Powerline Network Adapter Reviews - The Easy Way Out

Powerline network adapters are an overlooked technology when it comes to mainstream home networking, but they represent an affordable and effective way to bring data to the far reaches of your home, make critical systems more reliable and secure, and just let you avoid having to laboriously install ethernet cables all over the place.

If you want to know what powerline networking is all about I have put together a short buyer’s guide that goes over the essentials. Here I have simply taken some of the most popular powerline adapters and tried to see which are worth their weight in data and which should rather be binned straight away.

As I am wont to do, I have put my favorites or otherwise notable choices at the top. The rest are in no particular order.

Best Overall: ZyXEL PLA5456KIT 1800 Mbps AV2000

What’s this? A promise of 1.8Gbps? If you thought that AV1200 was ambitious, clearly this takes that cake completely. I’m not really familiar with Zyxel and this is the first AV2000 kit I’ve seen. The price seems surprisingly low, considering that AV1200 offerings from people like Netgear is significantly more expensive.

In honor of having so much promised bandwidth, these adapters come with not one, but two, ethernet ports. You also have an outlet passthrough, which is always a very convenient feature. According to Zyxel these adapters also have built-in QoS or “quality of service” functionality built right into them. This prioritizes high bandwidth network traffic such as video streaming so that your multimedia is not interrupted, at the cost of making your other less bandwidth-hungry devices wait a few more milliseconds.

Zyxel is also the first company I have seen provide a smartphone app for the powerline adapter. Certainly others may have it, but I haven’t seen it listed elsewhere. The app lets you do some common troubleshooting tasks and is certainly better at telling you what may be wrong than a few blinking LEDs.

You still have 128-bit encryption as with previous generation devices, which is still plenty secure for home users and, frankly, most business users as well.

In real-world testing people are actually seeing speeds of more than 300Mbps, which is a really excellent result. Some people have reported as much as 500Mbps.

So what’s the downside? As far as I can see there isn’t any, strange as it seems; very positive accounts come from most people who have bought it.

Best for the Money: TP-LINK AV1000 2-Port Gigabit Powerline Adapter

This AV1000 kit from TP-Link now falls somewhere in the middle of the pack speed and feature-wise. Unfortunately, when it comes to price it is not around the middle. This costs about as much as adapters that claim twice the speed, although not twice the number of ethernet ports.

So one thing this kit has over others of the same price and speed is the inclusion of two ethernet ports rather than one. The real-world speeds people see with these is around 100Mbps with no real complaints of quality or reliability. To make a long story short, if your budget only stretches to this adapter’s tag and you really need those two ethernet ports, then there is no reason not to go for this.

Home Automation Pick: LEA Networks NetSocket AV200

The LEA kit has the distinction of being, hands down, the cheapest powerline kit that I have seen. It’s a slimline adapter and sits snugly against the wall, taking up less space than usual. Somehow LEA have even found a way to include an outlet passthrough at this price, which is quite impressive.

One clue is the fact that this is the old AV200 standard. By now I expect that this tech is pretty much as cheap as they can make it. The LEA units also have filters to prevent device interference and very stable connections. Once again, the AV200 tech is very tried and tested, so the stability is to be expected.

With (realistically) 100Mbps of bandwidth on tap, this kit is going to be unsuitable for high-bandwidth streaming or streaming multiple high-definition videos or large file transfers.

What it will work well for are home automation devices that do not need that sort of bandwidth. Given how cheap these are, you could put a whole bunch in one house and connect up any number of smart devices that could benefit from medium-bandwidth, low-latency, reliable networking.

TP-LINK AV500 Nano Network Adapter Starter Kit

Featuring the 500Mbps HomePlug AV standard, these TP-Link units almost hit the price bottom for powerline network kits. At under forty bucks for a set of two it is no wonder that these are some of the most popular units you can buy online today. Of course, you can opt for even faster units, but the real world speeds of between 100 and 200 megabits per second are enough for the vast majority of users, so why spend more, you might ask?

These are about as simple as they come. TP-Link rarely makes anything I think of as attractive, but in this case they have done a pretty good job. They kept it simple and elegant.

