any means whatsoever without explicit, written permission from the author.