capsule review

HomeFree Phoneline USB

At a Glance
  • Diamond Multimedia HomeFree Phoneline USB

Your iMac or Power Mac G3 or G4 includes built-in Ethernet, but that won't do you much good if you don't have a 10BaseT network. HomeFree Phoneline USB allows you to network USB-equipped Macs and PCs–and share Internet connections–using ordinary telephone cabling. Although you may pay more for the privilege of hidden wiring and plug-and-play connectivity, you avoid the hassle of creating an Ethernet network.

The HomeFree consists of a device with one USB jack and two RJ-11 jacks on the back, along with software that allows several networked computers to share files or a single Internet account. Internet-gateway software and a limited version of Miramar Systems' PC MacLAN enable AppleTalk file sharing among PCs and Macs. If all this sounds familiar, it's because the HomeFree duplicates the features of Farallon's $139 HomeLine Starter Kit (see Reviews , October 1999), right down to the identical bundled software. Where the HomeLine supports PCI Macs and PCs, however, the HomeFree is exclusively USB.

To get started, just connect a separate HomeFree device to the USB input of each computer you want to network and to your wall jacks, all of which must be wired to the same telephone line. You can use the spare RJ-11 jack to connect a phone (you'll be able to use the phone and the HomeFree network simultaneously). You can then share files as you would over any AppleTalk network. You can also add a PC to the mix.

To add Internet-sharing capability, you must choose a Mac or Windows 98 PC to act as an Internet gateway. Once you've installed the gateway software on that machine, you can connect to the Internet by launching a browser from any computer on the network. The gateway software detects the request, connects to the Internet, and delivers the requested page.

The HomeFree comes with a booklet-size manual, a poster-size Getting Started guide, and lots of PDF files documenting the bundled software. Although the booklet devotes one chapter entirely to Macintosh setup and the poster contains separate sections describing Mac and Windows setup, the Mac installation process is not well explained.

The HomeFree offers two major advantages for home users: you can use the existing phone wires already hidden within your walls, and it includes software for sharing files and printers with a networked PC. But for about the price of one HomeFree, you could buy an Ethernet hub, network your 10BaseT computers, and save the cost of buying adapters for each computer (although you'd need some file-sharing software to add PCs and you'd most likely still have to pay for Internet access by the computer).

January 2000 page: 46

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Easy to set up
    • Takes advantage of existing home wiring

    Cons

    • Misleading documentation
    • Expensive for networks of three or more computers
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