These feature a 300m (about 1000 foot) range, which I think only mansion dwellers would find a problem. It bodes well for getting an internet connection down to the garden shed or pool house, as long as both outlets are on the same circuit and share the same breaker panel.

They don’t call these the nanos for nothing either – they are small enough so that they don’t obstruct the other outlet, although I guess that hoping for a passthrough would be asking for too much. Other than that, the only other notable feature is the 128-bit encryption. Unless you are keeping classified information on your home network that governments would be interested in, it is unlikely anyone would go to the lengths needed to break that encryption.

That being said, there are some harsh and critical words from tech-savvy consumers about how TP-Link has implemented the security on these devices. Apparently someone could gain access to your network through these units by plugging in next door or outside, depending on the physical nature of the wiring. It is very important to do the pairing procedure to ensure that unique encryption is used rather than the default.

Still, in the real world the risk of such an intrusion is pretty low, but a more concerning issue is the many reports of units that work well at first and then slowly start to suck. It’s a minority, but the number of complaints and the similarity of the failures make me less than confident in recommending these.

TP-LINK AV1200 Powerline Adapter, Gigabit w/ Power Outlet Pass-through

Costing almost double that of the AV500 units, but still being pretty cheap, these AV1200 adapters promise as much as 1200Mbps, although you’d have to be pretty gullible to actually expect that, as we’ve seen from powerline technology in the past.

These have nice 16A outlet passthroughs, so that you don’t have to give up that outlet or can power your network device using the same socket. Like other HomePlug devices using this standard, the range quoted is 1000 feet. Of course, the more copper between the points, the less speed and the more latency you are likely to get.

Like other products using this standard you get 128-bit encryption when pairing with the buttons on each unit – something you want to do if you don’t want someone accessing the network through your power grid.

This is the fastest kit that TP-Link makes but, as you would expect, the real-world numbers don’t come close to 1200Mbps. It looks like 100Mbps is a typical figure, with some customers with newer homes and better copper seeing 300Mbps. Anything within that range is likely to be more than enough for most purposes, but if you were hoping to accommodate your gigabit fiber connection it may be better to look at a dual-band wireless AC extender instead.

All in all, however, this is a solid product and for this kit TP-Link offers a 2-year warranty.

NETGEAR PowerLINE Wi-Fi 1000 – Essentials Editions

Now here is something very interesting. I have seen powerline adapters that also contain a WiFi extender, but both systems would be separate. In this case the adapter creates a new access point wherever you plug it in and the WiFi data runs over the power line.

If you place this close enough to overlap with your existing WiFi, don’t worry. Any device that has both the access point and router details saved will just switch to whatever signal is the strongest.

The WiFi end of the kit still has a gigabit ethernet port though, so you can still connect wired network equipment with no hassle.

People who have bought this are generally very positive about it. Especially when it comes to the range at which it works and the ability to extend WiFi internet access out to buildings that would be beyond WiFi extender range. This is a neat and reliable solution. It is a bit on the pricey side, but it is way cheaper and more convenient than alternate solution for long distance internet extension. This is something I would buy for my game room/pool house if I had one. Which I don’t, but that’s a different story altogether.

Netgear Network Powerline 1200 Review

Netgear’s 1200Mbps offering is only a few bucks more expensive than TP-Link’s kit. That makes for an interesting situation, since in my experience Netgear has been the one who more often edges TP-Link out when it comes to quality and performance. So with the price difference essentially removed, is there any reason to skip the Netgear kit in favor of the TP-Link?

On paper there is very little to set them apart, except for the very obvious omission of an outlet passthrough in the case of the Netgear kit. So if that is a deal breaker you may as well get the TP-Link instead.

Both kits use the AV1200 standard and, of course, both don’t really get anywhere close to that. However, based on user reports I also can’t find the difference in speeds. I thought the Netgear stuff might be a bit faster or more reliable, but it really seems that you might as well save a few dollars and buy the TP-Link kit instead.

Lining Up

That’s a lot of powerline adapters, I do admit. It also isn’t all that easy to pick which of these are worth it. Hopefully my best pick will have you convinced, but if not be sure to have a good look at the other reviews and my buyer’s guide for powerline adapters.