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PC World

Network Macs & PCs by phone

May 28, 1999
Web posted at: 2:59 p.m. EDT (1859 GMT)

by Mark Brownstein

(IDG) -- As computers multiply in your household, you juggle a tangle of printers, large hard drives, and probably most importantly, Internet connections. The answer to this overload is in simple home networking products, which range from traditional Ethernet to wireless, and systems that link through your existing phone lines.

The latest entry, with a twist, is Farallon Communications' HomeLine, a plug-and-play home networking product that supports both PCs and Apple Macintosh computers. The HomeLine system is based on a PCI card that you can use in PCs or Macs with an available PCI slot. The starter kit to connect two systems carries an estimated street price of $139; a single pack, for adding systems to the home net, costs $79.

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The HomeLine card is compatible with the Home Phoneline Networking Alliance (HomePNA) standard, which designates the protocols to transmit network data over standard phone lines.

Intel, Diamond Multimedia, and other companies also offer home networking products that support HomePNA, but none are "ambidextrous" and work for either Mac or PC. A hybrid CD-ROM that comes with the HomeLine cards provides networking software for both systems. Because the disc is a hybrid, a Mac will read and install the Mac version of the software, while a PC can read and install the PC version.

The HomeLine starter kit consists of two HomeLine PCI cards, software, and cabling for connection to the phone line. It also ships with "Surf Doubler software" that lets two simultaneous users connect to the Internet on a single connection, says Ken Alan, HomeLine product manager.

HomeLine is compatible with xDSL and cable modems, as well as dial-up networking. The home net can achieve data transfer rates of 1 megabyte per second.

Slow may be sufficient

The 1MB/second speeds of HomePNA modems could be considered wimpy when compared to the 10 MHz of standard Ethernet and the 100 MHz of faster Ethernet, and it is absolutely anemic when compared to gigabit Ethernet. But the relatively low speed may not be a problem for most home users, Alan says.

"Most people [will use HomeLine] just for surfing the web or printing. They'll be using 56 kilobit per second modems. [HomeLine] will be adequate for them," Alan notes. Although a maximum of 25 users can be on a HomeLine network, few households will have the need to connect anywhere near that many.

HomeLink uses the telephone line as the transmission link for the network signals. It uses a bandwidth that is higher than the one used for voice to carry data over the network. HomeLink can be used without interfering with the standard voice portion of the phone line.

The HomeLine starter kit includes two PCI cards, a software CD-ROM, 2 cables, a QuickStart Card, and a User Guide. A single pack has one PCI card, a software CD-ROM, one cable, a QuickStart card, and a User Guide. Farallon offers free technical support and software upgrades for both packages.

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Farallon Communications, Inc.
Home Phoneline Networking Alliance
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